By Ted Furlow
“The evil men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
So says Marc Anthony in Act 3 of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. He could well have been speaking about American society, and our compulsive need to know and to remember the negative ordinary things about ordinary people – including ourselves.
We are obsessed with the need to know and to remember failure – to know everything, to remember everything. It is often information that is no longer relevant, information which affects our personal dignity, our private life, or our sense of person.
In the world of the web, everything about us is common knowledge for anyone who can use a search engine. We can seek out news articles, websites, court records, sundry forms of information; it doesn’t matter if the information gathered is adequate, inadequate, relevant, or even truthful. If dissatisfied, we can supplement it with the information from the “social engine” of rumor, gossip, personal guilt, and outright lies.
In May of 2014, Maureen Dowd explored this need to know and remember in a New York Times article, “Remember to Forget.” It was a piece centered on the rights of Google to store and disseminate old information, which had been challenged by a legal principle in France, “Le droit a´ l’oubli,” the right to oblivion. It is the right of people who have paid for their errors to put that information behind them and to get along with their life. Our First Amendment might call it the “right to be forgotten.”
Archbishop Oscar Romero once commented that, in this world of absolute certainty, there was a sense of liberation in not knowing. I suspect, in this world of negative remembering, that he might say that there is a sense of liberation in forgetting. In each of our lives, we have experienced past levels of being, and each of those levels has its share of dangerous memories - things best forgotten.
The person that we are today is not the person that we used to be. Those things we have done, those people we have injured, those mistakes which we have made, those things for which we have regret, those things for which we have offered penance, should be in our past. Regrettably, for most of us, those things remain in our present, they are the things which go “bump in our night,” memories whose tentacles reach out and snare us in the silence of our darkest moments. When we have made mistakes and moved on, we should have an expectation of leaving those dangerous memories in the past, an expectation to be forgiven and forgotten.
As we prepare for a New Year, let us be open to the new start of being a new person. To err is human and God, always asking that we let Him love us, offers the forgiveness and reconciliation which is divine. It is a time to remember God’s divine love and forgiveness, and a time to forget mistakes - including our own.
Start the New Year by laying down the burden of the past; remember each of us has “Le droit a´ l’oubli.”
Ted Furlow is Director of Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of San Bernardino.