Peacejam Memories

This week I made some presentations on South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to 8th graders at the nearby Waynesville Middle School. Most of them are heavily involved in the Peacejam Program, which encourages them to find ways to advance peace in the world.

This Saturday, through their initiative, groups in the county are assembling over 35,000 meals to send to Haiti! Peacejam was founded by Nobel Peace Prize Laureates like Desmond Tutu, so this was a chance for them to see video excerpts of Tutu’s work with the Truth Commission.

After I had introduced them to pictures from our trips to South Africa, showed them video clips about the Commission’s work with respect to apology and forgiveness, and explaining some of the connections between their history and ours, the instructor asked them when they were born. Around 1996 or 1997. “So this was happening when you were born.” “It is not part of their lived memory,” he said to me. I responded, “Yes, but it is the world they have inherited.”

Memory. Again. How do we remember, personally and collectively? Here was the struggle of the Commission and of Red Clay, Blood River. I didn’t have time to lead them into how my memory, in some slight way, might become part of their memory. Will it live in their memory? Will it shape their action? Will it help them find a role in our common story?

Teaching is passing on memory, whether of scientific discoveries made by earlier generations, or of the history, suffering, hopes, and achievements of long-gone predecessors on this planet. Loss of memory, as with the vicious ravaging of Alzheimer’s disease, robs us not only of our sense of identity and agency but even of our relationships beyond our immediate bodily senses.

Our collective loss of memory, as with our forgetting of the lessons of the Great Depression, unlocked the floodgates of financial speculation that have ruined millions of lives today. Forgetfulness can kill.

The eighth graders impressed and encouraged me by their attentiveness to this piece of possible present memory, watching it like an asteroid entering the heavens. Now, their instructor said, we need to chew on this for the rest of the year. As they join our common memory I am aware of how important it is that we remember so that we can forgive and act anew. Thank you, ‘jammers!

PS. They actually packed 60,000 meals!

2 thoughts on “Peacejam Memories”

  1. Thanks so much, Steve, for drawing my attention to your chapter (which I have!). I will be giving some lectures on memory and reconciliation in Colorado in May, so I look forward to more rumination on these themes. Let me know if you write some further thoughts on this.

  2. Good thoughts on memory, Bill. I will add it to my file on time as past. I have done some building on my theology and social ethics of time as past, time as present, that I initially treated in my A Christian Perspective on Political Thought. One can see it in the index under “time.” I particularly like your comment on how the loss of memory affects our relationships.

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