Memory being a somewhat fuzzy commodity, I’m not clear on when I first saw Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant Rashomon. I think I was in college, and it probably was part of a film series offered by the school. In any event, it was years ago, and my remembrance of it has been about the four characters offering different versions of the same event.
Having recently watched the film (it is a film, not just a movie), I remembered that those four stories differed not just in perspective, but were in fact influenced by the teller’s subjectivity and self-interest. Well, goodness, I thought to myself, there’s even more to this Rashomon thing than I remembered.
Ms. Streisand’s memories might light the corners of her mind, but I suspect it’s a match and not a torch doing the illuminating. Most of us have known folks who have recast things from their past to be prettier and nicer than they were. Hell, I think we all do that just a little bit from time to time. So when Ms. Streisand asks if time has rewritten every line, and I say, “Sure, if your name happens to be Time.”
Beyond our self-dealing memories, there’s also the pesky reality that we might not know the whole story. In fact, even when we know most it, there’s usually some nuances of which we are unaware. Family and school reunions (I attended one last weekend, which rather put me in this frame of mind) usually bring forth conversation containing new information—someone else’s truth—about the past that might not fit easily into the personal narrative we’ve written for ourselves.
We fashion the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and all that we’ve known and done, with an eye toward making a hero of the main character. Of course, we are that hero, sometimes victimized, but almost always justified in the end. So when inconvenient puzzle pieces appear, we rework them into our previous notions if we want to see the bigger jigsaw picture. If not, well, “what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.”
This is all done collectively, too. Lord knows the US of A has its narrative, and many, if not most, of us cut our teeth on it. Coming like the cavalry to save the world from Nazism and fascism in 1941, then taking our place as leader of the free world to promote democracy across the globe. America is the good guy in the world, right? Well, often.
But not always. I’m not even going to catalog the “too painful to remember” stuff because this is a column and not a textbook.
Sometimes, we’re at our best when we are open to taking in new information and trying to fix what we did wrong in the past. That’s true of us individually and collectively.
If we narrow our focus to the present, there’s so much stuff coming at us from every direction (assuming we’re not hiding in a bubble of our own creation) that recalibrating what we think is almost constant. It certainly is exhaustive.
According to the old adage, Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line, and many of both are trying to do just that. But others on both sides, to their credit, are rethinking the current narrative with all this incoming. With fewer than 100 days to the Iowa caucuses, it doesn’t look to me like most Democrats are loving too much on any of their candidates and may end up making a marriage of convenience. Meanwhile, some of the Republicans seem to be a bit uncertain about getting into a line when it’s not clear where it’s headed. After all, what do the sheep think when they find out the goat is named Judas?
From the past to the present, what we see and what we experience belongs to us. What we do with it is also up to us. In answer to Ms. Streisand’s question, no, it wasn’t all so simple then. And it isn’t simple now.