Land of the Rainwashed Forgotten
The summer rains this year are spectacular. No one can remember a summer beginning with this much rain ever before, and we probably won't remember this moment the next time it happens either. Not here in America, Land of the Rainwashed Forgotten.
We remember the past the way we need to, not the way it was. That is only natural. Our bodies survive by breathing, drinking, eating, and clinging to whatever materials we need to go on living. Our souls survive in our shelters of mythology. Our memories are creative reconstructions of the past, always. They protect and serve our coping mechanisms. At best, they lay the foundations of our imaginations to help us adapt.
During my break from creative writing, while I wait for beta readers to finish, I've done some really productive things like watch Season 4 of that old show Thirtysomething, the one that was on when I was a kid and my parents were just becoming thirtysomethings. None of us were interested in the show when it aired, and just now, I started watching it mainly to laugh at the hairstyles and fashions. But then I got into it, because what do you know, it was a well-written show!
There is a scene in Episode 21 that takes place in an advertising agency's office while a thunderstorm crashes outside the windows. It's a tense conversation between one of the show's main characters, Michael, and his boss, Miles. Michael is upset about a beer commercial they are supposed to make, which equates patriotism with waging war in the Middle East. Miles is trying to convince Michael that it isn't wrong for an ad agency to lie to the American people to shore up a false dream of national superiority. He says,
You know what I love about this country? Its amazingly short memory. We’re a nation of amnesiacs. We forget everything. Where we came from, what we did to get here. History is last week’s People Magazine… We calm and reassure. We embrace people with the message that we’re all in it together, that our leaders are infallible, and that there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong.
Spoiler alert: Michael quits his soul-sucking job.
But I think that what Miles says about America's short memory is profoundly true. History in the United States is short, and the general public tends to "forget" injustices and human rights atrocities before they have even stopped happening. "History is last week's People Magazine." Ouch--this was before internet news became a thing.
I know for sure my own family has forgotten "where we came from, what we did to get here." It's fascinating digging stuff up that our ancestors hid, denied, or just plain forgot to mention. Some of this has been done through paper records research and some by DNA tests. My husband doesn't have to go back very far to find family secrets; he still doesn't know who his paternal grandfather was, and his father (as a young child) and grandmother were refugees from the Holocaust. My mother-in-law has always wanted to know more than her mother-in-law was able or willing to tell her. And now we have 23andMe.
My husband doesn't love the idea of handing off his DNA to a corporation that could theoretically leak its information, resulting in some denial of health coverage or other dystopian nightmare, but he finally went ahead and did it. He spit in the tube and mailed it in this morning.
We don't know if this will lead to any useful information about the identity of his grandfather. We don't know what kind of stories it will reveal or what they could mean. But I think that it is true, though we may wish it weren't true: that it makes us feel more human, more rooted in the story of humanity and the story of America specifically, to learn even a little trace of where our people came from and what they did to get here.
Meanwhile, it rains and rains. We play in the rain. We listen to the rain. My husband has been listening to "Let It Rain" by Lee Scratch Perry. And we wait.
The storms come, and they blow over. Rainbows appear and even double rainbows, double pinkie swear covenants written on the sky in disappearing ink. Reparations offered as leprechaun gold. A reminder that nothing lasts, not weeping nor wailing nor thirst nor grief nor promises, and that not even a photograph can capture the way this looks, let alone how it feels. And the flowers rise again.