Maybe it’s because I started my day by reading poems where bones are fragile things – orchids, moths – but when I saw this image (shared by my friend Larry on Facebook), I gaped. I was stunned by the sheer barbarity – I always have been the person more fully moved by the death of a horse in a film than of a person, which says something about me, I’m sure.
But I also stopped to ponder this question – where did all those skulls go? Where is the evidence of this cruelty now? How is this much pain and loss subsumed into the story of a place, a people, a life?
I ponder this same question every time I walk out of my farmhouse and see the small hill that once was the slave quarter here. All the other original buildings still stand – the carriage house, the summer kitchen, the smokehouse – and yet, this one building was torn down. I am not naive enough to think that was happenstance.
So is that the answer? We tear down and hide the history that is painful. Did someone burn all those bison skulls? What about the bodies of the people killed at Wounded Knee? What about the thousands of people slaughtered in Nigeria?
I feel like the Rwandans and Cambodians have it right with their shrines made from the skulls of those who died in the genocides in those nations. Churches, museums, roadside markers built of the most tangible of reminders – a human bone. “Lest we forget . . . ”
Healing walks into the next day with remembering, I think.
I am still thinking, studying, praying about how to remember the people who were enslaved in this place, how to honor their house while also remembering that some wanted to forget. That is part of the story of this place, too, the disremembering, the pretending.
I’m inclined to follow the wise leadership of Montpelier, just a few miles from here, and build a shell to remember that building, a structure on which to hang memory and story with the open spaces to remind us of what we have tried to forget.
Memory does not come without pain of that I am certain, but healing does not come without memory.