Tuesday, May 10, 2005

REGRETS, WE (MEANING HUMANS)'VE HAD A FEW, BUT TOO FEW TO MENTION (IN THE WORDS OF SINATRA)

Imagine that!

An entire walkway, road, overpass or avenue devoted to you and you alone, but not to your charitable works, no, nor to that oh-so-memorable time you escorted not one, not two, but an entire cavalcade of little old ladies across the street (at rush hour no less), but, instead, these series of streets and landmarks would zero in on the occasions in life when you plain and simple messed up. Big time. Royally.

So we could have a little plaque on the swingsets at the park detailing how you, at age seven, pushed little Tommy Burns off of his ass and onto the ground just because you could. Just because it felt awesome to do so. Or we might be able to arrange for a water fountain to bear your name, inscribed in gold, because that was the place where you used to chuck your Budweiser cans and cigarette butts late at night after making out with your high school girlfriend behind the shrubbery. Or in the shrubbery. (Or even, god forbid, with the shrubbery?)

We always dedicate significant civil landmarks to those who have made a difference in the life of the city, the community, by god the world. Why not have little plaques simply to act as placeholders and reminders of how all too often we fuck things up?

The reason I suggest this suggestion, the reason why I bring it up, is because I'm steadily, intermittently polishing off a book by Ian Buruma called Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan. (The title makes it sound somewhat hideously boring, but it's not.) It's a serious of essays that chronicle how and in what fashion both Germany and Japan have dealt with their wartime legacies. Very interesting to see the similarities and differences between the two cultures. Especially interesting because Cambodia is very much a country that is still grappling with the Khmer Rouge era, still waiting for a trial that may (or may not, I fear) eventually arrive, while Canada is still trying to deal with trading Wayne Gretzky from the Oilers to the L.A. Kings back in '88.

But why should we put all the blame on countries? Countries are not independent of the citizens who compose their censuses. You can't just label this building over here as being 'bad', and that place over there as being the spot where such-and-such atrocity took place.

Let's bring it down to the human level and start with those ignorant folks who always chuck their rubbish where it shouldn't be chucked. We wouldn't have to wait twenty or forty years to collectively feel our guilt; we could subsidize a couple of off-duty security guards to patrol the streets, looking for rubbishers. (And hey, I was a security guard for awhile, and believe me, those boys love being in uniform -- they'd leap at the chance.) Let's grab a five year old who spits his wad of gum onto the crosswalk in front of his school, rub his face in it, draw up a reasonable facsimile of said face, and then post it right on the street. Instant shame and humiliation.

Japan and Germany, China and Cambodia have all contributed hideous atrocities; Canada, too, shoulders much of the blame for the world's ills. (Need I mention Celine Dion, Anne Murray or Alan Thicke?) But at a certain point one has to say: Yes, yes, I fucked up, we fucked up, we're sorry. Let's move on.

It's not easy to move on -- to forgive others their sins, and to forgive ourselves. But we can't walk through life looking back over our shoulder every five minutes, remembering and wallowing in the internal dread of days gone by. We have to tuck it away and refer to it every now and then to keep us humble and aware of our own frailty, rather than keep it looming before us week after week, a constant billboard advertising only our own unspeakable, yet human, regrets.

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