A friend just posted a video from YouTube of a time lapse map of Europe covering 1000 years of its history.
It’s really something, watching the formation of states and empires, the slow and then sudden swallowing up of the former by the latter. It makes you think not only of the flows of people and cultures and foods and riches but of the human costs, of the lives lost every time a border shifted, and of the motivating hatreds and resulting long-lived grudges.
It also made me think of the response I’ve gotten to my last post and especially to the Op Ed that came out of it in Sunday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which has been gratifying and a little overwhelming, or if that’s too dramatic, certainly eye-opening. Many of the emails and messages I’ve gotten are about how the writer shares my reaction to the war in Ukraine and the curious experience of figuring out how to balance their support for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion with the historical memory that comes with being an American Jew.
It is of course a complicated thing, and to hear from so many people I know and so many I don’t, people who have also been struggling with this, strengthens my sense that there are good and bad ways to deal with the complications of historical memory–complications this amazing moving map illustrates well. With the flows of refugees and with borders shifting under people’s feet from generation to generation, it’s no wonder that family histories and national histories in Eastern Europe become confused, roots become tangled or severed, and that some of these lives growing in this soil–individual, familial, ethnic, national–emerge twisted, bearing bitter fruit, not growing toward the light the way they should. And it’s no wonder that others who grow up in different soil far away, transplants, look back bewildered at the land they came from.
Before I get any more Chauncey Gardneresque, I’ll leave you with an invitation to stare some more at this map (embedded below) and think about the history it shows and the history that’s happening now. It’s a good way to deal with it.*
*On dealing with history rather than not dealing with it, thinking about it rather than not, letting it be taught to your children rather than fighting to keep it from them: here’s a long Twitter thread I’ve been keeping for nine or so months, on efforts in this country to make sure our own history is taught and efforts on the other side.
And here’s that video.