Milan Kundera said it before, and I’ll say it again: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
There’s a reason I attach that quote to my outgoing e-mail. Because so much of the seductive call of “progress” seems to me nothing more than a Pied Piper–a will-o’-the-wisp that we blindly, madly follow ’til we’re mired in a future we never wanted, forgetting what we’ve left behind.
Do you remember when farm supported families–whole families? When there were trees on our prairie–when there was prairie on our prairie? The call of progress says that what is valuable here–all that is valuable here–is the price of corn, beans, and beets–not the deep prairie loam, the grasses and forbs that tickled the bellies of ruminants, nor what once were clean-running rivers, with banks anchored by cottonwoods, not muddied torrents fed by ever-lengthening sections of drain tile, gouging out the banks and toppling the once mighty trees.
What’s valuable, power tells us, is the granite as a raw, cut, and crushed material for riprap to shore up other places, for building roads in the distant cities, not as billion-year-old bones of the earth to lie upon and listen to or to graze one’s cattle around. “Here’s a postcard of your rocks,” they say. They say, “What’s important is progress. Economic development. That’s what rocks are for.”
The old community centers and public buildings and WPA projects that are toppled and paved. What history? What community? Tear them down, they say. Build more parking lots. Make that space productive for private business. Business is progress, and progress is the future. “Look ahead,” they say, with a gleam in their far-off eyes, and you wonder what exactly it is they are looking at–because the direction you can plainly see things going–have seen them going for some time now–isn’t so good.
Do you remember the rocks you climbed? The fields you played in and the trees you climbed? The stars in the night sky? The clean water you swam in, fished, and paddled on?
Do you remember the satisfaction of visiting an old friend–sitting down at their table for coffee and a conversation? The mad life of kids and dogs and the hum of home-keeping around you? Is there time now, for that? Do you make it?
What do you remember in the face of this blind and unfeeling power–this force for “progress” with no respect for history, for community? What will you come together with your friends, your family, your neighbors to remember–and to fight for?