Antiques seller | Photo by A7med3ssam9 via Creative Commons
One of my passions is collecting old things. This fascination of mine is intricately related to my interest in history. There is something about artifacts that make the history of a place and its people come alive. When I travel overseas I make it a point to take home at least one old item that represents a period of time for the place I visit. My collection of antiques, which my wife considers junk, has an emotional connection with me this way, which again my wife thinks is needlessly sentimental. The fact is I don’t just amass these things. I pick items that help me connect to a period of history I knew or have read about. For me, this makes this exercise exciting and thoroughly gratifying.
The history or the period associated with the collectible item makes it attractive and meaningful. It’s not just the extrinsic beauty of the item that makes it desirable but more importantly what it represents. For example, my collection of pre-Columbian red clay pots, pitchers, or figurines from South America with decorations of insects and small animals, bring back a period so remote but made accessible and tangible by these objects. These objects were crafted by men like us, a testament to a culture long gone.
“… I can’t seem to put current events in context unless I know a little bit about the past associated with them. My understanding of the past helps provide perspective for discerning the meaning and significance of present events. Current events are like the engine in front of a long train. Behind it are the cabooses linked to one another all the way to the rear.”
My hang-up with these things is similar to my hang-up with history. Some people may find my interest in history a useless pastime. What is past is past. We can’t change the outcome of events anymore. However, I can’t seem to put current events in context unless I know a little bit about the past associated with them. My understanding of the past helps provide perspective for discerning the meaning and significance of present events. Current events are like the engine in front of a long train. Behind it are the cabooses linked to one another all the way to the rear. For example, the horrible genocide that took place eighteen years ago in Rwanda was a senseless rampage that baffled many. The fateful event was the culmination of a simmering conflict between tribes that dates to the time of the Belgian colonial forays into the region.
The genocide in Kosovo in recent years, after the split of the former Yugoslavia into separate states along ethnic lines, had its inception in the aftermath of the Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389 that ushered five hundred years of Islamic Ottoman Empire rule of the region, a largely Christian area. The religious and ethnic conflict that spanned centuries was filled with atrocities perpetrated by both sides in their struggle. The conflict between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East predates modern time and the layers of events that continually transform the geopolitics of the region are buried in so much history. We have seen that time does not heal the wounds of atrocities, and various people involved in the struggle develop a collective memory of inflicted pain. And when the right condition appears the bottled up resentment unleashes its negative energy with vengeance.
The hackneyed adage of “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it . . .” still resonates for its practical wisdom. Oftentimes, it’s not easy to look back to the past, especially unpleasant ones. Only with thoughtful analysis and discussion, without denial or rationalization, can we learn the lessons of the past and hopefully dissipate the anger and other negative energy simmering underneath our collective consciousness. However, some would rather forget or pretend it never happened and instead enjoy the “here and now.” I’m more like a New Englander who would say, it’s wickedly more delicious if we experience the full extent of the “here and now” within the context of the past.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.