Recalling the Things We Buried

Steve Davidson on flickr

Occasionally, untainted relics of our human history resurface – out of place, out of time, and onto the absurd canvas of our present. It’s thrilling when it does – this opportunity to find pieces of our distant selves in unlikely places. But the momentary fascination soon gives way to mixed layers of undefinable emotions that weighs on me, even long after the moment has passed. Why?

When I was a student on an exchange trip to Hong Kong a few years back, I heard news through a friend that a busy district in Wan Chai had been cordoned off because of a bomb threat. An aerial bomb dating back to the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during WWII had been found at a construction site. It was speculated to be unstable, and to allow safe detonation and removal, they closed off the entire section of a bustling community hub. The conventional flow of time stopped that day in this place. That’s hard to imagine in a place such as Hong Kong where the busy commotion of big city life is just as natural as the colors you see.

My first thoughts were of course one of curiosity and wonder, along with the natural melancholy I feel when remembering stories of the wars. But my reactions soon morphed into utter and complete stupefaction at the thought that people had buried and built their lives over a bomb… How they could have possibly built over it, walked over it, lived over it, forgot about it. I mean, it was – is – a bomb; something that failed in its mission to massacre, burn, and destroy.

It weighs on my mind, this story.

In our mad rush to start building a new life after all the pain, it seems we’ve never really paused before building our concrete temples. These condos, offices, towers… they were symbols of recovery, then success, luxury, and the wealth of nations in many ways. But they get higher and higher each year, and look uglier against our skies – like greedy fingers reaching out to grope the only pure stretch of blue that I can see.

… As if we’re really attempting to claim something so infinite as our own; as if we’re fools enough to believe that this is what we suffered for. It feels like some sort of a violation to the natural order of things, what we do to our world… Yet it goes on and on, we build and build, over ruins, over fresh wounds, and even over bombs. There is nothing that stops us – we have an amazingly tenacious inclination as a species to forget about important things. Dangerous things.

I’m remembering the words of Nikolai Gogol as I write that. Isn’t it so very true that

We have the marvelous gift of making everything insignificant.

Yet,

The things we bulldoze over in living our day to day lives are as ready as ever to detonate, and bring all our symbolic achievements to an end. Really though, if it’s merely our successes it destroys, life would still be bearable, I imagine. But it is the end that it brings, isn’t it? Our fragile, too short lives, coming to an end. It’s frightening.

Life rushes forward, and all these things that happened before our time become artefacts tossed carelessly wayside, buried deep. Until by some unlikely event they stand blocking our paths, ready to burn and cause casualties, sever limbs, lives, time, we trample over them unknowingly (or perhaps even by self-inflicted ignorance which is even more disheartening).

Maybe when they finally do resurface, the sheer strangeness of it will pause our busy lives for a moment. Then just as ever, we’ll return back to the normal humdrum of things, forgetting once more, building over it once more. The most delicate of us will shuffle between left foot and right, not quite knowing which reality is which, continuing to ask what it all means to have history become the present and have old wounds reopen and remain uncared for…

But as always, they too will move forward, because everyone does. We all move on, because in the end, it’s another day whether you’ve remembered, another day whether you’ve forgot.

How marvellously insignificant – these days of our lives.

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