Whether we are in amusement parks contemplating imaginary cities and castles, or in the museums and memorial gardens that commemorate those who died in war, the aspects of our bodies are the same. We stroll, we turn and gaze, we sit and watch films or explore interactive displays, we reflect on arrangements of stone and metal, statues of men on horseback, or flowers and trees. We watch each other. We situate ourselves in the fog of image, an idea with a long lineage that describes the effects of propaganda, that uneasy feeling of fascination, confusion, and partial knowing.
I’ve been thinking about your repeated expressions of guilt as we travel in relative safety during these restless times, of feelings of helplessness and frivolity while others suffer in violence and war. This reaction is sane and probably healthy, yet it’s occurred to me that there’s another dynamic at work. There is the guilt of survival, which memorials, parks, and even preserved concentration camps evoke. But this guilt means not only “I lived while you died” but, “I experienced your death as a spectator, a visitor,” and felt the distance between the loss we knew and its public remembrance.
While in Hiroshima a few months ago I learned about the hibakujumoku, the survivor trees, those species that were able to withstand the nuclear blast and regenerate: weeping willow, black locust, oleander, fig, palm, gingko, and others. There are gingkos on the street where I live, and I’ve long been fascinated by them, both for their bright yellow autumn foliage, and for the perspective they offer, back 190 million years, a living fossil unchanged since pre-historic time. Perhaps they offer us another way to think about how we confront our losses – not as figures looking back and contemplating the wreckage of the past, but as survivors growing out of it. Damaged, resilient, and turning towards the sun.