Whether we are in amusement parks visiting imaginary cities and castles, or in the museums and gardens that commemorate those who died in war, the carriage of our bodies is 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, confused about how we should feel, and what we know.
I’ve been thinking about your repeated expressions of guilt, of feelings of helplessness and frivolity while others suffer. This reaction is understandable, yet it’s occurred to me that something else is at play. 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 that withstood the nuclear blast: weeping willow, black locust, oleander, fig, palm, gingko, and others. I’ve long been fascinated by the gingkos on the street where I live, both for their bright yellow autumn foliage, and for the perspective they offer, back 190 million years, a living fossil unchanged since prehistoric time. Perhaps they show us another way to 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.