Sunday, March 8, 2015

Musings and Memories from Manila

I have a good memory, which has often been a great asset for me. Medical school in the 1980’s required massive memorization of arcane facts, formulas and anatomical structures. The philosophy then was that it was better to spend hours memorizing stuff every night then it would be to simply look them up when the information is needed.  My tone here conveys my view of this approach.

I can remember the phone number in the house I lived in until I was 8 years old.  Impressive? Perhaps.Useful? I doubt it.

Some folks have long memories, which is not always a gift.  There are events and painful moments that while they will always be stitched within our personal tapestries, they may be better placed beyond easy reach.

Nations also have long memories.  I am writing now from Manila on the other side of the globe. Yesterday, I was snorkeling and witnessed a shipwrecked Japanese warship sunk in WW II by the Americans.  The war in the Pacific theater between the Japanese and the Americans was brutal and protracted.  The Philippines was one of the the staging grounds of this contest, and they bore an enormous cost of collateral damage.  I asked a Filipino citizen, the manager of our hotel in Coron, if Filipinos had any residual anger against the Japanese.  He said no, as enough time had passed to heal the wounds inflicted in the middle of the last century.

Was this the truth or merely a sanitized answer for an American tourist?  On this very morning, I read that President Park of South Korea again asked the Japanese government to assume deeper responsibility over the Korean ‘comfort women’ that Japanese soldiers coerced and abused during the Second World War. South Korean hasn’t quite forgotten.

In Manila, there is a cemetery of just Americans who died in the Philippines.  It’s a vast field of crosses, and an occasional Star of David, that stretches beyond view.  I doubt that their families have forgotten.

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Later today, I fly to Tokyo, the capital of a country that started a war against us, killed many thousands of our men and committed atrocities.  Of course, the Japanese have their own narrative, which they regard as legitimate.  They have a memory of atomic weapons that no other nation can share.  I am traveling to Japan with excitement and enthusiasm. It's a new century now.  Time does dull our collective memory.  People and nations can change.

I’m still figuring out what’s really worth remembering.  An old phone number or the names of the body’s tiny bones and muscles do not seem like memories I need to hold on to.

If I were able to clean out my cerebral crevices of of all those faded facts and dusty data, I wonder how much room there would be for stuff that really matters.  The first to go should be that rotary dial phone number from 50 years ago.  (201) 731-7561 begone!

No comments:

Add this