Keywords of the Moral Life: Memory, Part Three
How We Justly Remember Our Enemies, Close and Far
Memory’s Tricky Affections
Memory—remembering who we are, and what we are to be about—is central to the moral life. Absent memory, we break bonds, neglect those we should care for, and lose any sense of who we have been or might be again: we become free-floating lives, with only the present to guide us, which is another way of saying that our sense of obligation will be gobbled up by whoever is standing in front of us.1
And so, in its best version, memory helps give us an orientation forward rooted in a clear sense of a goodness which claimed us before we could claim ourselves:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return. Remember, that I am the God who brought you up out of Egypt. Remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.
But how we remember things is never as a photograph, some object with nothing but the fact, but as an image intertwined with any number of aspects of the event which cannot be seen: love, pain, indifference, wisdom. We can see the past only as it ricochets its way through our affections, acutely for both our friends and our enemies.
In my poorly-received defense of the Astros, you can see this same dynamic in play: remembering our own side wistfully and amorously, and the opposition in the worst possible light, having always been the villain.2 But what gets written on the big stages happens all the time in ordinary ways, from intimate relationships to petty neighborhood grudges: we ourselves are always the heroes of our own stories, in ways which demand that we obscure our enemies’ virtues and magnify their vices.
But loving our enemies is quite simply the apex of loving our neighbors. And given that our enemies are frequently in the rearview mirror, in some other location than in our lives, the journey to love our neighbors entails remembering our enemies well.3
And so, some brief theses on remembering our enemies well: