No present, no future, only the past stuck on repeat
SECOND row center orchestra seats feel so much better when you don't have to pay for them! I found this out when a colleague couldn't use his Broadway tickets and gave them to me two hours before showtime.
My husband and I therefore accidentally saw a depressing and very good Eugene O'Neill play, "Moon for the Misbegotten" starring Kevin Spacey, Eve Best and Colm Meaney. Leonard and I knew Meaney from "Star Trek." It turns out you pronounce his name "Column" and not "Kohlm." I found this out by mispronouncing the name of my company's easygoing Irish cus-tomer, Colm O'Mellow.
Toward the end of the play, Spacey had a short monologue that included a famous O'Neill quote. He didn't emphasize it with pauses or grand gestures — he just let it flow out along with the other weary, helpless lines of the soliloquy. "There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now."
I can't work out whether that's apropos, ironic, exemplary or what.
I certainly find it easier to think about the past than the future. (I've basically given up on the present, which is a slippery creature.)
Maybe people used to feel that they could predict the future, in its broad outlines, that their way of life wouldn't be changing in mere decades. But that just turns into me drowning in turn-of-the-century anxiety so there's no use in it.
When the past looms too large, we have to narrow it down to make it easier to comprehend. Anniversaries put events into 365 filing-cabinet folders so we can manage history. This month, for example, contains the anniversaries of the Abraham Lincoln assassination, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Revolutionary War battle of Lexington and Concord. April was the month that Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin went to space, becoming the first human to leave Earth. I wonder if Russians remember that day the way Americans remember the moon landing.
April 19, 1995, was the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. I was alive for that one. I was in rehearsal for my school's spring musical, "Oklahoma!" No, I am not kidding. We put a donation box in the lobby and awkwardly carried on.
Another April atrocity that I know about: April 13, 1919, the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh. In the north Indian city of Amritsar, in retaliation for protests a few days earlier, the British opened fire on hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed Indians who were celebrating a religious festival.
Jallianwalla Bagh was a walled garden, or public square. ("Bagh" means "gar-den"; Baghdad used to be a city of gardens.) Brigadier-General Regional Dyer entered with his men, blocked the only exit, and ordered them to fire. They shot the Indians for several minutes. Hundreds of people died immediately, and hundreds were left to die from their injuries.
The massacre turned moderate Indians against Britain, ensuring that India would never feel safe under British rule. Writer Rabindranath Tagore (whose name has the same meter as "The Farmer in the Dell") was the first Indian to receive the Nobel Prize. Britain knighted him in 1915. But after the massacre, he renounced his knighthood in protest. Yes, Gandhi's peaceful tactics helped get India's independence — there was no Lexington and Concord — but there was a lot of killing, too.
I know about Jallianwalla Bagh because I read about it in an Indian comic book. I know about the Hillsborough disaster because of Nick Hornby, the "High Fidelity" author. He wrote a book called "Fever Pitch" (later adapted into that Jimmy Fallon baseball movie) about his obsession with soccer. I was alone in a friend's place in Tokyo, desperate for something I could read, when I seized upon the water-damaged Hornby paperback because it was in English.
Since I've looked it up, I can tell you that the Hillsborough disaster killed 96 people on April 15, 1989, when poor communication and security barriers led to the crushing deaths of spectators at an English soccer match. It horrified the sporting world and left a mark on Britain that endures today.
Hornby's soccer memoir included ominous foreshadowing of Hillsborough. I could tell something was about to hap-pen. But then — suddenly, the disaster was over. The pages about the event had fallen out.
The past isn't just a closed book — it's a water-stained book with missing pages. The rest of the memoir didn't quite make sense. You can keep talking about things I didn't see, Mr. Hornby, but it's not going to help. And when the past happens over and over again, now, only a page number in the index will alert me that I've missed something.
Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.