Right after the small boulder, along the same ridge where both sides offer opposing views of each side of the mountain, there is a tree with a massive burl on it. My dad said it was probably the result of some infection or insect’s ingress into the tree long ago. I was amazed, in the way of the child who has no words to express their amazement, by how history was physicalized. That burl was the tree’s response to physical trauma, like our scar tissue is a mammalian response to the same suffering. It’s horrible how long scars and burls last. An act of violence that can occur in an instance will be remembered for decades and, for trees, potential centuries to come. The persecutor isn’t forced to remember the violence, but the victim is. Every crime is two-fold. I hate that.
My friend Jordan is taking a Hollocaust theology course, and they’ve been thinking about how groups remember things in the same way that individuals do. Collective memory and generational trauma work in much the same way that our bodies physicalize our past wounds. We become scar tissue. We become more closed-off. The walls grow taller. And the price of those protections is the loss of the ability to be vulnerable. The oppressor has the luxury of forgetting the wounds of the past, because they are not left with scar tissue. Even though the insect that infected the tree has long since died, its offspring live on, unaffected by the burl on the tree. But the tree remembers, because it has no other choice, and it will, for who knows how long.