A personal response to Gustave Gilbert’s epilogue in Sergeant Nibley PhD: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle.
It seems to me that if there is one condition that sets humans apart and superior to beasts, it is the condition of self awareness. The ability to actively reflect upon memories of the past to pave a new road for the future. It is an interesting quality if one truly considers it. We look back upon an unchangeable past to help us make decisions that exist in the present, and whose consequences shall echo into the future. And yet, so often we forget that the past is composed of decisions that were made in the present, by men who had no more experience than us and looked to the past of that time to find answers to their own present dilemmas.
They too were human. They too were lost, scared, unsure and pressured.
They too had children. Wives. Parents. Friends.They had dreams. Hopes. Loves. Homework. Crushes.
They too existed.
It seems to me that if there is one condition that sets humans apart from and inferior to nature, it is the condition of disbelief. The ability to fictionalize the past and speak of it as though some far removed, distant fantasy land where the prevalent race resembles humans. In this world, that race of pseudo-humans are irresponsible and capable of committing atrocities we know that we as the real humans could never, ever even conceive of. That race seems scary and so we remind ourselves that they are not real. They are simply characters in some formless book, where pages are made of bones, and the binding is held together by the silken thread of memory.
How easy it is for us to forget. To forget that we are not the first humans to exist, not the first humans to have had hopes, the first humans to dread Monday. So simple it is to look at pictures and comment on how silly these characters look, dressed in their odd apparel. We wonder what was running through the mind of the author when he thought up these imaginative, albeit odd characters. Yet we never seem to ask what it is these characters thought.
Did that little girl have a crush on the boy next door? Did she blush when she saw him in the streets? Did she look at herself in the mirror everyday to make sure she looked good enough for him?
Did that man ever worry about how he would feed his family? Did he worry whether or not his son would find a good job, and his daughter a good man? Was he happy with his life? Did he walk with his arms at his side, or with a wild gait with swinging arms? When we was a child, did he do well in school? Did he love his wife?
The truth is that every man, woman and child that has ever occupied this world has had the same unfathomable depth of personality that each of us possess. For them too their entire world centered around themselves, and they had the same insecurities, shortcomings and successes that we have. For them too the past was filled with whimsical characters that dressed in funny ways and suffered through relatable, yet fictional life experiences.
If there is anything to be taken away from Gilbert’s words, for me it is the confrontation of the reality that those killed in his words were real. They were living, breathing people who resembled me and my family. And to turn my back on this reality is to dishonour the life that they led. It is akin to refusing to believe the struggle my own grandparents went through when they tried to climb out of poverty and live proud lives. It is akin to refusing to acknowledge that everyday thousands of people are killed, raped and sold in today’s world.
Though these realities are harsh and unpleasant, through our confrontation with them we grow stronger. They help us to identify our own place in the world and learn what it is we stand for. They help us develop our moral code of self awareness. And that is in essence why we read works like Gilbert’s. They force us to drop the veil of apathy and fictionalization and force self awareness upon our selves. They help us become aware that we do not occupy only the moment in which we exist, but simultaneously exist in the hopes and dreams of our ancestors and the memories of our future generations. We are part of a centuries long journey and represent the new front of humanity; a product of years of development and strife and success of an entire race. So words like Mr. Gilbert’s ask us to decide what it is we live for today. What do we represent in today’s reality of the human race? What do we live for?
For, as Malcolm X said so succinctly, “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”
And we owe it to those who were killed by injustice and hatred to find a worthy ideal to stand for. Humanity can no longer fall to these acts. I know I will not.