The before bit and the after bit, the whole shebang

Either my mum or my dad keeps an essay called rereading a stranger in the village in the bathroom and because I am nosy and curious I often peek at it. I believe that the original stranger in the village was written by a man named Baldwin and I have a vague understanding of who this fellow was and what he was doing writing the piece that has been reread and written about, probably on numerous occasions. As far as I know from my mum he was a black, gay New York writer who went to Switzerland with one of his boyfriends and found himself being stared at for his skin colour. From what I have read he wasn’t stared at in hostility or discrimination, but… wonder. He had caught the eye of the whole village’s collective scientific instinct. This blog post is actually not about Baldwin and his experience in that little village that had never seen an African American, I just got sidetracked. What this blog post is about is something that he said:
We are trapped in history and history is trapped in us.
The easiest way for a literal mind like my own or my dad’s to interpret this sentence would be to look at scars as many novels, movies, tv sitcoms and high school drama students do. The whole idea of containing history or even history itself is a romantic idea. It’s wishy and its washy and it sounds nice. We like to look back on ourselves and coo gently at our own trivial nature. Given this it simply fits in nicely that scars are history. For most of our history scars have been linked to survival and with survival comes status. “Look at me! Look at my scar! I fought a bear and survived! Look at me!”. When you think about it it’s not that surprising that every brooding and clichéd character in a sitcom meant for 13-15 year olds would have scars. The link is easy. Scars=history=tragic backstory=drama=good ratings. The math is simple. That was certainly the first thing I thought of at least.
What is a more complicated thought is that we, as pieces of matter in any shape or form, are history. We are the literal embodiment of everything that came before. History isn’t our cell, history is our flesh and our bones, without it we would cease to be. There can’t be an after if there wasn’t a before. It’s a confounding thought. It means that there was a before the Big Bang, and their was a bit before the abyss before the Big Bang. History just goes on and on in all directions. What humans have done, what makes us so evolved, is that we record it. We fill in the blank bits in the map. We have maps in the first place. We write, we have language, we have stories and non-physical storage places. This means that we are the before bit and we are the after, whether we were there to recognise it or whether we were participants.

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