Three weeks ago I finished a novel called The Revisionist by one Helen Schulman. (I had meant to write a few lines about it but something always seemed to come up.) It is the story of David Hershleder, a Jewish neurosurgeon in America who unwittingly chooses his realities to suit his convenience – until he is thrown out of the house by his wife Itty. Until he comes into contact with an old friend who writes an article about a Holocaust denier. Until this denier makes an about turn and embraces what really happened.
It turns out that David has been so detached from his family. It turns out, too,tha this mother, a Holocaust survivor from the death camps, put her head inside an oven to kill herself. This happened on the night she begged him to keep her company because after so many years she was finally ready to talk. What was so special about her that she survived while others did not? But David refused and went back to his dorm.
These things are revealed only in the latter part of the novel. in the beginning, David succeeds to tell us only about the part of himself that he wishes others to know.
Would I have been a revisionist? A denier? There are things in my past I would love to zap out of my memory. Horrible things. Disdainful things. Things I should not have done. Characters I should not have met, even associated with. Circumstances I should not have flung myself into. Sometimes one gets the feeling one would give anything for a clean slate.
But a clean slate is a lie. We only have a clean slate when we are born. After that, everything we say and do cannot be undone. Nothing in real life can give us a feeling quite like the “Undo Changes” we click on before saving particular version of a file in our computer.
Live with that? We would not have been the same persons anyway. And only if we have learned to accept everything that we did (or still do) as an essential component of who we are today can we become truly at peace with who we can be. The past is cast in stone. The future is rife with possibilities. And it is still in our hands.
That's actually easier said than done.