Someone had scrawled it on the board at work. Five inky black words heading a clean slate of white. We forgot to hold on. And then nothing. It reminded me of a sign that I saw sometimes walking into town, fixed underneath a tap embedded into a pillar: mind your head. I must have walked past that sign a hundred times and instead of wondering why anyone would put a tap six feet up, I always thought, instead, that’s pretty good advice. Mind your head. I hadn’t always minded mine and there were consequences to that, none of them particularly good. It reminded me of that insofar as what it meant was entirely about the context you brought to it. It was open to your own personal and twisted interpretation. Here’s what it said to me:
We forgot to hold on to decency in our discourse.
We forgot to hold on to women with courage. People with courage.
We forgot to hold on to reason and expertise and reflection.
We forgot to hold on to the idea that we’re all so very different and yet so much all the same.
We forgot to hold on to the lessons of history. Some real basic stuff. Nationalism and de-humanisation of minority groups. Censorship.
We forgot to hold on to images of mushroom clouds and concentration camps.
We forgot to hold on to peace. Forgot that it was hard won.
We forgot to hold on to the realisation that our parents and grandparents didn’t make their sacrifices for us to think exactly what they thought: they made them so that we could think exactly what we thought.
We forgot to hold on to the old chestnut that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear. Or read. Or share. Or like.
We forgot to hold on to friends we had at school, at University, in work. We forgot that they shaped who we are.
We forgot to hold on to the memories of growing up, of our parents shepherding us through our childhood, unburdened by responsibility. Forgot the privilege of that bubble.
We forgot to hold on to the original Star Wars trilogy. Han shot first. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
We forgot to hold to the memory of our first kiss.
We forgot to hold on to jumping up and down in a muddy field, pelting each other with fist fulls of straw, singing along with bands we held as our own until our voices rang hoarse. Forgot to hold on to falling asleep under canvas listening to festivals unwind into the early hours.
We forgot to hold on to bass notes that made your ribs rumble and distorted treble that you still heard fizzing in your ears for days.
We forgot to hold on to Joyce and Fitzgerald and Kesey and Orwell and Atwood and Lee. Forgot Lennon and McCartney and Bowie and Mitchell and Franklin and Gaye. Forgot anyone who had a heart. Christ, and surprise surprise, we even forgot Cilla.
We forgot to hold on to Armstong and Aldrin and Collins.
We forgot to hold on to science and the scientific method. If you can disprove the forgetting in these words I will happily cede. Offer a new hypothesis and let’s test it.
Mostly I think we forgot to hold on to each other. We had the choice – have the choice – and we held on to fear and to anger and to walls and to extremes. We forgot to hold on to letting go. We forgot to hold on to curiosity and being open and knowing that what we don’t know will always dwarf what we do. We forgot to hold on to embracing our fallibility and vowing to strive to be better.
We forgot to hold on.
That’s what it said to me. Someone will have scrubbed it off by Monday.