Throw off Jacob Marley’s chain

Zach Wiita

“‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?'”

These words from Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” have always stayed with me. It’s a vivid image – a sorrowful warning that we each forge chains that enslave us every time we wrong another. We are literally tied to our pasts and can never escape our sins.

As graduation approaches, I’ve been thinking about that idea. There are times that the inescapable past feels very real. Here at Kent State we are still haunted by the ghosts of our past. As College Fest so vividly demonstrated, May 4 has never ended in this city. Every time there is a confrontation between students and police, both sides seem to adopt roles that were set on that horrible day, even when the confrontation is apolitical. It is the unspoken subtext to everything that happens on this campus, and we have yet to truly recover.

Certainly in my own life, I have often felt my wrongs weighing upon me like Jacob Marley’s chains. I have made mistakes and wronged others. I have lost friends and I have hurt people I care about.

Yet I find that I simply cannot accept this view of the world. We at Kent State may be haunted by our past, but even these old ghosts are being conquered. University administration has gradually come to accept this troubled past into its sense of the community. New evidence has surfaced of an order having been given to the National Guardsmen to fire, helping to bring the truth to light and defeating a decades-old denial of victims and their families the catharsis they need to heal. And even the most hardened cynic cannot fail to be moved by the beautiful candlelight march held every year to remember the victims.

In my own life, I am constantly reminded by the goodwill of my friends and family that our mistakes and failures do not solely define us. Every time I am helped by friend, or reconcile with someone from whom I was once estranged, I find myself reminded that the measure of a person’s character is also found in her compassion and in her ability to connect with others. Nobody knows one’s failures as intimately as one’s self, but every time I am helped along by the kindness of strangers, I see that the weight of a person’s good deeds may never be known – and can greatly outweigh their faults.

I firmly believe this to be true of society as well. We are all familiar with the moral failings of our communities. Yet a casual glance at history reminds us that we are in a state of constant evolution, that democracy and human rights have been steadily gaining ground in our political culture, that we are gradually becoming a more perfect Union. The ideals of liberal democracy continue to inspire us to become a better nation than we were yesterday.

We can escape our past. Even Jacob

Marley would have us know that we can shed the chains that bind us. We can create ourselves anew every day, for we are not the slaves of our sins. We are free agents. We can begin again.

As we graduates move to start our real lives, it’s important to remember that the monumental change we are about to undergo is not merely a change of physical or institutional circumstances. It is an opportunity to remind ourselves that we can undergo so great a change any day, at any time of our choosing.

We can be forgiven, and become someone new as we approach a day no one yet has known.

Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theatre studies major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].