In the early 90s, just a few years after the fall of communism in Romania, a westerner visiting Bucharest told me something that shocked me at that moment: “Why do all people look as if they were hit with a hammer on their heads?” I remember looking around–we were in a bus station. It was for the first time that it occurred to me that people did indeed look lost. It was not just that I could meet no eyes and that people looked into an emptiness that seemed to suck their souls, but there was also a complete lack of connection. We did not know how to connect to another especially because we had lost the ability to connect with ourselves.
I have heard people (Ana Blandiana and Ioana Hasu come first to mind) speaking of communism as a disease because we, those who went through it, are people without memory, since the regime wanted to erase everything that connected us with the past and with our ancestors. Absolute submission can only be obtained when an individual is utterly alone, when all of his or her connections within family or community disappear. In this disease, we have forgottewn ourselves, our way to connect with others.
We were sick in communism, and we learned to live with this sickness to the point where it became our way of life. Some time ago, I heard someone (I think it was Fr. Thomas Hopko, but I am no longer sure) suggesting that we should consider what would happen if the prodigal son did not go back to his father’s house. Fr. Hopko, if indeed it was him, said that the prodigal may tell a story to his children, letting them know that there is a country that he had lost, a country in which there was plenty for all. Over generations, the story would be transformed into a legend that no one would still believe. The only “reality” was given by the new world in which the generations coming from the prodigal son formed their lives. They would be sick without knowing it, because they would perceive their sickness as reality. They would be people without memory.
To some extent, this happens in communism too. We have lived in a sick world that many began to consider “normal,” and we no longer know how to deal with our disease. This is why public discourse about communism is needed. People who lived it, especially if they experienced trauma in their families, face the impossibility to come back to the country of their father, which in this case means to come back to their genuine selves. The suffering that is buried within them, within us, does not even allow us to go back to that land because we forgot it is still possible. This disease brings us the impossibility of transcendence. Speaking of communism is the occasion to bring this disease at the surface. It is not about giving people a justification for their suffering, for their impossibility to return to the lost land. It is rather about acknowledging that we have this disease and being able to recognize it in public. This does not mean that we are horrible because we are sick or that we are entitled to others’ understanding; it is only the occasion to return to who we are.
Revealing this disease is the first step in a public sacrament; it is the first step in returning human nature to itself. Restoring our memory is a liturgical endeavor because it creates the occasion of rendering to the world (to us) its nature. It is one way of fulfilling our call to be priests of creation.