Thursday, February 25, 2010

Time Is But a Stream ...

"Paternity is a relationship to a future that is not your own." So said the great Emmanuel Levinas in an essay that I was working over as I drafted my doctoral dissertation 19 years ago.
Oh, and 19 years ago, today, our first child was born. (Happy birthday, Bud!)
As our first son grows into adulthood I gain more personal understanding of Levinas' insight.
My mother has often said to me that she has no trouble imagining the past that came before her birth but that she has a hard time imagining the world going on without her. She tells me that imagining a future that is not her own is difficult to do.
Parents can dream their children's futures, but those are not the dreams of our children. We may receive the dreams from our fathers, to borrow the title of President Obama's book, but they are not our dreams. Our children may receive our dreams for them, but they are not our children's dreams.
The relationship that we have to the future that is not ours is tenuous, but it is also inescapable and it places the primary ethical burden of history squarely on our shoulders. We are responsible to that relationship and to that future which we will not experience.
Each generation is given the opportunity and the responsibility to create the future that its children will inhabit. That's why we keep on doing the often difficult and exhausting work of trying to make peace in a world addicted to violence, and to do justice in a world of structured injustice.
That's why the work on health care reform is so important. One way or another we are going to decide what kind of system our children will inherit, what kind of costs they will face, what burdens of ours they will carry.
Oh, and it's why I'm watching the stupid summit thing today when I could be getting more productive work done!

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