Can We Change the Past? (Part 2)

Part 1 of this blog post discussed Julian Barnes’ novel, The Sense of an Ending, and its premise that we make stories of our lives. If this is true, we can change our lives, change our pasts, by gaining new understandings that reshape our stories. I wanted to relate this concept to a personal experience.

When I was a boy, my mother told me that if anyone laid a hand on me I should tell her. She said she would deal with that person. I believed her because she was strong in many ways, including her temper, her sense of humor, and her love.

My story takes place only a few years before the crucial events of the 1960s that the narrator is recollecting in The Sense of an Ending. I was in fifth grade. During those happy moments between classes when the kids would turn sideways and backwards in their desk chairs and chatter until the noise level soared, a friend told me a joke and I started laughing.

At that moment the principal entered the room. He strode directly to me and started hitting me with an open hand.

“Laugh at me, will you?” he demanded as he struck my head and upper back eight or ten times.

I was in pain and stunned. My friend and I exchanged puzzled glances.

I took my mother at her word and told her what happened.

She promised that she would go and speak to the principal and ask him to apologize. But she never went.

In my next blog I’ll discuss how my perception of my
mother’s failure to act changed with the passage of years.

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