Some people remain unable to take another step forward and to leave the past behind. They remain stuck trying to resolve the issues of the past in the terms of the past and to no one’s present best interest. They cling to the vestiges of the past and are thus destined to remain frozen in time.
At the end of World War II in a speech delivered in Fulton Missouri, Prime Minister Winston Churchill informed the world that ““From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”
The Cold War between East and West was on and would become marked by the nuclear arms race, aggressive espionage, witch hunting at home, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crises and in the Western Hemisphere the severing of relationships between the United States and its neighbor ninety miles to the South, the domino effect and the Korean, Vietnam and other conflicts.
We often date the end of the the cold war with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. We mark November 9, 1989 as the death of one old and outmoded world order and the birth of a new more hopeful era in East-West relations. Although there was a sea change in geopolitics in 1989, vestiges or remnants continued to fester.
The relationship between the United States and the island nation of Cuba is one of those vestiges. The US Embargo and isolation of Cuba began with Castro’s rise to power and came to a head the during the Cuban missile crisis of 1961–fifty-three years ago.
The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 but there was no real movement to end the cold war stalemate with Cuba until yesterday, December 17, 2014 with the historic agreement worked out by President Obama and Raul Castro.
Yesterday we began a journey out of the mid-twentieth century to a potentially new relationship with one of our closest neighbors. In doing so we have removed Cuba from the list of cold war vestiges which still trouble the world.
Vestiges can serve a useful purpose in society because they can call to mind steps we have taken on our way to the present and perhaps help us to avoid pitfalls in the challenge of the future. Clinging to vestiges of the past can however be a grave danger because the world in which we live is constantly and rapidly changing. We may marvel at the past and the journey we have trod but we can not live in that past.
The English word “vestige” is derived from the Latin word for “footstep,” vestigium. Vestigium are the foot prints we leave on the pathway of time. We can look back at them but it is really impossible, no matter how hard we try or how much we desire it, to actually stand in them–they are of the past and we are of the future.
No matter how personally painful in may be for some, fifty-three years of standing in a footprint is way too long a time to waste before stepping off into the future. Even those who grieve Cuba’s past and the loss of their own loved one’s can find no relief or salvation in the status quo.