Repent or Repeat…

Subtitle: A Coronavirus Chronicle


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

document, parchment

George Santayana’s words have been rendered variously:

Those who do not learn history’s lessons are doomed to repeat them.

Those who do not treasure history’s teachings are predestined to recreate the past.

Though not entirely certain of Santayana’s original context and intent, dreaming my way into the philosopher’s mind and worldview, a few observations…

One, history is a human temporal, successively generational act of recording and reflecting on the past.

Two, history is human-driven, indeed, a human invention.

Three, as human nature and behavior are replicable, when we do not remember history’s lessons, the likelihood increases that we will repeat them (which is another way of saying that we must relearn them).

Four, Santayana’s warning against historical amnesia, generally speaking, applies to past errors in judgment, which…

Five, become clearer as a succeeding generation, through history’s lens, reflects on the discernments and decisions of a prior age, which…

Six, can serve as guidance for both individual and communal present-day practice.

Applying Santayana’s maxim to my individual practice, when I haven’t learned from my past mistakes – whether pertaining to matters emotional, financial, physical, relational, or spiritual (with due note of how a choice in one or more areas can and does affect all others) – I, ruefully, have relearned that 12-Step programmatic lesson: The greatest form of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. (Though speaking only for myself, I have a hunch that others also may have found this to be true!)

Thinking about communal practice, in the shadow of the scourge of the coronavirus, I pray that we, all of us – locally, regionally, nationally, globally – repent of any and all past errors in judgment in responding to epidemics and pandemics lest we repeat our mistakes in disastrous proportions.


Endnote: George Santayana (1863-1952)George Santayana (né Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás) (1863-1952), Spanish-born American philosopher and poet, essayist and novelist.

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