The packing and unpacking game. Shakespeare, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Communion.

I recently had to carry a few more things than I thought I could from one room to another. I stopped for a moment to think about it and devised a way to pack the items so as to be able to carry them all safely to the other side.

This packing and unpacking game is something that migrant cultures must get quite good at. I don’t mean literally – although remembering to “travel light” helps – but psychologically. The scattered nation, the nation in diaspora because of famine or social upheaval, has to be clever about how it stores or hides its meanings so as to be able to retrieve them again and again.

The trick about packing and unpacking memories is that the more you retrieve a memory, the more you damage it. Nostalgia kills the thing you want to love most. That’s a pretty striking evolutionary skill – or deficit. However you want to see it.

Reprisals and repetitions in which the variables change but the structures remain intact provide an alternative technique for preserving knowledge.

You retain the instructions but can leave behind the materials. You follow a recipe. An algorithm. Every time you relive it, you must relearn it. The process of re-learning ensures the necessary adaptations are made and the effective code, the replicating part, is launched successfully.

This kind of compression for ensuring your signal spreads faster and endures longer is certainly the way drama operates. In plays, all that remains of the first performance is the script. The actors, the costumes, the props all fade away. In religions, rituals serve the same function of allowing performers and audience alike to relive key events and phrases.

Like every performance of Shakespeare is a new interpretation, every rehearsal of the last supper is a new communion despite its lacking the actual bread and actual wine consumed on that first last supper.

Mutatis mutandis: only that which has to change is changed. All other things being equal. This phrase is a key instruction in our social code. It’s also a key instruction in our religious, musical and literary codes.

Adapt. Change. Evolve. If that’s not what has kept some cultures intact after so much packing and unpacking these last three thousand years, I really don’t know how they did it.

(Thank you, Victoria Zumba for your mention of the Carolina Chocolate Drops.)