My brother-in-law is currently dealing with cancer. Getting the news that he has cancer was one of the most difficult days of his life – and ours as well.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

But here’s the thing. Being told he had cancer isn’t what actually went wrong in his life, that was just the moment we can focus on. Having cancer, that’s what stinks.

In truth, knowing what’s wrong allowed the treatment to begin. Granted, the treatment is no walk in the park. The radiation makes him sick. The radiation makes him tired. The radiation has taken a toll on every aspect of his life, and I am absolutely certain if it wasn’t absolutely necessary he’d rather not.

Of course, it is necessary. It is this painful, awful, nauseating thing that will enable him to have a better, richer, more healthy life.

I’ve been thinking about my brother-in-law a lot. Not only because I love the guy deeply (he actually has known my family longer than I have been alive), but because I can’t help but read his personal situation as a metaphor for the larger national moment.

Our nation is experiencing a reckoning. We are being asked to confront, acknowledge and finally come to terms with our collective history. It is uncomfortable. It is painful. It challenges who we think we are and it turns out some would rather not.

There is a counterproductive move afoot to not only ignore factual history but to actively suppress it. Across our nation, legislation is being enacted to codify the version of ourselves we wish were true. We want to believe we are cancer-free, and we seem to think if we say it loud enough it will come true.

Texas and Florida once again grab the headlines on this, but in our own backyard it’s pretty bad. That’s right, New Hampshire, I’m looking at you. There, new laws prohibit teachers from discussing “controversial topics,” although what exactly that means was left undefined. What’s more, some tweets went out from conservative organizations (though really, there is nothing remotely “conservative” about this) offering a $500 bounty to any parent who catches a teacher in violation.

That is not how we raise thinkers. That is not how we raise problem solvers. That is not how we teach the skills needed to grow up to be a doctor, a furnace technician, an artist, a parent, a good citizen. We need free, uncensored thinking spaces. We need to be able to have tough conversations. We need to be able to disagree on opinions and evaluate factual data. Even when the facts stink.

The reality is, our nation has a lot of problematic history with which to contend. We know that. The land on which our nation was founded was inhabited by other nations – flourishing, vibrant nations – before the colonies were founded. Vast empires were built using the labor of enslaved people. Following the abolition of slavery, the oppressive policies that supported it continued. Racism and discrimination continue to this day. The Indigenous nations were not even granted the vote until 1962.

These things are not opinion or personal leanings. They are documented realities. Wishing they were different is understandable. Pretending things were different is unhealthy. Insisting things were different and punishing the speaking of truth is pathological and damaging to the very core of what we say we stand for. It’s dishonest. It’s cowardly.

We’d all rather there not be a cancer. But if the cancer is there, not talking about it does not get us closer to a cure.

The treatment for our troubled past and the prescription for a healthy future lies in an open and honest conversation about our history.

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