The phrase 'Custodian of the Past' irresistibly conjures up the image of an antiquarian bookseller, or perhaps a cliché professor surrounded by dusty manuscripts. I did once know a woman in New York whose business it was to maintain historical resources; everything from daguerreotypes to microfiche cards for research purposes. That was BI and I wonder what she is doing these days? But that is not what I meant, at all.
No, the real custodian of the past may be the person who preserves the memory and memorabilia of a specific person or persons, with no motive but to maintain the image of that person or persons as they actually were. A mother, for instance, who preserves the childhood drawings and stories of someone long grown to adulthood. A daughter who stores a posthumous collection of her mother's diaries. People of this sort are often the inspiration for phrases such as 'Feet of clay' , 'No man is a hero to his wife and children' 'A philosopher is not without honor save in his own country', etc. Yet the one who maintains such records seldom does so out of a spiteful desire to impungn character or morals. If we remember someone we love, for example, and recall only their most sterling qualities, it is a fair bet that our love was at best superficial, and in the worst case purest fantasy.
What then motivates a person to become a custodian of the past? It cannot be a desire for notoriety or popularity. No one is likely to be more unpopular or even reviled than the person to whom facts are an absolute. 'When you shine a flashlight into a pigsty, ' wrote the late lamented Ayn Rand ' it is the light that is offensive.' Indeed, a custodian of the past may well find themselves unwillingly cast into the role of judge if not executioner. Thomas Huxley once famously described Science as 'The slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.' So it is with reputations, family pride, and a great many other shibboleths. It is one thing to base a family's honor on indisputably noble acts and works performed by its members, ignoring or overlooking the historical fact that the family fortunes were founded on the obscenity of the slave and opium trade. It is quite another to deny history and probity altogether and construct a fable based on nothing whatever save a fervent desire for it to be so.
In the latter instance the custodian of the past becomes at once enemy and adversary. Yet the motivation, the wish to live as a whole person in a real world, is in no way connected to a desire for revenge or to inflict pain for its own sake. Those diaries and letters, those photographs and the memories they evoke are real, and form the basis of the present reality. In the last analysis, one can either choose to live in it - or not.