Thursday, January 8, 2015
Paris, the City of Haters, and the Critical Mom
I'm with the folks saying, "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie.) The Americans are saying they're "not afraid," but that's whistling in the dark. We're all afraid, and we all want our voices heard. We want to tell the truth, and we want to live to say we told it. We are these twelve brave people who dared to speak the truth even though they'd already lived through an attack and even though, maybe, they knew their days were numbered. The words of the courageous Malala--"they can only shoot a body. They cannot shoot my dreams," come to mind. I wonder what she'd say about all this? Charlie Hebdo didn't target Islam any more than it targeted Christians and Jews. Charlie Hebdo just didn't go for religion in general. I get this! Oh, do I ever get it! But the problem goes way beyond saying Judaism is dreck and Christianity is dreck and oh, Islam, too. The problem is usually much more personal. It starts in families. It starts with being the one who utters the family secret out loud. Maxine Hong Kingston's bestselling autobiography, The Woman Warrior, begins with "You must not tell anyone . . . ." and it's her mother speaking and she's warning and threatening her daughter with the tale of an aunt who got pregnant out of wedlock and ended up drowning herself and her newborn child in the family well. The villagers had violently shown their scorn, destroying the family's possessions, animals, and much of their food. The aunt died of shame. We all die of shame when we don't tell the truth. Bernadette Devlin, Britain's youngest MP at 21, in 1969, remarked that "to gain that which is worth having it may be necessary to lose everything else." I don't go for extremes and I don't go for violence and I wouldn't have gone on a hunger strike to prove a point--this quotation is often taken to be a reference to Irish Revolutionary hunger strikers--but I do go for telling the truth, at the very least to myself, and lately, far more openly. What if my family goes online and comes across the stuff they said that I invented? Well, the farthest I'll go, to save myself agony or lawyers or both, is to call some of my memoir "fiction." (after all, the family's been calling real events "fiction" for years, and went into a real rage when I remarked on some undiscovered realities about my grandfather and my father and my uncle.) If telling the truth means giving up my original family, well, it wasn't much of a family to begin with, but it was everything for the longest time. And I would never have the strength to tell the truth if it weren't for the family I chose--my husband and children, as opposed to the one into which I was born. I don't expect to be shot, but I suppose I'll be ostracized. Ostracism is something with which we can all live. But murder, cold-blooded murder of those who reject or ridicule your god, your saints, your folks, or your beliefs, kills you, not those who laughed at what you cherish. That is the truth that I wish the Paris killers could absorb. Longue vérité en direct! (Long live truth.) It's always mutating. It's never stable. It's a living, breathing thing. A bullet kills us--not it.