Paris, Terrorism and Little Canoes

eiffel tower pictureYears ago, my European brother translated a French joke into English for me.

Three explorers, an Englishman, A Frenchman and a Belgian are captured by cannibals. The head cannibal says, “We are going to cook you and eat you, but first, we are going to remove your skin and make it into little canoes. You can have anything you want as a last meal.” The Englishman says, “Can you do roast beef and Yorkshire pudding?” “Of course,” says the headman. “Do you think we are uncivilized?” The Frenchman wants to begin with escargot and go on to an omelette and salad. He is too upset to eat more. The Belgian says, “Give me a fork.” “Is that all you want?” asks the headman. “We do a nice patates frites.” “That’s all,” says the Belgian. “Just a fork.” So they sit down to wait silently.  In a surprisingly short time, the meals  are presented to the Englishman and the Frenchman, and they begin to eat. The Belgian picks up his fork and begins stabbing himself all over his body. When he is covered with bleeding holes he cries, triumphantly, “That for your little canoe.”

Terrorists are nothing new to my brother and me. Our father was one domestically and socially. Keeping us in constant fear would ensure our obedience and turn us into helpers for his nefarious schemes. Oddly enough, we didn’t obey. We contradicted him and took the blows. Then we escaped him. Two of us became teachers, one a minister and my brother, the funniest, kindest oddball in Belgium.

ISIS has miscalculated as all terrorists do. Paris is now the focus of the world’s love. If you’re into it, tune in and see it in your mind-a grid of golden contrails from every corner of civilization. Spiritual help is pouring in from both realms. People are heartbroken and stricken with fear, and, yet, there is more light than darkness even now.

“Out of this nettle danger,” Shakespeare said, “we pluck this flower..” He named the flower “safety”. It suited his purpose. But it is more than that. Empathy is growing by leaps and bounds.

Terrorists always make the same mistake, and they never win. The human spirit was not built for sustained terror. We rise above. We march on.Terrorists actually accomplish the opposite of what they intended. More darkness calls in more light.

That for your little canoe!

Writing About Daniel #2:

(This is one of a series of posts about my estranged son, Daniel.)

I began writing about Daniel as I explained earlier (https://115journals.com/2014/02/08/writing-about-daniel/) because I wanted to “open the flow of my dammed up love for him” in view of the fact that we are not communicating. I talked about his birth, his unknowable infant self and considered the external world and its influence on him as a toddler. In the process, I have arrived at the spring of 1963  when he was 15 months-old. So how is it going so far?

Unexpectedly.

I thought I would gradually uncover the little person he was then and slowly move forward as he became his own person, distinct from his sister who was a year older. Instead, something else happened.

Out of the dusty attic of my mind, I retrieved another memory. It was of my father, leaning close to my ear as he was leaving after a visit, and whispering to me. He said, “You know I’m going to kill them both, don’t you? I’ve told you so.” Then he sniggered and got into his car.

By the time, Daniel was a year old I had heard this more than once. My father was a monster. Goes without saying. We all pretended this was not so. He was violent and abusive when the fit took him, but he genuinely loved children, especially these grandchildren. Unfortunately, his idea of love was way off-base as I knew from experience and I had warned him to keep his hands off Julia and Daniel. This was his revenge.

So why not report him to the police? The most I had ever been able to do was report him to a neighbour when I was eight. She was a pillar of the community, but her intervention consisted of scolding him soundly, with the result that I thought he was going to murder me, my mother, and my two baby sisters. Moreover, he always seemed to have the local cops in his pocket and, anyway, in those days, no one- nobody- believed such allegations.

I had assured him that if anything happened to my children I would write down everything he had ever done to us, mail it to the powers that be and kill myself. His giggling response was, “You’d never do that!”.”Wait and see,” I said. (We hadn’t yet learned to say “Try me”.)

So he sniggered in my ear and took off with my mother, back to Burlington where two of my siblings still lived under his roof, too old to tempt him and old enough to have designs on escape.

I didn’t believe him, but he terrified me. He had been terrifying me for years and years. He had almost killed me when I was six, but he deeply regretted it afterwards. (Is the sarcasm clear there?) Once he understood that I opposed him, he kept up a campaign of terror, oddly or perhaps not so oddly, combined with taking me and my sister, Georgia, with him whenever possible and referring to us as his angels.

So writing about this time on Benleigh Dr. in Scarborough in 1963, I came upon this whispered confidence and lost my mind. Post traumatic stress will do that for you. Transport you right back into the thick of things. Suddenly, you are in the midst of a flashback of feeling as intense as it was originally.

Basically, I feel a homicidal rage. I feel as if I could kill him. Then I remember that he is already dead and has been for 26 years. He phoned me and my sisters on the morning of the day he died and said to each of us, “If I have done you any harm, I’m sorry” -he couldn’t get hold of Rob in Europe. He knew he was going to die and not from natural causes.

I was late for class and I muttered something in reply -“That’s all right” probably. I had spent his old age trying to love the shambling wreck he had become.

Today, weighing the harm that got passed down the generations, I told my sister Georgia that if he died violently everyday, it would not be enough. And sure, that feeling has to be acknowledged, given some head room, but I can’t stay there. I must let it go- for my own mental health. I must forgive that monstrous old man. He asked me to.

I can speculate about why Daniel won’t speak to me but I don’t really know, except that somehow this lies at the bottom of it. It is bred into us and into our relationship.

It was supposed to be a secret. Now it isn’t.

(Never Tell, my e-book tells the story of my childhood more fully. See 115journals.com)

How To Be in Response to Terrorism

It’s tempting this morning, the day after the bombing of the Boston Marathon, to sink into despair, to tighten up in fear. Just what the terrorists had in mind.

So what is my responsibility at this moment?

Of all the images that have burned into my mind, I need to chose the image of people “running toward the fire”, the people tearing down the barriers to get to the wounded. There were many more helpers there than destroyers – bystanders, marathon workers, police, soldiers, security staff, medics, nurses, doctors, hospital staff. There were those who documented events and brought what they witnessed to us.

And yet, the overwhelming pity we feel for the victims’ pain and loss threatens to outweigh the good. They are in the thick of it, but most of us are not. I am not. I have distance. My job is not to add to the thought-form of terror and despair. What I need to do today is not just to “keep calm and carry on”, but to focus on goodness and light, not in some airy-fairy new age way but at a very concrete level. I, personally, can do that by remembering how parents and uncles and aunts and teachers and all the others who “run toward the fire”, outnumber and more than balance the deluded bombers. I cannot and never could afford to give in to terrorism.

What works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for someone else. You may use some other method of restoring your positive outlook. It might be compassion or faith in God or something else. Feel free to share it.