myrrh

There’s a kind of mistake, in mourning, in memorializing, that we need to keep making – it needs to be a steady part of the process and the constant guest… the mistake of naïve empathy – empathy without full understanding or context. It remains a mistake, but it also remains a piece without which the full picture is impossible.

 

Traveling with Randy Parry in Tx – we went to see a weeping virgin icon at a Russian orthodox monastery (trailer park). Oil painting, there, in a hot trailer, weeping myrrh. We treated it as sacred – not overcoming doubts, but – laying them aside in an as-if clause, putting ourselves in the presence of Mary’s sorrow. Turns out later that the head of the compound was holding the nuns in a kind of sexual slavery; he admitted to the hoax of the icon as a way of drawing in visitors and income.

 

The awe for Mary remains a true thing…

 

Complexity has to be completely complex – a reversal isn’t a complication, it is a binary flip.

 

Let’s identify with the perpetrator as much as with the victims and the survivors –

 

In another case I read a sermon where a priest insisted to the congregation (full of grieving family members who had lost children and spouses to the Cho; Cho’s family was elsewhere), days after Virginia Tech, that the shooter be mourned along with those who were shot. This is a courageous homily. Primo Levi writes amazingly about the fellowship of the guards and inmates in the camps – the mutual dehumanization. We all need the gift of distance – the ability to mourn a victim with enough space to imagine that the victim is lying, or that the perpetrator had reasons – or that the victim is telling the truth/the perpetrator was a sadist – and still they need to be viewed in fellowship. But not everyone has this gift, in the moment, and it isn’t wrong to grieve the hatcheted and gassed. It’s wrong to convert that grief to objective political force – because the grief isn’t objective, and isn’t force…

There’s an anecdote in the RW/UG notes – some of the young women from the team were walking through Kigali, and were trailed by a 12 yr old boy. They were chatting happily, when one of the women said “what are you studying in school.” The boy’s demeanor shifted, he said “the genocide” – and recounted the basic government narrative. Then: “my father was killed in the genocide” – and wept. The women wept too. The genocide was 17 years ago. What to do? Perhaps the father was killed in later violence; perhaps he was raped and given AIDS; perhaps he was the mother’s first husband… Or perhaps the boy is lying. Either he wants the sympathy of wealthy tourists – or – it feels to him like his father died. The boy’s name, of course, Innocent. The women were (are) sane in feeling badly for the boy; the boy is sane for feeling badly under genocide’s shadow. The lie is a vehicle for an ethical response. In taking the lie away, there is not always cause to take the response away – and I think this is what folks sometimes feel. If, say Kagame shot down the plane – some emotional filing inside seizes up, and the fear is that one is wrong for having felt badly for the one-armed woman on the bicycle…

Shifting a bit – I don’t think it’s wrong to mourn the losses suffered by some of the young refugees we’ve met, or to be horrified by the biographies of the child soldiers. It’s good to call the facts into question – I have heard details in some of our friends’ biographies shift. Expanding the frame is delicate. It is not a matter of balance – there is no balance, no equivalence. There is no objectivity – there is no safe ground on which to stand, no point of view that is not subject itself to ambiguity. There is paradox and the void. Peace can be argued out of this, probably not justice, but yes, coexistence.

There is no safe point of view – forgiveness, reconciliation, historical truth – are all dynamic, problematic and essential – on all sides.

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