Monday, September 17, 2012
I'm Not Brave.
I just finished reading The Help.
I love to read books that tackle difficult situations and bring attention to both the humanity and inhumanity of people. I might be able to chalk that up to my AP English teacher from high school. We all called her "Mama Squires" and were used to her regularly spewing from her pulpit "What is the meaning of life? SUFFERING!" I've always had a habit of looking to the other side and trying to see it from the "other' point of view, but she cultivated that habit.
"Mama Squires" books, as I like to call them, always make me think. They make me think about myself and my family, and what kind of person I am.
About 2 years ago, my tears stained the pages of a book called The Book Thief. It's about Christian Germans in the Holocaust, and the way that they suffered and feared and hid and shut their mouths out of fear. It's a unique look at the other side from the viewpoint of Death. The ones we forget about while we're focused on the horrifying suffering of the Jews in the concentration camps. It's a look at the people who were just doing what they could and saying what they had to to protect their families. It's full of cruelty and blood and anger and violence. It's also full of family closeness, and charity and compassion and kindness.
The Help has become a movie recently, and has a lot of attention. It's written from the point of view of three different women. One is a young, educated white woman, the other two are black maids all during the integration controversy of the 1960's in Mississippi. It's full of hate on both sides. Intolerance on both sides. It's full of violence and lack of choice, and the panicked feeling of being stuck, and just simple, sheer ignorance. Again, though, it's also full of compassion and change and understanding.
And I wonder: What kind of person am I? Am I brave enough to refuse to join the Nazi Party? Am I brave enough to throw bread to the passing Jewish chain gang who are starving and wasting away? Am I brave enough to hide a Jewish person in my home and/or help them escape? Am I brave enough not to just sit with my mouth closed about unfairness going on against someone of a different race? Am I brave enough that I would have gone against what I had been taught my whole life and think for myself about what is right and wrong? Would I be brave enough to do something dangerous in the name of making someone else's life better? Am I brave enough to make an effort even though it might flop and harm a lot of people despite it's noble intention?
When I was young, I thought I was. I have always been outspoken. It gets me into trouble. I like to think of myself as open minded and modern in my views, and my parents taught me tolerance. I was in 3rd grade when I read Number the Stars and imagined myself as the main character and I was sure that I wasn't afraid of them. That they could kill me if they wanted to, but I would never let them think that I believed in what they were doing. I don't remember how old I was when I saw Corina Corina with Whoopie Goldberg and couldn't for the life of me understand the black/white controversy. My mother tried to explain. I just didn't get it. Race and Religion aside, would I be brave enough to stand up for women's rights, and my right to vote, to own land, to hold a job? Would I march along with those who were brave enough to speak out? I have read some awful stories about the interrogations and tortures that my fore mothers were put through to earn my rights for me.
I know now, though. I am NOT brave. I was very sorely mistaken. I have children now. And I would give my life to save them. And I'd probably very likely give someone else's life to save them too. That means, for me, that if I were a Christian in Nazi Germany, I'd join the Nazi party and keep my mouth shut, all the while praying for it to pass and for my children to not starve. My heart would break as I sobbed and told the hiding Jew through my tears that I could not hide them, I had babies to protect. I would grind my teeth in effort not to say anything while other people said racist things about people of a different race, because the truth is, there was nowhere to hide, and the damage, legal or illegal, could be done in a matter of minutes.
I am blessed today to live in a country and time where I am not afraid for my life to speak about anything I want to, be that politically or morally or religiously or whatever. However, the fears that plague me within that state of mind that I enter while deeply engaged in a "Mama Squires" book are very pliable and real. It wasn't long ago that those fears were thriving. I have living grandparents that dealt with them. My own realization frightens me. I WANT to be that better, self sacrificing person. It seems ideal to do the right thing, even though it puts your children in danger, so that they can see goodness in something terrible and what is right when everything is wrong. But it's just not that easy to do what you know is right when you have little eyes watching you, and you know that their safety is the first thing that you should take care of.
I DO know that I would never be the one who painted slurs on any doorways, or spit at anyone, or treated them badly. I know that I would never perpetuate the bad behaviors or the ignorance. And maybe, in some ways, that makes me just as bad as the ones who did those things.
And honestly, I can't help but wonder what will be the next thing that we are afraid to voice out loud. What will it be that terrifies me out of doing the WHOLE right thing so that I can protect them? I hope I never ever have to find out.
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Posted by I'm NOT a VOLCANO! at 10:10 PM