I had a revelation at Starbucks this morning.
(For some reason, I just like looking at that sentence.)
As I was waiting in line, I began thinking about the book I am currently reading “Children of Men”. I was inspired to pick it up by the movie that is out today by the same title. I rarely go to movies because I am such a nit-picky critic but I plan to go to this one. So of course I had to go to the library and get the book and “study” before the movie because I am a TOTAL LOSER.
So, this book is really getting under my skin and creeping into my subconscious. I go to bed thinking about the questions and situations it proposes and wake up in the middle of the night in a full blown nightmare, placing myself in the story and not having a happy ending.
This is the same reaction I got when I read A Hand Maid’s Tale. This is also the reaction I got when I read Alas, Babylon (the second time, that is. The first time I read it was in high school and I sat across from my boyfriend and needless to say, nuclear holocaust isn’t nearly as scary when you’re looking into those beautiful blue eyes….mmmmm….oh wait, where was I?)
Oh yeah, caffeinated epiphanies…
So, what do these books have in common? What is it about them that utterly stops me in my tracks for days on end and has me wandering around in a fugue state? I believe I have a problem. I believe I am addicted to apocalyptic tales and stories of the degradation of society.
Or perhaps I am addicted to the study of human nature when presented with these problems.
I’ve also read extensively about societies under extreme duress such as Nazi Germany, Cambodia in the 70’s and 80’s, and Rwanda in the 90’s. It interests me to hear present day people shocked when 1930’s-1940’s Europeans stood by and watched their neighbors being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. I believe being outraged in the present is an easy thing, but how many of those people would have the courage to stand up to the Gestapo if they were blond, blue eyed, and Christian. My guess is that they would do what people usually do…bow to the instincts of self-preservation.
I would like to think that I would have the courage to stand up to power in situations such as these. I would like to think I would have been in the French Resistance, or smuggling Cambodians over the border, or hiding Tutsi’s in my basement, but I might also be the person holding my children close and hiding behind the drapes as the SS passed my house by. I would hope not.
I try to be active in causes that I care about and I try to help people when I see that they need it. I hope that when I complain about something, I’m not doing it in a vacuum. If I think something is wrong, there may be a time to put rubber to road and try to make it right and I’d better put up or shut up.
This was put into stark clarity last summer when my husband and I were driving down the highway on our way out of Duluth going toward the cities. Now, my husband was raised in a very negative environment and I think he’s never really satisfied unless he can complain about things. Usually this doesn’t bother me because I realize that this is just how he is. He LOVES to complain about politics and tries to draw me in on many theories, some I whole heartedly agree with and some I think are frickin’ nuts. We don’t have a listed phone number so that we can’t be “tracked” down. He assumes that since the government has instituted a whole array of policies that are invasive to the private lives of Americans that the government is reading our mail and listening to our phone conversations. When I say “our”, I am not speaking in generalities; I am speaking about what goes on at MY house.
And perhaps I am overstating it a tad, I honestly try not to delve into it too far with my husband. This is for a couple reasons. I really don’t care to go down the rabbit hole and feed into, what I feel, are paranoid fantasies. I also don’t care to find out just how frickin’ bug nuts the man that I care about most, is. He’s a loving father, a good husband, he works hard, and he cares deeply. He’s just a little bug nuts…
So, when we were traveling down the road and we passed a car on the other side of the highway where one man was laying face down on the ground and another guy was standing above him with a gun trained on the back of his head, I told my husband to use his cell phone and call 9-1-1.
He told me that he didn’t want to get involved because he didn’t want anyone to know anything about him.
I was totally floored.
Now, we’ve had the occasional disputes in our marriage over stupid things, but this was akin to learning that your husband, who you have been married to for 14 years, has been leading a secret life. This man, who has always railed against the mis-use of power and stood up for the disenfranchised, in word, did not have the back bone to put his words into actions. This man, who, in word, has advocated grabbing the pitch forks and taking to the streets as our rights have been eroded, would not pick up his phone to call 9-1-1. We didn’t know the story behind what we had witnessed but there was no question that something was terribly wrong.
After sputtering and exclaiming, I demanded that we pull off at the next exit and I would use a pay phone. He agreed to this since “pay phones are hard to trace and you can be anonymous”. Before we could do anything, a squad car went flying by with lights and sirens going. Obviously, someone else wasn’t afraid to use their cell phone…
So, since that incident I have turned a deaf ear to my husband’s rantings. I read books about the disintegration of society quietly and I rarely talk about it. I volunteer my time and occasionally my money to causes I hold dear.
And if the shit ever hits the fan, I suppose I’ll have to choose between being cautious and watching my neighbors being taken away or standing up and saying “This is wrong”.
Here’s a little something to chew on…
First They Came
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)