Living in infamy

Thinking About Sacrifice, by James Walsh on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
Thinking About Sacrifice, by James Walsh on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

It has been a weird day. I was up around 6 a.m., not terribly early, but earlier than I would have liked. I had a pretty bad latke hangover – last night the holiday started and we really celebrated. Fried food, chocolate, etc etc.

This is a big month around here – birthdays (in fact, by the Hebrew calendar it is mine right now, and by the English one, very soon), Young J’s birthday also very soon, Chanukah, and the general dopiness of December. Which so far is devoid of snow or even the slightest whisper of snow, and I hear from the kids that this is not okay with them.

At some point during the morning lull, after the kids left for school, before I showered and tried to make something of my day – I have a pending freelance Italian translation job to do, but the deadline is malleable – I paused and reflected that December 7 is not just any other day. It is one anniversary, but of many things – of murder on a massive scale, of provocation, of the inexorable sliding of a geographically isolated nation into a global war. Why does this all sound a little too familiar?

I’m worried these days. The world has me more worried for it than for myself. Because what is happening in the world will outlast me, and will be bequeathed to my children, my poor children, who have no idea what is happening in the world, beyond some extremely filtered headlines I spoon-feed them when I think they may be receptive and not overly anxious already. We do not subscribe to any current periodicals. We do not consume television news. And so the kids know what we tell them, and what little they hear from their friends. Young J knows that ISIS had something to do with a helicopter buzzing past when we went to N’s house once for Shabbat (it didn’t, actually).

It made me sad to see so little recognition of Pearl Harbor today on Facebook (which tends to be my primary interface with news headlines and the collective and individual psyches of my friends). It’s not just the doomed-to-repeat-it trope, it’s that in turning our backs on an event like Pearl Harbor, we miss not only the horror of it, the magnitude of the event and its implications – we also miss any type of courage or solace we might draw from the fact that there was a moment in time that it seemed like the world might just end for us, and that the fact that it did not is something that bears remembering and repeating. That does not mean there was not suffering. That there were not many more losses. That there were not very grim years to be gotten through.

I plan to read some of the letters described in this article, posted to a website by a family who felt that this time period was worth preserving, that there were lessons in the letters beyond just the interest of their own family. I’m so grateful to learn that these letters exist. In my own family, there is a collection of papers and letters that remain to be reckoned with, which I am pretty sure has value to researchers. I’ve made my own attempts over the years to try and get them to the right place, but it’s not in my hands for a variety of reasons, and it frustrates me. Not just as a librarian, but as a sentient being who feels that the ability to reach out and touch the past, or even to reconstruct something entirely from it, as in this Yiddish theater production J and I saw over the weekend (which was entirely reconstructed from archival materials), has merit.

I want to believe that I’ll leave my own papers in order when I go, but I’m not off to a very good start. I’m not entirely sure what to do with drafts of hundreds of poems spanning over twenty years, or with journals I may or may not wish to have read when I am gone. It would be good to have some advance warning that the final hour approacheth, so we could find a beach and build a big bonfire on it and have everything paper just go up in smoke. (Knowing myself, I would also insist that those gathered make an opportunistic s’more.)

Sorry this post is quite scattered. I’ve felt that way all day. Fugitive headaches, sleepiness, muscle aches, inability to focus. It’s most probably the steroids and the anti-seizure meds messing with me, but I’ve been pretty wrong before. Nothing like a sneaky, almost-asymptomatic disease to make you second-guess yourself. I’m seeing Dr P for a checkup tomorrow, so at the very least my bloodwork should reveal any anomalies.

I keep coming back to a weird exchange I had with a Con Ed worker who was halfway down a manhole today when I walked out of my building after a brief power outage (which happened, naturally, just as I was getting down to work on my translation project). I asked if it was his work that caused the outage. “Yep,” he said. He asked if the power had come back. “Yep,” I said. I asked him whether it was likely to happen again today. “Probably not today,” he said, and it was unclear if he was smiling or not. I didn’t know what to make of that uncertainty. “That’s great!” I said, mock-cheerfully, turned on my heel and went on my way.

No guarantees, no warranties, no year-long leases. I’m not trying to live like tomorrow is another Pearl Harbor. But I’m not trying to forget it ever happened, either.

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, by Ken Lund on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, by Ken Lund on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
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One thought on “Living in infamy

  1. “… we also miss any type of courage or solace we might draw from the fact that there was a moment in time that it seemed like the world might just end for us, and that the fact that it did not is something that bears remembering and repeating.” Profound!

    Liked by 1 person

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