This blog has been dormant for some time. The why is part of a larger discussion I’ve been trying to engage in and I thought that, as I found the process of thinking through this instructive, it may help others as well. This isn’t entirely like other posts on this page, so read it, or don’t. I’m not your boss.
CW: I’m going to talk a LOT about genocide. Like, a lot. Spoiler alert! I don’t like it. Also, there will be many tangents. And math, but I don’t use numbers, like a pro.
As I’ve likely mentioned once or twice on here, I’m Jewish (in the strictly genealogical and cultural sense – spirituality has always eluded me). A big part of growing up in a Jewish household, especially one in Israel, is learning about the Holocaust. It’s funny in a way, because we have literally millennia of terrible situations to choose from. But it is the most recent systematic attempt and the best documented, and so it sticks in our consciousness. But it’s a mistake to assume that we fixate on it because it is That One Time Something Bad Happened. It is, rather, a discrete event which we use can as a catchment for all the terrible stuff that has happened and our anxieties of what many of us see as an inevitable future.
I think about this a lot in my work in social justice, especially when I hear Indigenous peoples being told to “get over” Residential Schools or black people being told to “get over” slavery or Japanese-Canadians being told to “get over” internment and so on. As if these events are these isolated incidents far in the past rather than a part of a larger tapestry of devaluing the lives and experiences of communities that feed our daily lives and reminds us, each moment of each day, that every inch we make in gains in this world can be taken away from us like so much dust.
It isn’t really about the Holocaust or Residential Schools or slavery or internment. It is the knowledge, deep in our bones, that even if we were to reach some utopian future where all the spider webs have been cleaned out and the damage of those events has been wiped away, these things can happen again. They will happen again.
So we plan. WASPS have the zombie apocalypse to plan for, Jews plan for the next Holocaust. I am deeply conflicted about the situation in the middle east, and I avoid the topic on this blog precisely because I don’t feel I can be objective about it, but I would be lying if I said that I don’t find the knowledge that there is a country that will take me, no questions asked, if I needed to run, almost overwhelmingly reassuring. The knowledge that this reassures me is also pretty depressing, since you shouldn’t need an escape plan from where you call home, but here we are anyway.
What does any of this have to do with my letting this blog slide? Am I seriously using the Holocaust to justify not updating? Well, yes and no, but we’re not there yet. First, another tangent.
Back to when I was learning about this stuff in the first place. My childhood was filled to the brim with pictures of emaciated dead bodies. Just piles of them, naked and faceless. Sometimes they were in a gas chamber, sometimes in an unmarked grave, sometimes just literally in a pile on a street like so much garbage. Honestly, I hope they’re not showing kids this stuff anymore, because that crap warps you.
Anyway, from a very very young age, I’ve thought about what I would do if I was an adult during the Holocaust. This is not unique to me or to Jews. We tend to like our good guys and bad guys to be clearly delineated and that war was a good one for that (at least till recently). Logically, I figured, I’d be killin’ Nazis. I mean, what else do you do? Just get on a train like some chump? They’re not taking you to Disneyland, buddy! I was a kid and I did not understand adult math yet. The math of risk/benefit. The math of consequences. The math of other people relying on you. But it didn’t matter, because it was a purely academic discussion.
I think we do this as a coping mechanism. Inthe same way that someone might take self defence classes or learn to drive stick or how to make a fire with rocks. It might be considered one of the healthiest ways of dealing with anxiety over the possibility of something bad happening. But the thing with something as vague as “genocide” is that I don’t think you can ever really be prepared for it. You’ll never really know what skills will serve until you’re there, or maybe no skill in the world could save you. But that’s why these theoretical games are so reassuring. It gives us a feeling of control over something that, in truth, we have little, if any, control over.
And this, I guess, is where I bring it back to this blog. A year and a half ago, these academic coping mechanisms stopped feeling theoretical and started feeling very much like sensible preparation and I realized that for all the time I’ve spent thinking about the possibility of losing everything to something like this, I don’t think I ever really believed it would happen. I think most of us don’t. It’s the same bit that convinces people to buy lottery tickets. Another coping mechanism, courtesy of evolution trying to keep our brains from frying themselves.
It’s strange, watching things unfold in the US and seeing the responses within our borders. Because the Holocaust didn’t start with ghettos any more than Residential Schools started with child abductions. These things roll out gently, one dehumanizing step at a time. And it turned out my adult math was still wrong, because I hadn’t counted on the crippling despair that my predecessors must have also felt as they watched things implode around them. I don’t know how to fix the things still broken as you witness your worst nightmare playing out in real time.
Really, I’m only now starting to find my equilibrium again, because I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by wildly intelligent, thoughtful people who are going to burn a streak through the world that will be blinding in its beauty. Because I have, by necessity, given myself months and months to hide in romance novels where women are heroes and the worst problems will be solved in the end because love conquers all. Because I remind myself that stuff doesn’t get fixed when we’re hiding, even if we need to take time to recharge.
This would be, normally, where I put a bow on this post, but there is no simple answer. Tomorrow, things will be hard again, and will be probably for the foreseeable future. But I suppose I can say this much – if you’re drowning, give yourself permission to get help to be pulled out, to hide under the deluge with scuba gear, to take swim lessons, to bitch about how much goddamn water there is. And if you’re pulled under again, that’s okay too, because adult math is the worst and in the long run, the world is better off with you in it, however you’re able to be.