Little pieces…

‘Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. Tara Westover, 2018

After reading Tara Westover’s memoir Educated I watched a podcast where she is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey (at: https://www.facebook.com/oprahwinfrey/videos/tara-westover-sss/448771535924623/), in which she refers to the part in her book about her ignorance of the Holocaust. That bit brought up one of my stories. Years ago when there was intense turmoil in Palestine a woman I knew had arbitrarily inferred that since my heart went out to these people I must feel hostility towards her friend, whom I also knew, because she happened to be of Jewish origin. Initially, it had come as a shock and then it had felt oppressive. It was true that my heart ached for what was going on in Palestine, but that had nothing to do with my feelings towards her friend. To be honest, her friend had not crossed my mind as I was digesting the scenes on the News. Moreover, the many stories and films I had read and watched about the Holocaust had never ceased to shock and move me. Viktor Frankl’s and Anna Frank’s books had influenced me significantly in my earlier years. One of my favourite quotes by Viktor E. Frankl from Man’s Search for Meaning is “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”  There are many more books written by people of Jewish origin on my shelves. I have also quoted quite a few over the years on this site.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage in the world of horrors and bloody conflict, currently and historically. We can feel the pain of Congo and Rwanda and Syria, Nigeria, the Middle East ….. The list goes on and on. We can feel the weight of the horrors of famine and genocide, past and current. There is quite a lot of strife and oppression in our western world, as well, not to mention, what has happened to women and minority groups across cultures. We are spoilt for choice, but actually we do not have to choose. Our hearts do not discriminate when it comes to human suffering. It is only our minds that come up with stories.

As I am refining a manuscript I have been working during this journey over these last years, all sorts of little pieces and stories are falling into place as the ice thaws and the underlying all connecting thread of my life becomes visible. A few lines from a poem I had read on a wall many years ago by a Palestine poet surfaced in my mind while adding this story. Someone had apparently translated it in Greek. I googled it and found that the poet’s name is Mahmood Darwish:

To our land, / and it is the one poor as a grouse’s wings, / holy books and an identity wound

From The Bookshop by Dick Allen

Υou enter in the evening, after walking down
Three steps to a miniature courtyard and a door tied open
With a piece of brown twine. The table lamps
Have tassled shades the color of scorched parchment,
Tiny pools of yellowed light beneath them,
So that looking across the room seems like looking
Across a small autumn garden. The proprietor,
Wire-rimmed glasses glinting, nods but doesn’t lift his head
From his reading and the rye bread sandwich
Into which he’s nibbled an almost total moon.
You browse, and while you do, your hands
Grow heavy and old, as if by taking close-packed books
From their shelves you are pulling bricks from a wall
Bound to collapse should you remove too many
And not replace them. What you’re searching for, among
These histories, these poems, these illuminated guides
To the soul, or the soul’s companions . . . these compendiums
Of fossils, stars, speeches, journeys when the world
Was a path through forest or waves against painted eyes
On the bow of a wooden ship plying the Aegean,
Is a single line of calm. This evening, you come close,
Closer than ever before, for it starts raining
Outside among the streetlights, and a tabby cat
Does figure eights around your ankles, the proprietor
Sighs deeply behind you. When you turn, he’s brushing
Specks of pale white brie and crumbs of bread
Carefully from the pages of his open manuscript
Into crumpled wax paper. Without a word
He takes the book you hand him, toting its price and tax / On the smudged back of an envelope, his stubby pencil
Writing small numbers. You pay him what he asks / And walk out into the rain………

Painting and reading

A few extracts from EDUCATED, an account of the struggle for preservation of personhood, attaining one’s dream for education, fierce family loyalty, control and the grief that comes of severing one’s closest of ties, by Tara Westover.

‘I believe finally that education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing’ (John Dewey cited in Westover)

‘It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s. I have often wondered if the most powerful words I wrote that night came not from anger or rage, but from doubt……. Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege I had never allowed myself. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs’.

‘I had been taught to read the words of men like Madison as a cast into which I ought to pour the plaster of my own mind, to be reshaped according to the contours of their faultless model. I read them to learn what to think, not how to think for myself’.

“It has never occurred to you,” he said, “that you might have as much right to be here as anyone.”

‘Whom ever you become, whatever you make yourself into that is who you always were. It was always in you’.

‘… to take control of one’s own mind; to be liberated from irrational fears and beliefs, from addictions, superstitions and all other forms of self-coercion’

‘John Stuart Mill claimed that women have been coaxed, cajoled, shoved and squashed into a series of feminine contortions for so many centuries, that it is now quite impossible to define their natural abilities or aspirations. Blood rushed to my brain; I felt an animating surge of adrenaline, of possibility, of a frontier being pushed outward. Of the nature of women, nothing final can be known. Never had I found such comfort in a void, in the black absence of knowledge. It seemed to say: whatever you are, you are woman’.