“This is like an apocalypse riding in a clown car. I don’t even know how to feel about this.” Trevor Noah speaking about the current US political situation.
These days I think about my life as the daughter of immigrants — not from a targeted country, so I get to muse rather than fear. My parents came here from Bohemia, then part of Czechoslovakia, now part of the Czech Republic. They wouldn’t have left if not for the Communist coup d’etat that was one of the outcomes of WW2.
My parents weren’t concentration camp survivors. They lost their families, property, and the land they loved. My mother lost her lover to the war – a loss from which she never recovered. My strongest memory of her are the many hours she spent just sitting and looking out the window. My father lost his beloved mentor, Jaromir Funke, due to a brownout while he was undergoing surgery.
If not for the war, my mother may not have lost her lover, and I expect she wouldn’t have gotten involved with my father. If visas hadn’t been easier to obtain for couples, I expect my parents wouldn’t have married. Once they had my brother in Paris, my mother didn’t want an only child. If not for war and loss and difficult choices, I would not be alive today.
If my father hadn’t been encouraged to come to the US, where there was more money than in Paris, to find a publisher for his photographic book, Vision of the Times (which was never published beyond a limited box edition of the 21 prints) I expect I would not have been born in the US. If my parents had had enough money to go somewhere else, they would have. They didn’t like the US all that much.
Who would I be, and would I be at all, if not for the confluence of geopolitics and hard personal choices / sacrifices? I think about all these things when the topic of immigrants comes up, and the idea of people seeking a better life through immigration, as if that choice existed in a vacuum outside the tangled web of global geopolitics.
It took me decades to realize how my parents were traumatized by the war. Though it pervaded the conflicted atmosphere of our lives, they didn’t talk about it, and the narrative about WW2 in Europe was that it was only the Jews who suffered. Though surely that was the epi-center of horror, and I wouldn’t compare my parents’ losses to that, still there was a fiction that only the targeted victims suffered.
It’s because of this that I feel extremely uncomfortable with the black and white polarization going on in social discourse and politics of the moment. There’s a lot of greyscale nuance in the stories of humanity.
That black and white polarization is a theme in the Book of Revelation, and there might be all kinds of reasons for that. One element I like to keep in mind is that the vision of the author happened at the time that the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem: a trauma that surely rippled through the collective.
Thomas Hübl writes: “Collective trauma is like a suppressed lake in collective culture that we all walk in without realising, and which constantly produces societal symptoms that are not recognised as trauma symptoms and which therefore re-occur.”
When people talk in ever-polarizing terms, it’s good to take a perspective of activated trauma rather than ideological war. This shifts the perspective from us/them, what I call the self-other war, to “How can we take care of us? How can we heal collective trauma fields rather than perpetuating them?” It’s an evolutionary question.
I live in San Francisco, and though it is far from perfect, one of the aspects of it that has me happy to come home is the multi-cultural, multi-ethnicity of it. I love the Mission, Chinatown, Japantown. I love the Chinese New Year’s parade and running alongside the golden dragon. I love the fourth of July, when illegal displays boldly burst out of the Mission district hood like the most beautiful apocalypse you could imagine: huge firework displays that rival the “official” displays, exploding in the night, right there among the streetlights, and we sit on the hill looking right down upon it. I love Japantown; we spent a lot of time at the Japanese Community Cultural Center when our kids were young and we all tried our hands at taiko. I would love to live in a danger-free city: no crime, murder, rape, or violence. Targeting one or even several ethnic, racial or religious groups would never make that happen. Deep in our hearts all we know this, I hope.