Sunday, November 8, 2009

Twenty years on: The fall of the Wall

 Monday, November 9th will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Twenty years. I remember when it happened, I remember what an astonishing, unexpected, earth-shaking and totally miraculous event it was. And twenty years is a long time ago.

We were in a very different place then than we are now — not just geographically, either. Mr Mo and I were both still active Mormons, clinging to the comfort that discovering Sunstone and Dialogue and lds.net and mormon-l and so on had brought us. There was still hope in liberal circles for significant changes with regard to women’s place in the church, among many other things.

And we still felt stirred by the possibility of modern revelation, of “the stone cut without hands” filling the earth. So when the Berlin Wall came down, we saw it as a fulfillment of a never-quite-officially-articulated (or at least not ratified) prophecy about God moving in mysterious ways to allow the gospel to be preached “to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” The church sent missionaries into all areas behind the former Iron Curtain as quickly as it could (only to find, not too far down the line, that the Orthodox church was not especially welcoming)….

Um.

So the stone rolls forward a bit more slowly these days, helped along by an above-average birthrate, but impeded by attrition cutting into the true number of converts. Given recent events — the mormon church placing itself squarely yet again on the wrong side of both history and overarching moral justice with respect to gay marriage (just as it fought against the ERA and civil rights for blacks in the U.S.)… well.

It has been at least 14 years since I last considered myself an active member (it’s been longer for Mr Mo). CA Prop H8 (and most recently Maine Prop 1) is pushing me much closer to making my disaffection both complete and official. Quite honestly, one of the only things keeping me from sending in an official letter of resignation is that then Salt Lake would know where we are. (They seem to have lost track with our latest move.) That said, I am somewhat, but only slightly less concerned about parental feelings in this matter: still, it was a genuine shock to see at least two siblings’ names on the list of big donors to Prop H8 (and I suspect the 3rd active sibling contributed, though not enough to make the list); it was a shock to see a cousin’s name on the list; it was a shock to see the names of at least two other old friends (the saddest one being that of the sister of a fine young man who committed suicide because he was gay).

I think of my friend Steve (not his real name) and his partner of 20+ years. —No, let me correct that: I think of Steve and his now-husband (his California marriage having been upheld), and I keep waiting for a cogent response to the question of how their marriage in any way, shape, or form devalues or damages or threatens my marriage or anyone else’s. I find the church’s willingness to shake down its members for cash and time to destroy what Steve and his husband have despicable, the moreso because of its bankrolling of fear tactics and reliance on flat-out falsehoods to do so. The homophobes at the top of the hierarchical heap have dialed back even the slight bit of rhetorical progress the church had made some years back re: homosexuality not being a choice, as Bruce Hafen’s recent crap-science talk (posted on the church’s official website) makes all too clear. (While I prefer fingering Darth Packer as the instigator of all of this, Monson seems still functional enough to blame as well. The bigger disappointment here is Dallin Oaks, Jeff Holland … they, at least, should know better.)

I don’t have much in common with the politics of the current church, and see little hope for significant change along those lines. Too many US active mormons (such as my parents) are outright teabaggers or strong sympathizers, filled with fear and in some cases hatred of President Obama, of Democrats, of access to health care for everyone, and (ironically and painfully enough) of the rule of Constitutional law. Too many think W and Cheney were right to approve of torturing detainees (never mind that the vast majority were innocent and never charged with anything) — and this despite both U.S. and international law (and never mind that torture does not work). And far too many are blown about by every teabaggy, conspiracist email that circulates, convinced that these are The Last Days.

(I have postulated before that getting caught up in this sort of Last Days excitement helps people feel more important — adds some zing to their otherwise mundane lives. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, were the consequences of their ignorance — their sheer lack of logic, discernment, and critical thinking skills — so grave.)

—But I digress. (This post, it seems, is one long series of digressions.) What I am coming around to saying in my circuitous way here is that my personal wall is coming down. Can resigning be more wrenching than choosing to no longer pay tithing to the church (following the “September Six” debacle)? than ceasing to wear temple garments? For me, personally, no— and yet I think — no, I know my parents would be crushed were I to resign, and were they to find out about it: formalizing my disaffection would be a real blow. Further, were I to do this (having read plenty of messages — not directed at me, btw — encouraging people to “teach mormons/catholics” a lesson)… I know very well that my parents would not learn any positive lessons at all from such an action. I wouldn’t be shaking them up to such a degree as to make them reexamine their commitment to the church. Instead, they would (continue to) hold me up as an example of “intellectual pride,” of where too much education, too much exposure to the world leads the unwary (and ultimately, the “non-valiant”). They would be in mourning over their lost child for the rest of their days.

The same is true for my active siblings. “I’m quitting because you paid good money that could have been spent helping the poor on denying equal rights to gay people”… Yes. But they were “following the prophet.” Making a financial sacrifice to “save marriage” because their church leaders told them to. If I still had “the Spirit,” I would have done the same thing. It is only my pride and hard-heartedness that has led me down this path away from celestial heights.

Still. My wall is crumbling like that in Berlin 20 years back. How long will it take for it to fall away entirely? (“Falling away” being synonymous with apostasy.) I would prefer to wait until my parents have passed on, but we are a long-lived family. My head says, “Tear down this wall!”, but my heart is not yet fully reconciled to the damage it would do to my already too-tenuous relationships with my parents and siblings.

A place and time very far removed from where I was 20 years ago, indeed.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I’ve been a French citizen since October 22, 2009!

 …And I only found out about it this past Monday, November 2nd, after our letter carrier came by with the mail.

When I saw the three envelopes from the French Ministry of the Interior (one addressed to me, one to Mr Mo, and the third to Youngest), I have to say that I steeled myself against a refusal: surely we were being informed that, sorry, there was something wrong with the (mountains of) papers you submitted, so you can’t become French, try again.

Mr Mo heard my whoops and hollers as I tore open my envelope and saw these words: J’ai le plaisir de vous faire savoir que vous êtes Française depuis le 22 octobre 2009. — “It is my pleasure to inform you that as of October 22, 2009, you are a French citizen.”

Mr Mo guessed what had produced my unusual cries even before I got up the stairs with the letters.

Well then, hot damn — dual nationality. The news reduced our Youngest to tears of joy and more than one skype-based panegyric (if such a thing can be thus described). And I, too, have felt misty-eyed off and on since receipt of my letter. (I’ve been too busy with work up until now to say anything.) My French friends have been congratulatory, and it is possible that we will be honored at a village ceremony (which will have to wait until December at the earliest, given our schedules; but I rather suspect this may be put off until all of our official papers are ready — see below).

Yes, the advantages of French citizenship are manifold: we can grow old(er) and retire here without worry, if that is what we choose to do; we can legally work anywhere in the European Union without difficulty; and Youngest can go to university here without it costing a fortune. But I have also been reflecting on the responsibilities that come with having requested and been granted French citizenship, and these go rather beyond simply being able to vote in the next election.

The same letter that conveyed the Ministry official’s pleasure at informing me of my French naturalization also informed me that it will take about six months before all of our French documents will be ready; among these are our French birth certificates (!), identity papers, a letter from Monsieur le Président de la République, and a booklet (I assume it will be a booklet) explaining about how the French government is organized, our rights and duties, and so on.

With respect to this last — the booklet — I expect to read it more than once so that I will thoroughly understand what is expected of me, and what I can expect from the country we have called home for the past eight years.

I doubt very much that I would ever run for office on any level. And while I will most certainly vote, having now seen a glimpse of the unseemly side of even our local political landscape here in tiny Quinson, it’s not clear to me how actively involved I want to be in terms of joining a particular party. We’ll see. But I have an interest in certain French and European issues, as does Mr Mo, not the least of which has to do with the ghastly “Hadopi” law. We now have the right to make our voices heard now as citizens of the European Union as well as of la belle France.

And I’m still having a hard time believing that we actually managed to be accorded French citizenship. It will probably be easier to believe after we have all of our papers in hand, including a French EU passport to add to our American passport.

Youpie!


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thoughts on D-Day, 65 years later

President Barack Obama in Normandy today paid eloquent tribute to the many who sacrificed so much to liberate Europe from the grip of the Nazis so long ago. President Nicolas Sarkozy, Prince Charles, PM Gordon Brown, and German Chancellor (“Kanzlerin”) Angela Merkel were also in attendance.

The “greatest generation” is dying; the youngest vets are now in their 80s. Poignantly, one very ill veteran made the trip to Normandy and died in his sleep last night after visiting the graves of his buddies in one of the huge American cemeteries near Caen; President Obama acknowledged his passing in today’s address.

It was a quiet day here in Aix-en-Provence. In between spasms of work, I am in the midst of reading Paroles du Jour J—“Words from D-Day,” a collection of first-person accounts and letters and diary entries from French, U.S., British, Canadian, and… German soldiers.

The cover photo is of a young Canadian man, Robert Boulanger, the youngest in his company, just barely turned 18, who had joined the expeditionary forces against his parents’ wishes. He was shot in the head as he hit the beach during the Allies’ disastrous attempt to return to the continent at Dieppe in August 1942. (Nearly 60% of the 6000+ Allied soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured during this raid, which occurred while the Nazis were at the height of their strength.) Robert’s last letter was an apology to his parents for causing them such grief by enlisting. Utterly heartbreaking.

Several other entries were written by young (oh, so very, very young in too many instances!)—by young men in transit from England to one of the bloody beachheads on D-Day, and… who were killed before the ink had dried, so it seemed.

The entries from the German soldiers were enlightening: they were so very afraid of the invasion to come: they knew they had no more air defenses. One such soldier who manned a machine gun at Omaha Beach wrote of his astonishment — he and his company very efficiently mowed down wave after wave of allied soldiers coming ashore, and yet — still they came! And more of them! He and his comrades couldn’t believe it. He was finally wounded and sent to the back of the line.

The casualty count for Le Débarquement (as D-Day is referred to in France — “the disembarkment”) was… oh mon Dieu, staggeringly high. As were so many battles in WWII: the daily count in some cases far surpasses our total casualty count for Iraq and Afghanistan combined. We civilians born after simply have no grasp of unimaginable scale of the carnage, the devastation, the horror.

So many casualties occurred because of error—in part due to lack of technology. I think of how many lives would have been spared had GPS been invented: so many of the parachutists (for example) were dropped in the wrong places behind enemy lines, simply because the instruments were too imprecise. These brave men were cut off from support and supply lines and huge numbers among them were killed or captured.

The French looked forward to D-Day with impatience, and when it arrived, they both cheered and went into mourning: yet another hideous war to be fought on their already blood-soaked land. The book has civilian accounts of the endless bombing and shelling, of homes destroyed, neighbors and family killed, of the stench of death. A 14-year-old French boy wrote in his journal of coming across the bodies of American soldiers, some crushed by Nazi tanks.

Last month I read Le Cahier Rouge du Maquis — “The Maquis’ Red Notebook,” the diary of “Lieutenant Vallier,” the nom de guerre of one Gleb Sivirine, a remarkable hero of the Resistance who operated in the Haut Var just across the Verdon River from where we live. D-Day for Provence was August 15, 1944 — the Allies’ southern landing was awaited with acute impatience and distress in a part of France that had suffered huge deprivations and starvation and oppression. In the days just before the June 6th D-Day, French Resistance units here in Provence were finally allowed to go into full battle mode to distract the Germans and deplete their ammunition and supplies. (By this point, the German occupation policy was to kill 100 civilians for every German soldier killed by the Resistance: the reprisals were ruthless, yet the Resistance still had overwhelming popular support.)

Would to god that we would actually LEARN something from these tragic wars.

On a family note: My father is nearly 81. He joined the navy the instant he graduated from high school, but by then the war in Europe was over. He was shipped to California to prepare to get sent to the Pacific theatre, but it was over before he could be assigned to a ship (he never served aboard anything, as it turned out). He spent his time in the service doing clerical work. I honor him for his willingness to go: he never saw combat, but as with millions of other young men and many women, he was willing to do his duty.

Addendum to the “family note,” 14 August 2021: Well… the patriotic account above isn’t exactly accurate, which I can say with some authority, having been editing my dad’s autobiography off and on for the past two years or so. My dad did try to join the army right out of high school, but was rejected because he had too much albumin in his urine (a lingering aftereffect of a serious kidney infection he’d had as a preteen). The following year, long after Japan had surrendered, my dad joined the navy by having some other young man pee for him. At that point, however, Dad’s motives were rather more self-interested than patriotic: he was absolutely desperate to be able to take advantage of the G.I. Bill, without which he would not have been able to afford college, get a super deal on a home loan, etc. I was surprised and quite frankly a bit disappointed by this revelation, but as someone who directly benefited from my father being able to be covered by the G.I. Bill, I suppose I am not really in a position to judge or complain too much.