In April 2011, the International Writing Program launched " Writers in Motion", a study tour of the Mid-Atlantic and the American South, where eight international writers are exploring the theme of "Fall and Recovery." The writers are traveling to Gettysburg (April 3-5), Baltimore (April 5-6), New Orleans (April 6-8), the Gulf Coast (Morgan City, the Achafalaya Basin, Lafayette, April 8-11), Birmingham, AL (April 11-12) and Washington, D.C. (April 13-15) to examine some of the challenges presented by historical crises and upheavals, both natural and social.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fall and Recovery: Final Chapter

When does the process of recovery truly begin? Does it happen with the death of the last witness who still remembers it all too well? Traumatic experiences cut deep into one’s memory with a terrifying precision. A decade after it has all been over one could still hear women in Bosnia describing their husbands, sons, relatives were taken away to be killed: This is how they took him away… He looked at me this way... He was wearing a tracksuit just like this one… As we were parting, he told me… I gave him… He turned back, I can still see him so vividly… That hair of his… And how he shuffles a bit as he walks… I told him ‘take your sweater, you’ll catch cold’… He turned at me and smiled… I can still see him so vividly... As long as people who can remember are alive, the recovery is painful and slow. Because that’s how it can only be. Because only a slow recovery that sticks in one’s throat is somewhat bearable and just, in this unjust world. Once the living witnesses are gone, only myths remain. And amnesia that easily adjust to any soil, growing, flourishing, paralyzing the world. Once the witnesses whose stories have never been heard die, the only thing that remains is a blank blackboard ready to be written on with whatever we wish for. When witnesses die, new kids are born. Rich, with rosy cheeks and happy. The kids for whom the world begins with their birth. They have no sins, no obligations, no memories. Flittering like a beautiful flag raised high on its pole, they are a pledge for a better tomorrow. They have not done anything wrong. There is nothing to be held against them… Once the witnesses who saw people being crucified, hung on a tree, set on fire in locked buildings or blown up die, then comes the time for the new, different and better. Once witnesses die, some new kids grow up to believe that the world is one magical place. Some of those kids are born in countries that have become quite civilized in the meantime. As witnesses die, kids grow up happy and free from all responsibility. “That’s our American optimism”, says a nice boy who doesn’t know if his grandfather was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He doesn’t know because that story belongs to yesterday, and it’s for them to look far, far ahead. It would be impolite to ask the elders. Because yesterday doesn’t exist, does it? And so we’ll never find out. That’s how we’ll pardon thousands of murderers who remain faceless and nameless. That’s how we’ll never have to attribute responsibility to any of those who have pulled the trigger so many times it left a blister on the finger. That’s how we’ll never find out who was the skilful miner who brought the explosives and set the wires the night a church was blown into the air. Or a mosque. We’ll never find out who shot a bullet at the back of one’s head. Who has day and night cut up sheets to make blindfolds to cover one’s eyes before they get shot. It’s impolite to ask a nice old lady, grandmother or great grandmother, if she has at least once made a cake or sent a bottle of liquor to a Klan meeting. We’ll refrain from asking a grandfather how it felt to hold the torch high in the air. High and proud, upright like the Statue of Liberty. Or when he tightened his gun belt. Or when he put on the sinister hood. The Ushanka. The Fez. We’ll never know what was on his mind as he slashed across somebody’s throat with a knife. Or as he tightened the noose. We’ll sit forever over a family lunch, under nicely framed photos of our ancestors looking optimistically ahead. Far, far ahead…

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