|Dense what? Early manuscript 1980|
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Secrecy Creates Schisms
It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
Today's prompt by Buster Benson
The world is powered by passionate people, powerful ideas, and fearless action. What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family? What inspires this belief, and what have you done to actively live it?
Where I grew up, your conviction had to be stronger than belief. "If" was for children and belief reserved for fairy tales, Sinterklaas and religion. Where I come from, a sentence started with "I believe..." often triggers the response, "You can do that on your own time," or "Believing you can do inside the church." In other words, you've got to know something for sure. It's about semantics, about the meaning of language. In my mother tongue I won't say "I believe" that secrecy creates problems. I will state that it does and I can without holding back do the same in my second language.
Secrecy creates a schism in families and between friends.
While my father did not communicate with his only surviving sister, her husband and two daughters, nor with his only son, the man whom I wouldn't meet until 1993, when I was 37, and he 69, just two years younger than my father when he died in 1969, my mother did not communicate with hers either.
The wife of my mother's eldest brother ignored the schism. Since they lived up north, as far removed from family and friends as we, there was nothing to lose, only to gain. They visited us once at the farmhouse in the fields near Allardsoog. The crayons and sketchbook they chose to bring for me, my aunt's inspired conversations with my father —about art and the Bible?— were good for a truce. The next time I saw them, they fetched me at our less isolated farmhouse near the hunebed of Steenbergen for an overnight stay at their home in the peat territory of Groningen. My very first sleep-over at age eleven. Their huge house towered between the peat cutters' sod huts, the wind blew under the eves, the guest room was cold and incredibly clean, there were no other children, no toys, no children's books, no photographs of family members as far as I can remember.
After my father died, my mother's elder sister, a spinster, and the younger one with husband and child, showed up, as did another brother with his wife. The third brother was missing, his boyish figure cut out of the line-up of six children. Why? I did not know.
At times my father had camp syndrome induced anxiety attacks. He would hold me and share his anguish. During these episodes, my mother was the enemy, and not allowed near the two of us. What happened to my father was more of less clear. He had been terrorized and was tormented by re-living moments of fear, anger and guilt.
What was my parents' secret? Why did I grow up in isolation? Who was the culprit? When and how would I find out? By writing, by digging deep and discovering. That's what I do.
What remains is sharing his story, her story, my story; resolve the mystery. My hope is that this will close the wounds. My conviction is that it's easier to live with scars than with secrets.
This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.