Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Memory of Loss

The dead will always outnumber the living.


One of my favorite works at the Art Institute was Chagall’s 1938 White Crucifixion. In it Chagall chooses to depict the crucifixion of Jesus (the “King of the Jews”), including this scene as the crux of a long history of pogroms against the Chosen—a history with its own chiasmus at the Cross, that damnable and lamentable inversion from Chosen to chastised, from blessed to bereaved. And somehow we good Christians (and post-1948, Judeo-Christians (if such a hyphenated beast/bestial identity exists; and why not Judeo-Christiano-Muslim?)) only remember the last 2000 years of victimhood and not the prior 5000 of gloating victors against all the other desert peoples (with their own desert gods). History will teach us nothing, for even the Palestinians (these new Philistines) will rise up and slaughter new innocents. It reminds me of a recent headline: “army battles militants,” and yet the unasked question still heard in the depths of language: who more militant than the military? And you too do not exist … nor I. Auch du und du. I’m reminded too of all those Japanese I befriended and loved whose fathers, and grandfathers, and great-grandfathers probably shot at my own grandfather, filling his mortal body with shrapnel and environmental detritus so that even weeks before his death metal was still winnowing its way from beneath his skin more than sixty years after the ceasefire. And when will this fire finally cease? And who will burn for more? And whose father, or grandfather, or great-grandfather was absent—absent in the way of a missing limb or a lastborn son—due to a shot fired from my grandfather’s rifle? How the missing trace their absence(s) down through the generations so that in my clinging I cling only to that which absences itself, that missing part, that lifeline of longing. Each near-death experience (and I know such a hyphenated beast exists) brings me closer to the death that awaits only me in its mortal vastness, in its singularity and solitude, for only that one death will make it all better by making us one.

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