Sunday, April 23, 2006

Moving Right Along

I'm beginning to wonder the history of shame. I haven't done much research on it, but I often have felt that Catholics learn shame from an early age, and I wonder if other religions teach it too. I say this because I was once married to a Catholic and he was taught by his mother, via the church, that "fiddling with yourself" was wrong, and genitalia on the whole was a shameful thing. He believed that sex after marriage was for having children, and so sexuality in itself was a complex and shameful thing. He also was fearful of divorce, since it brought shame on the family. I felt immense shame after he died, because I felt partly responsible and maybe could have prevented his death. I can't see myself still married to him though, and I don't know if he could have ever accepted that. A week before he died I saw marks on his neck and I remember saying "what the hell happened to you?" He said that he had slipped coming out of the shower, and I told him to be careful. I did not know that he had tried unsuccessful to kill himself, but was interrupted. I have been really thinking about this the last few weeks, when I can go for some time and not think about that time at all. I'm processing so many feelings and thoughts, so much bigger than the daily benign things that I grumble and grapple with. I know shame, but I'm not sure if I really am responsible for it.

I asked L at what age do you learn shame and he answered, "At 32." I should have prodded him more, since I am turning 32 this year. Maybe he was being facetious, or maybe he was referring to his own life. I don't know.

I watched The Hotel Rwanda last year with my mom, and I felt completely ignorant of the history of genocide in Rwanda. I was at UNH during the most recent conflict there, although that is not to say that the country is completely stable now and free of ethnic tensions. Around 1993/1994, I was a freshman. I was taking a lot of crap classes that had nothing to do with my major, watching a lot of Seinfeld, eating pizza and really hoping to get laid. I wasn't reading the paper or watching news then, so I was not aware of what was happening in Africa at that time. Not many Americans were aware, as the government had washed their hands of any responsibility to send troops to the small African country. Between April and July of 1994, 800,000 people were murdered by their fellow Tutsi countrymen, often by machete. They were incited by radio to kill. Those killed were mainly Hutus, but some moderate Tutsis were also killed. Sometimes in April does an excellent job of filling in the background of the ethnic divisions in the country, much more so than I can get into here.

How did I miss this?

I began to read more Rwanda, feeling ashamed that I knew so very little about the situation there. I watched the excellent Sometimes in April, and read numerous books, including Dina Temple Raston's Justice on the Grass, and Phillip Gourevitch's We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families. In his book, Gourevitch speaks to Hutus and Tutsis in post 1994 Rwanda. One interviewee, Bonaventure, spoke to the author about survival. He felt that ". . .survival was meaningless until one found 'a reason to survive again, a reason to look to tomorrow'" (228). I read Gourevitch's exploration of what it means to survive, and I thought about my own floundering and survival. I had been married and responsible for caring for someone that I was no way able to care for in the ways that he needed caring for. I couldn't be a 1950's housewife, or a Dr. Laura devotee. I loved him immensely. I adored him, even though he often made me to feel ashamed about my body, and my opinions, and true feelings. One month before he died, I did not know who I was anymore.

Gourevitch goes on to say that ". . .the so-called survival instinct is often described as an animal urge to preserve oneself. But once the threat of bodily annihilation is relieved, the soul still requires preservation, and a wounded soul becomes the source of its own affliction; it cannot nurse itself directly. So survival can seem a curse, for one of the dominant needs of the needy soul is to be needed" (228).

Survival, you would think, is a positive thing. But with suicide, you just relive the events until you can come to some acceptance of the act. It comes and it goes. Images remain in my head. But I came to the conclusion in the fall of 2004, that life is what you make of it. I don't believe in the afterlife, but I think heaven and hell are what you make of your time here. I was not scared to be alone, but I felt it would be odd to live a life with no one to talk to, or no one to hear my voice. There were days in London when I would not use my voice the entire day until we ate dinner together that night. I walked to the tube, rode several trains, sat in class, traveled back home, without ever anyone acknowledging me, or me doing the same to them. I don't consider myself a needy person, or having a needy soul, but Gourevitch's description of survival was what I was living. I was so glad to be alive, and as reverent of life as my husband was irreverent over about death. But then came the question of who I was, and how would I move on.

I still am moving on, and I am needed now in a very needless way, but my feelings on shame come and go.

1 comment:

CBK said...

I'm sorry I didn't read this post until now. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.