(Warning: soapbox ahead.)
(Disclaimer: I use the term “loving our neighbor” because this is a phrase commonly understood by many people. I am not preaching any religious agenda, and this is not an attempt to blindside you with religion. The words are a shortcut, if you will, to explain my message today. We can call it empathy, compassion, tolerance, opening our minds…any number of ways, but “loving our neighbor” was what worked for me today.)
Already it’s been over two weeks, and we’re nearing the finishing line of Ana’s Advent Calendar. I am a little sad and relieved at the same time. This is a lot of time and effort (thank you, helper elves Tara, Emily, Kathryn, Penny, and Kate!) and I will need to get back to focusing on my writing, editing, and other work…but I will miss the daily interaction. *sniff* I hope you’ll stick around after it’s over and join in on Tuesdays with Ana, weekend snippets, and other posts.
Silly Ana, thinking about endings long before they arrive, but what we’ve created here together is special. The sing-a-long was hilarious, wasn’t it? So many neat new songs and videos to enjoy (even if they did make the page blastedly slow to load). A neat story from Sunny, a fun write-along activity from Kate, and some thoughts from Renee about finding Christmas spirit. Plus, of course our lively debate on DD and its merits/shortcomings.
I love Leah’s comment that this is a blog where we talk about spotty knickers on Friday, spanking implements on Sunday, and Fred Rogers on Tuesday. 🙂 That, in a nutshell, is the spirit of Governing Ana.
I had many topics I wanted to discuss today, but each one felt not quite right. Christmas without the commercialism? The joy of grandchildren? How to create Christmas magic as adults, even single adults and/or without small children?
Maybe we will have time for those topics at a later date, but for today I want to talk about this: loving our neighbor.
We’ve already talked about compassion, making a difference, and helping out someone in need. That’s not what I’m talking about today. (Yes, you should still do it!)
Today, I don’t want you to think about the tangible, the material, the monetary, or the physical. I don’t want you to toss a few coins into a donation bucket and write off your good deed for the day (although of course you shouldn’t purposely refrain from doing so!).
I want you to do something harder.
What if it were you?
What if you struggled to raise three small children, your husband left you, you didn’t have a college diploma, and your landlord evicted you for not paying rent?
What if you discovered something about yourself that you would have to either hide for the rest of your life or be expelled from your community, or even face jail time?
What if everything you held dear, everything you knew to be true, everything you thought you’d believed in…turned out to be wrong?
What if you worked your entire life to uphold certain ideals and principles, only to love someone who made you question everything you thought you knew?
When I began my Bastia series with Becoming Clissine, I wrote as a labor of love and my tiny effort at social change.
You see, Clissa is a heterosexual girl raised in a gay world.
Let me hasten to reassure you. This is not a sexual politics post; nor is it preaching a certain agenda.
Instead, I want you to understand and experience, on a visceral level, what it would be like to live in a society where everyone you trusted said you were wrong.
In Bastia, heterosexuals are imprisoned, beaten, stripped of legal status, and thrown to “breeder” camps. Their existence is a shame to their family and country. Their very identity is a crime against humanity.
It’s the story of Clissa, a girl who falls in love with a boy, but it’s also the story of Karielle, the woman charged with breaking down Clissa’s defenses. Clissa is legally severed from her original family and placed with new parents, forbidden to speak of her old family, and treated like a child in an effort to re-program her according to the values of Bastia.
Part of my inspiration for Becoming Clissine came from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984 (both stories of dystopian regimes in which a society breaks its citizens one by one), but it also came from modern, real-life tales of adults inflicting such re-programming onto children.
Mercy Mercy is a documentary (Examiner article here and Danish Film Institute article here) of an Ethiopian child whose HIV-positive parents are told they have fewer than five years to live. Distraught, they agree for their beloved youngest daughter, Masho, to be adopted to a Danish couple. The two sets of parents meet, agree to continue contact, and then Masho and her younger brother are whisked away never to be seen or heard from again. Masho’s parents outlive their five-year prognosis, and in their unexpected health they move heaven and earth to regain contact with their lost daughter. From the first day, Masho’s new parents break down any attempt to express grief, distress, or even an ordinary childhood idiosyncrasy such as a tic.
Will you please watch this scene where Masho is sent away, hungry, from the dinner table? Watch how her new parents interact with her. At this point, Masho has already been denied multiple meals.
In the end, her new parents abandon her to the Danish equivalent of an orphanage, without ever contacting Masho’s Ethiopian parents who have fought Herculean battles to find out whether their child is all right.
After I had planned Bastia for an entire year, I watched this documentary just before writing. I was sickened at the kind of brainwashing adults feel appropriate to impose on children taken from other countries and families, all in the name of “rescuing” them.
And so when I wrote Becoming Clissine, I wanted my readers to understand, through a child’s eyes, what it feels like to grow up knowing your entire identity is an affront to everyone you love and everything you hold dear.
Am I talking about adoption? Sexual orientation/identification? Race? Class? Privilege? Xenophobia? Imperialism? Global inequities at a socio-political and economic level? All of these, and none of these.
At the risk of giving a spoiler, let me say this:
Karielle lives every day of her life trying to follow the values of Bastia, but she is not a blind robot. She draws the shattered Clissa close to her, pouring out all of her love and wisdom.
In the process, both are changed.
Karielle (and her partner, Soris) is one of the favorite characters I’ve written. (So much so that their stand-alone short story prequel will be featured in Milestones, a DD anthology with Alta Hensley, Sue Lyndon, Renee Rose, Cara Bristol, Jade Cary, and Celeste Jones.) She struggles to live a life grounded in moral and ethical principles. She does, not just what her society says is right, but what she feels is right.
When she comes to love Clissa as her own daughter, her thoughts about right and wrong change.
Yet the irony is that Karielle grows, learns, and changes because she has committed herself fully to living an ethical, moral life. As we grow, our concepts of “what is right” also changes.
Today, I ask you to open your hearts. Sit with yourself, examining your heart and mind. In what way could you find compassion, tolerance, and understanding for someone you might have judged?
In what way can you show love to someone you have dismissed as not like you?
In what way can you place yourself in the position of someone who must face daily opposition simply to live an authentic life?
Today, I won’t ask you a specific question. This is an intense and personal post, and your response may or may not feel safe to share in a public setting. Instead, I’d like to open up discussion to anything you’d like to say in response. There’s no need to list your good deeds or say that you are a good person, just an invitation to share what might feel comfortable for you.
For me, today I will take to heart the words of Paul who has shared his story. Instead of being bitter that he had a difficult childhood in a foster home and children’s home, he created magical Christmases for his younger sister and nieces and nephews. Next week, I’ll tell you the story of my Christmas at an orphanage and how fiercely I wish for all children to have equal rights. I struggle when I watch children, especially those in my extended family, who are spoiled rather than taught to be good citizens. But for now, I’ll only say that Paul’s message has reminded me to open my heart with gratitude for what I have. To not silently decide someone is undeserving because he or she has more than I had, but to give freely of my love, understanding, and care. We are all deserving.
How about you?