With all the attacks in Paris and elsewhere, I admit that my stories of protests, being tear-gassed, and watching the National Guard outside our apartment in Berkeley in the late sixties have lost their power to shock. Cocktail parties have been made on those tales — unbelievable as they seemed to fellow Canadians who have never seen such horrors in this country. Wow! Outdone by terrorists…who saw that coming?
I naively thought the 60s protests were the worst, most violent thing I’d see in my lifetime. I do stress the word ‘naive’. And I was able, with a bit of time, distance and perspective to look back and make jokes out of the experience. My Grandfather, in his 80s and in somewhat failing health, came to visit me and my ex in Berkeley and was tear gassed during a quiet walk on campus when a protest turned ugly. Bless him, although he had a weak heart, he later laughed at the fact that he’d had to run for his life in Berkeley after being gassed before in WWI. It became his cocktail party story of choice. That was a life lesson for me — but one that I struggle to remember these days.
When Gill settled in England, I wasn’t particularly worried on her behalf — well, I worried about her embracing her day job (she who can’t sit still for long periods of time and tends to rock back and forth when she’s bored), her health (would she shit herself during a bad Crohn’s attack on The Tube?), her making friends to compensate for missing her family…we can be a pain, but still, we’re family!). Then the ’07 Tube bombing happened. She was traveling on it for a stretch on her way north to Glasgow. I wasn’t able to reach her on the phone for hours…during which time I pictured her lying bleeding on the tracks, calling for her Mommy. Or worse, in a body bag. It was a day of panic.
When she finally called, she was sitting, somewhat drunk, in a pub in Glasgow, having just learned of the attack. (Did I mention another cause for worry is the reputation the UK has for its drinking problem? Add it to the list of motherly concerns.) From that day forward, I finally understood the fear my own parents had when my ex and I left Canada for Berkeley (and the riots) in our little English tin can of a car. We were off on an adventure; they felt a visceral fear for their only child. (They feared a semi would drive over our silly little excuse for a car; they were afraid for my life since we’d be camping and I had never camped before. The closest thing I’d experienced to ‘camping’ was staying at a Holiday Inn. And they were none too sure about my husband’s ability to protect and support (money wise) us. In truth, these issues alone were enough to scare them shitless! )I was sad at leaving them, my friends and country, but I truly didn’t understand the depth of their fear. I do now. I’d apologize to them but they’re long gone.
Gill had announced plans recently to take a friend to Paris as a celebration of her recent book deal but had postponed it until spring. Even so, I panicked when authorities said that London was also under threat and high alert for a terrorist attack. My advice to her? “Stay in Bristol! And don’t you DARE go near Paris!” I screamed.
“But it will be fine by spring,” she answered confidently.
“Oh yeah? I hear Iceland is beautiful in the spring. And probably cheaper. And those outdoor hot springs would be marvelous for your arthritis. And since it’s a somewhat remote cold destination, they probably don’t have much in the way of fresh veggies…especially kale! Your Crohn’s would like that!” I pointed out helpfully.
“Ma! We can’t let the terrorists win!” she admonished me.
“True”, I agreed. “It’s just that I don’t want MY daughter getting blown up to prove a point. I’m afraid, when it gets that personal, all thoughts of forgiving terrorists, trying to reason with them, or ‘turning the other cheek’ fly out the window. I saw an interview with a man who had lost his young wife in the Paris attacks. He said he forgave the attackers and couldn’t let his toddler child be raised in an atmosphere of hate. He forgave the attackers. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t do that. I’m closer to the end of my life than he is, so I could make peace with the fact that bitterness would overtake my remaining years. I mean, I’ve been stressing out over my small health issues, obsessing to the point that I’m making things worse. Even though, thankfully, none of my children have been harmed and hopefully never will be, hating the misguided, deranged terrorists would be a worthy distraction.”
“Let’s agree to disagree, Ma. I have so many medical issues, I can’t add the poison of hatred to exacerbate things. I’ll just continue to be careful, try to stay invisible, and carry on carrying on. And good try on plugging Iceland as a destination! I still want to go to Paris. The last I heard, they don’t have ‘Croque en Bouche’ in the hot springs…”