A stunning read from our resident guest author, Tim, that doesn’t require an introduction.
How do I cope with the stress of world events?
World events can throw a huge spanner in our works. One happened with an election result in the USA way before 20 January 2017, but the spanner arrived just then, yesterday, and with such effect that it almost feels as if the eschaton has arrived, and I am not a religious man.
This cannot be a political post; it must be a post about self, and emotional survival, when things seem lost. Even when Bob’s website takes a world view, it takes it from a personal perspective, not a political one. As I write this I am not sure that Bob will accept it for publication. I am, however, writing it for myself.
Today, 21 January 2017, here in a peaceful, rural part of the UK, I am in a state of emotional confusion. I am removed form global events. World politics ought to have no effect on me and my mental state. Yet, I feel an unpleasant and very real frisson, and it is in my chest. I am physically and emotionally disturbed. I usually use meditation, mindfulness, to quell things like that, often with success. Today it is not working, not yet. And yet meditation ought, surely, not to be hard work?
I feel I ought to explain why I feel upset. I know I’ve written before about how writing things out removes a little of the power we allow them to have over us. So here goes.
This is my father, in February 1939, in what had become Germany, but was Vienna, in Austria. He was 30, and had lost his job because he was a member of a persecuted minority. He had been fired for that reason alone. It was sufficient.
The attribute he had been fired for was his race, this despite his father having been made a Freeman of the City of Vienna. He was a pretty ordinary bloke, employed as an insurance clerk, working his way in night school to becoming a lawyer. His travel documents, that he left Vienna with, include that racial attribute very clearly. I’ve blanked his name and serial number.
Some of you will have to research that big, red J. Others know it was down to Switzerland.
I was born in 1952, well removed from these awful times. I am not a member of that religious group because my mother was not Jewish. Heredity, though, means I share my father’s ethnicity. I also share something weird. I am unable to cope with any material about The Holocaust.
It feels like some sort of ingrained genetic memory of horror. Intellectually I know this cannot be so. And yet I feel it, and feel it so strongly that I must leave the room.
I am a different minority. As I discovered with a profound shock at the age of thirteen years and six weeks I would have been forced to wear an enhanced marking, the one that shows me to be homosexual and Jewish.
You can only be afraid once, only be gassed once, for having even two attributes that suit you for extermination.
I have never thought much about my Jewish ethnic roots, for they have never been a real part of my life. I have often been afraid of my homosexuality.
I have been so afraid of it that, at seventeen, I almost killed myself. That was not because I was homosexual. It was after being outed unpleasantly at school, because I was terrified of being despised, marginalised, ill treated, discriminated against by my own parents for being homosexual, a tiny attribute I was unable to help, did not wish for, and which I allowed to influence my life.
I would not have been exterminated. Instead I would have been subjected by my parents to cruel aversion therapies, to cure me, pretty much electrocution short of death. Terror of that remained with me for many years. Memory of the terror remains today.
I am not a strong person, nor a brave one.
It was not bravery nor was it strength that stopped me from killing myself that horrible day. Hindsight tells me that it would instead have been very foolish bravery to achieve my own death. At the time I simply chose to accept my lot in life and pretend I was heterosexual. Staying alive hasn’t been so bad.
I would have killed myself had I been sent for electric shock aversion therapy rather than die every day strapped to a chair. I was only a kid, thirteen. Parents are meant to love you, protect you from harm.
The memory of the terror is ingrained. It is part of me.
I would have lost my first job if it had been discovered that I was homosexual. I was, then, a civil servant, and I worked in a reasonably secure area. We were still considered at risk from blackmail and thus a security risk back in 1975. Alan Turing’s persecution, unknown to us then, had not been that many years beforehand.
Michel de Montaigne said “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which have never happened.” He probably said it in French; he definitely said it a very long time ago. I imagine misfortunes. I doubt I’m alone in that. My mother was a great user of the phrase “What if…?” and it stays with me. Michel seems to have been a worrier, too.
During my lifetime I have watched with pleasure the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the increasingly human rights aware world, followed by nascent true equality. I have become brave enough to be open about who I am. I ‘take down’ the bigots whose casual insults, to homosexuals and other minorities, upset me. I have become the man I should probably always have been, could always have been.
I have relaxed.
I have started to take genuine equality for granted, and allowed myself to luxuriate in all the simple human rights that everyone else takes for granted.
Yesterday I saw bigotry take office and fear start to rule again in oppressed minorities. Even with the Atlantic Ocean between us, I am afraid. I see the trend in the UK, too. It started here after the vote to leave the EU, with increasing overt racism and other overt discrimination.
It reminds me of a time when my father was alive, the time in Vienna before the Anschluss after a fellow countryman of his stormed to popular power in Germany. The fact that I have just invoked Godwin’s Law does not make that comparison invalid. In December 2015, Godwin commented on the Nazi and fascist comparisons being made by several articles on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, saying that “If you’re thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler when you talk about Trump. Or any other politician.”
I am again afraid.
I see the start of the dismantling of my newly won equality.
I am afraid.
My problem is in dealing with the fear. It is not an irrational fear. The most powerful nation on the planet is removing LGBT protection statements from its policies:
While I am certain that decent people will triumph, and that equality will reign supreme again, this confidence does nothing for my short term anguish. My problem is in dealing with that short term anguish because I, even cosy in my peaceful town, am afraid.
Previous articles I’ve written show a great deal of confidence. I’ve shown how I’ve used my inner conflicts to beat the demons that I have oppressed myself with.
Suddenly, I am less confident. I do not know what to do when I feel under genuine attack from external sources, political sources.
Mindfully, I can identify the feelings.
Mindfulness teaches us, in part, to notice feelings for what they are and to set them aside and move on. I can do that with anything I know I have caused for myself. How to do that when I feel beset from many external sources, that is a mystery, at least at present.
Psalm 121 has this as its first line:
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills. From whence cometh my help?”
The psalter does not have the question mark, but the text requires it. Lack of the question mark is a long term typo. Help does not come from over those hills, and ‘whence’ is, de facto, interrogative. It is the cry of a desperate person. I have long seen that line as a scream for help, my scream. My scream.
The remainder of the psalm is, for me, a load of trite platitudes about how a deity will handle all that stuff. But I have to handle it all myself, for it sure ain’t coming from over the hills, and I am not about to start to believe in a deity who lets stuff like this happen!
I am not a religious man. I have no deity. I want none. How ironic that I start with the eschaton and end with a psalm. Perhaps some of you reading this can help me. I know I feel a little more clarity from having written it out.
From whence cometh my help?