Violence and Valentine’s Day

Accolade_by_Edmund_Blair_Leighton
The Accolade by Edmund Leighton, 1901

I teach U.S. History, World History, Holocaust Studies, and Recent World History. IT is heavy.  I read scholarly books and novels about it. I watch documentaries and films about it. I attend conferences, create stories, and talk to colleagues about it. With my students, we analyze it day after day, month after month, year after year. And IT has me going home after work saturated with the stain of violence and its result–despair, atrocity, and the knowledge that history repeats itself, much like my day. Sometimes it takes hours for the fog of history to dissipate.

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The Parthenon, Athens

To clarify, I love my job. I feel I owe Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi, Martin Luther, the Greeks, Cyrus the Great, the Mayans, and Lucy my best efforts to pass along their stories to each class, trying to inspire. If students explore humanity’s great achievements, they need to examine wars, dictators, and perverted power, for if they learn how to empathize and evaluate the past, history becomes important, and they won’t forget. One day history will stop repeating itself. Right?

I went home and Gone Girl greeted me right at the part when character Amy Dunne slit the throat of Desi Collings and swam in the results. I thought about her as the new psychopath, a female Hannibal Lector. I wondered if Alfred Hitchcock were alive and working today, would he like this new psycho? Would he be as gruesome as modern filmmakers who show the realism of murder, disaster, and mayhem? These were my thoughts during dinner. Next came the news. Only the horrible is reported, and I turned off the television and went to read. I opened the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist, Phillipp Meyer’s, The Son. It’s an epic western, and after a few pages of prologue, the story began with a Comanche attack of the protagonist’s homestead in Texas. Thus began the assault of the family members. Breasts were cut off, heads were scalped. The writing is fine, but the violence–after a day of IT, I threw the book across the room. It’s likely an excellent historical fiction novel. I’ve reclaimed it from the corner because as a writer, I’m interested how Meyer created the historical climate. It’s not his fault life was violent for all concerned in the 1800s. Violence is the human constant since we drew the hunt on cave walls.

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I was one of those who scoffed at Valentine’s Day. The isles of pink and red. Ugly balloons and cards with expectations one must romance and love. Today.

But now, I’m starting to reconsider Valentine’s Day. I find I do need to be prodded to be extra-sweet to those I care about. I want to crack the unsentimental shell hardened by my daily dose of history. I need to let the gooey-goodness of life spill out.  I bought my students heart-shaped doughnuts, and they became well-behaved angels. We continued our discussion whether FDR’s New Deal was a conservative or radical experiment. They wanted to rush on to the exciting stuff–World War II.  Oh boy. Total War. Won’t that be fun. 

On Valentine’s Day, I vow to take a break from IT.  I will watch charming films, count my blessings, and pray for world peace.

31 thoughts on “Violence and Valentine’s Day

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  1. Dear friend Cindy! This post blew me away – for so many reasons. History – it has been one of my great loves throughout life. I studied it in school; I continue to read it, meditate on it. Most people, I find, are not that interested in sitting still long enough to consider its lessons.

    Who can blame them? For the emotional reasons you’ve mentioned, it is hard work – and pleasant to ignore, until it rises up once more to punch us in the gut with lessons unlearned. I think we are now in a period where our failure to heed history’s warnings will soon result in another, fearsome gut punch. The problem with history is not that it repeats itself in terms of circumstance, but that the motivations of the human heart remain unchanged. We continue to operate with centuries’ old fear, envy, suspicion and so on. Makes me think of the old song from the film ‘Casablanca’ – it’s all still a fight for love and glory. 🙂 That sounds glib and I don’t mean to make light of the problems we face.

    Tonight I was reading some works by scholars about the religious, cultural, and political background of New Tesstment times. The bloody rise and fall of empires leading up to those times overwhelmed me as I experienced for a brief moment the eternal view of man’s violent quest for power. It is depressing because it is unending, like being caught in a hopeless vortex.

    So, yes, please – bring on the red heart-shaped balloons and chocolate. 🙂 it is a needed respite from the reality of man’s story.

    Sorry for the length of this reply, but before I end I wanted to mention that I smiled at your mention of FDR. He and Eleanor continue to cheer me with their blend of pragmatism, hard and brave choices, and steely-eyed compassion. Compelling figures from history. Today I wrote a brief (5 sentence) piece of fiction about the pair in response to a challenge. I hope to post tomorrow. I hope you’ll look for it.

    Happy Valentine’s Day. 🙂

    1. Wow! Kate, I love your long response, friend. It’s morbid curiosity to see how humans struggle and lose hope and then find the wherewithal to either die or endure. I loved your line “caught in a hopeless vortex”. That’s how I feel many days after the end of a school day. So what about history if you can’t do anything about it? I try to share the human capacity for greatness as much as I can to offset the FUBAR and destruction.

    1. I like to think of myself as a social historian. Nothing maddens me more than statistics regarding mortality rates and efficiency in weapons of mass destruction. Those numbers are people. Stories of heroism are the silver lining in the barbarism of war.

  2. Great post Cindy. I had no idea that was your line of work. That’s must very interesting? History fascinates me and it’s often quite absurd how we’re almost programmed to repeat it.

    1. Happy V Day, Mark! Yeah, I don’t get it. We are educated and have hindsight, yet, we can’t all get on the same page. Seems the duality of man is a dance, a macabre dance, too many times seen on the battlefield.

  3. Beautifully-written Cindy! I too often feel cynical about V-day but hey, it’s a holiday that celebrates love, not just romance, and that’s always a good thing 😀 It is alarming how humans are so drawn to violence even as far back as Biblical days, but we always have a choice to choose good and to love others. So happy V-day my friend, and thanks for collaborating w/ me, the post is going up shortly! 😀

      1. Ahah, I actually received two bouquets from my brother on my B’day on Wed so I told my hubby not to get me any more flowers. We had a scrumptious take-out dinner + watched Nightcrawler on V-day, it was perfect 😉 Hope yours was a lovely one!

  4. Cindy, this was a wonderful post that had me jumping from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other. I write historical fiction (faction) and have one book that takes place within the timeframe walls of the Jacobite battles–18th century. Yes. Bloody and brutal. And the research has been stomach churning on some days. But still I’m drawn to the strength of determination. And it’s what I’m drawn to in your post today as well. Your students are fortunate to have such dedication at the front of the room. And super lucky you have a warm, gooey center that occasionally peeks out from a much needed tough and crispy shell.
    Cheers

    1. 🙂 Thanks, Shelley. My students have grown used to me tearing up in the back of the room at my desk during a doc or film which has me reaching for the kleenex. I’m a little too gooey for my own good. 😉 Wow! So you are writing about the Jacobites. That’s random. Why that chapter in history? I’d like to check out your book.

      1. On one of my many many trips to Scotland, I visited Culloden battlefield. I have never felt so empty and stripped of words. There are so many stories there just begging to be written–and I think when something taps you on the shoulder and pleads with you to please pay attention, you answer the call of that muse.
        Currently the book is with my publishers. Timelines are in the works. Promise to keep you abreast.
        Cheers, Cindy.

  5. This is such a beautifully insightful review, because it really speaks to the truth about the aching world we live in, saturated with something that can, and does, weigh on us as people. I commend you for loving you job, and doing your best to inspire those you teach, but that has to be rough when you can’t escape it.

    I hope you had a sweeter Valentine’s Day.

    1. Hi Andrew, thanks, friend! History is exciting. The good, the bad, and the ugly. While it hurts to feel the horrendous stories from the past, and at times, it can make one lose hope, the tenacity of hardship often brings out the very best in us. The great irony!

  6. Really enjoying your blog posts, Cindy! During my breaks at work, I love reading them, and – best of all – it allows me to get to know you a little bit better, and from 11,000 miles away. Thank you again for what you do 🙂

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