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Violence and Valentine’s Day

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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.