What is every living thing if not a delicate flower: springing forth, growing, blossoming, fading away? “I think we’re all flowers,” my brother-in-law, who lost his dad to cancer, once said. Then he helplessly shrugged his shoulders about the various blooms lasting varying lengths of time. It was probably in response to my pissed-offness about my late husband, Hugh, suddenly dropping dead all those years ago at the relatively young age of 46.
A tender floral image came to me recently in a dream. I was bold enough to tell Cher I was dropping by and I didn’t even tell her what time. When I got there I was impressed by her spacious home and surprised that it was in earthtones not jeweltones. She handed me a frosty orange drink in a long-stemmed glass, decorated with an enormous pale pink flower, similar to a hydrangea.
In waking life, I follow Cher on Twitter. She’s outspoken; she cracks me up. And, as you may expect, she is liberal in her use of emojis. Also? She has potty mouth. Her most recent tweet:
“TEXAS ITS FKNG HISTORY”, along with an image of the book White Bird by R. J. Palacio. A parent felt that this graphic novel – “about a Jewish teen living in France after Nazis seized power – should be banned because it’s ‘biased’ and could lead to the ‘skewing of a young child’s mind’.” Wow.
In 1597, Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “knowledge itself is power”, but what if knowledge is summarily rejected? Or deemed “fake”? What actual “knowledge” should we gobble up to gain this “power”?
Knowledge is scattershot, yes? I want to blame social media. Truth is hard to unearth. What are your sources? Are they reliable? And also, the rise of effusively-lying leaders like Pewtin and name-sounds-like Stump leaves truth as tattered as a rope toy in the rabid mouth of a Pit Bull. But historian Yuval Noah Harari deftly points out in 21 Lessons for the 21stCentury that there’s never been a “halcyon age of truth”. Humans thrive on stories and rely on fictions to function. “We are the only mammals that can cooperate with numerous strangers,” writes Harari, “because only we can invent fictional stories, spread them around, and convince millions of others to believe in them.”
Lest you be tempted to believe the Russian response to atrocities currently being uncovered in Bucha, Ukraine – “Moscow says the images are fabricated,” The Washington Post – consider how Russia overtook Crimea in 2014. “The Russian government and President Putin in person repeatedly denied that these were Russian troops,” writes Harari, “describing them instead as spontaneous ‘self-defense groups’ that may have acquired Russian-looking equipment from local shops.”
The higher truth – the one that makes Pewtin’s lies acceptable – for Russian nationalists? The preservation of the sacred Russian nation. Despite the fact that Kyiv and Moscow were only part of the same country for 300 of the last thousand years, a chilling recent Russian opinion piece translated by Chris Brown for CBC News claims, “The idea of Ukrainian culture and identity is fake.” (Are you as weary of that word “fake” as I am?) The writer of the piece, Timofei Sergeitsev, “claims the word ‘Ukraine’ itself is synonymous with Nazism and cannot be allowed to exist.”
You understand what Sergeitsev is laying down here, right? Genocide. Humans know well the horror of the Holocaust. Then Mao Tse-tung’s Cultural Revolution. Then the Killing Fields in Cambodia. Then Bosnia and Herzegovinia – the Srebrenica genocide of July 1995 in which more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred. Rwanda. Darfur, ongoing. And now Ukraine. We may know, but do we learn?
“Alas, even if it remains impossible to wage successful wars in the twenty-first century, that would not give us an absolute guarantee of peace,” writes Harari. “We should never underestimate human stupidity.”
Roger Cohen, Paris bureau chief for The New York Times, puts it this way: “Peace, in terms of the sweep of history, is an exceptional state. It’s an unusual state and it takes great effort to preserve it.”
“All we are saying is give peace a chance,” John Lennon sang so eloquently, before his beautiful flower was blown to smithereens.
Cohen points out that prior to the killing in the Bosnian War, these people were neighbours, friends. Indeed, I recall a Serbian named Davor escaping the violence by dealing Black Jack on a cruise in the 90’s. His face was stricken white as he told Hugh and I how shocking it was that one day they were friends and the next? They were pointing guns at one another. “All it takes,” says Cohen, “is for a leader to designate those former neighbours as your enemy and for somebody to start shooting. The virus of hatred is always there, just beneath the surface.”
Because name-sounds-like Striden labelled Pewtin a war criminal, Cohen was on The Daily podcast to discuss the long and winding road to holding war criminals to account. “Those bodies lying in Bucha,” he says, “they had families, right? They had kids. Some justice being brought, even if it’s ten years down the road, that will be meaningful.”
Website Photo: A Rita Hartley painting, of the Ukrainian flower, recently given to my aunt for her birthday.