Sunday, April 10, 2011

Where were YOU on April 10, 1979?

It's funny how odd details trigger memories, and how memories solidify our connections to external events.

Rachel Corrie

Last year, I attended a screening of "Rachel" at the Chicago Palestine Film Festival. Those who know the story of Rachel Corrie will not be surprised to hear that the film was inherently engrossing; this was compounded by the presence at the screening of her parents.

But the detail that caught me by surprise was a clip of a memorial to Rachel that showed her birth date: April 10, 1979. My first reaction was, "She and I have the same birthday?" My second reaction was, "But she was . . . I was 20 when she was born." And that reminded me that, in fact, I remember all about April 10, 1979 . . . .

I was a sophomore in college, and two women friends from my dorm said they wanted to take me out to dinner for my birthday. I was tickled that anyone was making a big deal about me and my birthday -- the chosen destination was a classic seafood spot in Boston, Durgan Park -- and the fact that Wendie and Jean were the ones doing it, well, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Perhaps that's why I was so dazed that it wasn't till I was practically at my seat at the restaurant that I realized that it wasn't just dinner with Wendie and Jean, but that everybody else from our dorm was there, too . . . .

There's a lot more I can remember about that dinner, too . . . . probably NOGI (not of general interest) but interesting to me in the sense of how surprising it is that the mind retains so much detail.

And now I add to those memories the fact that on the same day a girl was born who would go on to intervene in events in Gaza and her life would end and it would only be years later that I would even become aware of her and the events that she cared so much about.

Rachel Corrie's parents spoke to the audience at the Chicago screening of "Rachel." I usually participate enthusiastically in those audience Q&As, enjoying the chance to have a little interaction with those involved with the film. But I was frozen by my encounter with them. All I could think was, "My kids are the age that she was when she died. What would I do . . . ?" And I couldn't resist the thought that you don't get to be an activist without being influenced and/or inspired by those nearest to you, and that I was looking at the people who were both responsible for Rachel Corrie's pure worldview and ideal of justice but also for the personal consequences of her uncompromising commitment to her views and ideals. I thought they showed enormous courage to respond to tragedy with renewed activism; I hoped that I would have the same courage if ever similarly challenged, but frankly doubted it.

There are some people who say, "Why does it take the sacrifice of an American to get people to care about the many people who have died and suffered in Gaza and other parts of Palestine and Israel?" To that I might add: "Do you really have to be able to remember April 10, 1979, in order to grasp the tragedy of the death of a child born that day?" For me, the answer to both is: whatever it takes to get your attention . . . .

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