Living for the Moment: Livid for a Moment

by NORMAN SIMMS April 1, 2017

A few days ago, a headline caught my attention, as it was meant to do: "After Many Years the Husband of a Woman Murdered in a Terrorist Attack Decides to Marry Again."  But what I assumed-what sprang into my mind as the sense of "many years" shocked me.  For the article in an online newspaper continued: "Mr. So-and-so-the-Settler whose wife was killed in 2016..."  Is this just a case of cultural gap between an old man past 75 (i.e., me) and the intended audience of persons in the prime of life or at least well into their adulthood.  For me, it was a moral shock to think that someone could lose his wife in such horrible circumstances just two years ago and now have passed sufficiently through grief and mourning to decide to remarry.  For me, the desolation and despair would be too much still after so short a time.  Barely two years, in times of trauma and stress, a blink of an eye; no time at all.  I expected the report to refer to a period of ten or fifteen years, at the very least.  Human relationships, such as marriage or parenthood, are too deep and essential to one's whole concept of self to be sloughed off in such a brief interval.

Other matters then came to mind.  The online headline reporter spoke of "many years", and this was better than the now mechanical citing of "multiple" to mean, more vaguely than any other possible common words, such as "a some" or "a few", let alone "many' and "quite a few".  Multiple now implies any number at all past two.  When it comes to the measurement of time, it is as though no one can experience the difference between hours and days, weeks, months and years.  Something happens, and then it is past.  One does not linger to remember nostalgically or a find oneself unable to drag oneself away from a moment of intense passion.  Something happened then, and then it is now, and now is all that counts.  Live for the moment, in the moment, moment by moment.  One thing at a time.  One person at a time.  All in sound bites, instant images that disappear and are gone forever, feelings that are felt and then waft away into oblivion. 

The London terrorist attack a few days ago took less than two minutes.  Khalid Masood drove at speed across Westminster Bridge, ploughing down close to forty people, then crashed into the gate in front of Parliament House and stabbed an unarmed policeman to death.  The BBC, other media, and politicians intone the ritual phrase concerning the victinms, "They will not be forgotten."  If they were not our relatives or friends, already they are, transformed at best into a pile of flowers, candles, balloons, cards and flags piled up along the route of the massacre. In a few more days, the memorial mounds will be swept away.  The names of the injured and dead will be lost, retrievable if required in some digital register; but their names and life-histories will fade away, especially after the next outrage of violent extremism and mental illness.  Then, "after many years", the victims and their families will be expected to "get on with it," to put their pain and grief aside."  It is not just unseemly to remain livid-one must forgive and forget. 

When time passes like this, there is no transition, no gradual accumulation and transformation of experiences; no easing into the future with new insights and experiences to sort out the unexpected that will inevitably confront us.  We are always stuck in the moment, until we are bumped into the next one.  Yet we have no way of counting, registering, learning from experience.

In London, as elsewhere, there were "multiple" deaths and "multiple" injuries" but we are also supposed to believe that there was a single terrorist, a man deranged, brought up in a dysfunctional family, radicalized in prison, and inspired only by terrorism.  Each time it happens-the shootings in a nightclub here, the car or bus driven through a crowd there, the beheading on the street, the stabbing in a shop...we are told that is a "lone wolf" or a pair of brothers who feed off each other's family "issues.  Their parents and relatives, their neighbours and work colleagues are shocked, surprised, numbed-who would ever expect such a nice quiet person to do such thing?  Then, with a little prodding ("many" or "multiple times") they recall, that, yes, the person was quite strange, unsocial and violent. 

The "radicalization" comes later, perhaps, only as a rationalization and as a name to otherwise psychotic drives and fears, uncontrollable urges and actions.  Through abuse as an infant, dislocation at vulnerable stages of childhood and confusions and further abuse as an adolescent, the potential terrorist (mass murderer and suicide killer) becomes susceptible to the hints, prompts and arguments of the religious fanatic and political agitator. We therefore should not confuse the demented and chaotic minds that are put into the front lines of the war against western civilization (Judeo-Christian values) and the highly intelligent and cunning "brains" behind the attempt to create a medieval caliphate of extreme fundamentalist Jihadism.  They seek out and manipulate the vulnerable souls already disturbed and usually already deeply embedded in crimes of violence.  Trivialization of terrorism itself, insistence on a politically correct acceptance of acts of mass murder and sudden suicidal violence as a new fact of modern urban life, and attempts "to understand" the jihadist's rage as a natural or normal response to colonialism and imperialism, none of this will make us any safer in our beds at night, keep us from being taken out while walking down the street with our friends and families, nor offer the crazed criminal a sense of his or her own relief from the demons seething in their heads.  If we forget our own fears and sufferings, we cannot forgive others for disrupting our lives.  If we think that in a few or many years we will be able to make everything all better because we have decided to move on, we dishonour the memory of those we have lost or have lost parts of themselves.  We are afraid and under current emergency conditions we must be afraid and therefore maintain vigilance.  Moreover, there are many things we have to worry about more than fear itself, as Prime Minister May said recently, echoing President Franklin D. Roosevelt: because we are afraid of more jihadist attacks, we have to know how to protect our children from deranged murderers and calculating killers; we are frightened because it is all too easy to slide into the forgetfulness of the next moment, we need to know how to preserve the memory of those who have died or been profoundly injured in body and mind; and because we live in a world where the horrible is said to be the new normal, we need to know how to keep ourselves on track without succumbing to meaningless rage and soul-destroying grief. 

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Norman Simms has just published the first volume of a new book, Jews in an Illusion of Paradise: Dust and Ashes (Cambridge Scholars Publisher.  Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK).  It is available from the publisher as well as amazon.com and other online bookseller sites.  The second volume may be out before the end of this year    


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