Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah). This morning we went to church, where the day was commemorated in a deeply moving ceremony. Sitting in church, watching the six candles burn, representing the six million persons (Jews, Gypsies, artists, lesbians, gays, those who opposed the Nazis, and the handicapped) killed in the Nazi death camps, I found myself wondering how the scene might look if we had 60 to 100 candles burning, representing the 60-100 million Native persons killed during the Conquest. I also wondered whether we were witnessing some deep racism that could acknowledge genocide against Europeans, by Europeans, but not the near destruction of Native peoples and peoples from Africa.
I am nested in a complex, blended, family: Native, Jewish, Welsh, and Scott, perhaps also Irish.) Many of our ancestors experienced acts of genocide over the past couple of centuries. The cultural, and sometimes physical, genocide against Native peoples in the Americas continues. Each genocide deserves acknowledgement and remembrance. Yet, the genocide against Native Peoples in the Americas is seldom discussed or acknowledged. Nor is the genocide against African people during the slave trade. As we sat in church this morning, I found myself wondering whether we were watching an institutional display of racism. I wanted very much to remember Yom Hashoah, to mourn for the lives lost, and to acknowledge the resilience of the Jewish people. At the same time, I wished for an acknowledgement of the many genocides, some ongoing, that have plagued modern history, particularly the genocides carried out in our own country.
Recently, maybe as a result of the blatantly racist rhetoric of many politicians, and the rewriting of history by the deniers of genocides ( including slavery, Native America, and the Holocaust) I have found myself feeling heartbroken, and increasingly hopeless. My family has noticed. Last night, we went with friends to hear the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, one of the premiere small symphonies in the country. The soloist was Yo Yo Ma ! I was rapturous watching his open-hearted, playful, brilliant performance, but greatly disliked the other music selections. Family and friends pointed out that I was being harsh, and failing to enjoy the music as it was presented, well-played and beloved by the musicians. Nor was I great company at the restaurant beforehand.
Sometimes it seems to me we are living in an epoch, and in a country, devoid of history, accountability, or true compassion, a time and country balanced on the brink of great violence. This feels isolating and lonely. In these moments I am given to losing balance, and to imagining I am unlikable in my grief. Of course, this is no different from how many, perhaps most, of us feel, and believe, when our experiences are rejected or ignored by significant others. I was reminded of this yesterday while conducting a shamanic healing for a young woman who struggles to love herself in the face of trauma and denial. Deniers, whether in our families, or our cultures, attack the very souls of those who have experienced hurt and injustice. Furthermore, deniers are often very well aware of the impacts of their behavior.
All this swirled around me as I participated in this morning’s worship. At the end of the service, I was discussing the absence of references to the Native American genocide with another parishioner. He suggested that genocide was just part of human nature. He seemed to be suggesting that to acknowledge one genocide was to acknowledge all. Yet, no two genocides are the same. I was left wondering how the church could integrate Native American, Scott, and Irish spirituality into its worship services, and not acknowledge the genocides that have shaped each culture. Perhaps we have come, as a society, and as individuals, to believe that should we acknowledge the terror and suffering experienced by all those effected by genocide, we could not go on living in this world. Yet, if we fail to acknowledge that very terror and suffering, the victims cannot truly heal, and we also become victims of the violence and inhumanity.
This morning, the minister reminded us that in each genocide there are a few persons who could be oppressors, but who choose to aid the victims, often endangering or sacrificing their own lives. They do not intend to be heroes. They are simply responding to the need at hand. Perhaps we can turn to their example to find the courage to acknowledge the genocides carried out in our own country, and to demand an end to genocidal practices here and everywhere.