Reading Night has me considering just how night falls around us lately. Should I be embarrassed to admit that I had never read Elie Wiesel’s Night? It felt kind of shocking to me, as I am holocaust-obsessed person, not to mention a big reader. Frankly I’m not sure how I never did, but I never did read the book. Until now. Wiesel’s recent death propelled me down to our local library to find a copy.
When I think about this moral giant’s passing, and the confluence of current events I find myself feeling ill, wondering out loud – how did we get here? Again? Some among you may think I am being reactionary, or simply overreacting. Pardon me, but I will err on the side of caution here, many good Germans, Jews and non-Jews, felt like others were overreacting back then. By time they could do something it was too late, so the cautionary tale approach works just fine for me.
The slim volume is harrowing – there is no getting around that. As Wiesel chronicles elements of his Transylvanian childhood, he creates evocative scenes of daily Jewish life with his words. I’m not going to review the book for you here; many of you read it, and if you have not, I will simply say do not delay – read it now.
Maybe it is my own odd preoccupations with death,history, the Holocaust, and a life of witness to more evil than I care to think about, but do we not see where we are? Or perhaps, we do not see how our own actions and inaction have led us here? Does memory fade so much? Does fear obscure clarity of vision? Does a lack of desire about changing one iota of anything paralyze us? As I contemplate the world around us, I have a sense that night falls more quickly than we realize.
The video above is from 1985. Then President Ronald Regan was preparing for a visit to Germany, where he would, among other things, go to a ceremony at Bitburg, a German military cemetery. Elie Wiesel had come to the White House to receive the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement. He had the opportunity to speak – the video is above. Wiesel, ever the moral giant, takes the chance to implore President Reagan to reconsider his visit to Bitburg, where a number of SS were laid to rest.
I am trying to imagine a similar scene today. Who might ask President Obama to not use drones any longer? Who in a future world, one I do not wish to imagine, would be given the chance to speak so freely to a possible President Trump? My imagination is stretched to its limits with these questions, and my soul is aching.
Do we not see the vile hatred of Muslims, which, given today’s Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, is about to get worse. Do we not see the ever widening racial divide in our nation and take the time to look within? And by that, I do mean all of us, but especially white America. I’m not even talking about racist, white America, I am talking about all of us who are completely disconnected from our own privilege and our own unconscious bias.
So yes, it seems as if night falls upon us, and I am not sure of what to say or do.
This brings me back to the book Night and the horrifying history of the Holocaust. As Muslims, blacks, undocumented workers, LGBT people, and others are turned into objects of hate, a little bit of our humanity dies each day. Yes, I am even talking about you and me, even though we fancy ourselves free of the prejudices that others feel. We are all guilty at some level and our collective souls are suffering.
Do we not see that the vilification of all Muslims is everything from hateful to absurd? How does an entire people become evil? In the case of Muslims, like the long history of anti-Semitism we see a large group of people wholesale written off because of their religion. Hey, I grew up with a neighbor who referred to all Jews as “Christ killers.” She went to daily mass, felt very holy and self-righteous I’m sure, but that was the unquestioned and adopted prejudice of her heart. (I did finally challenge her when I was a young adult, but for years she simply made me anxious and upset. My parents told me to ignore her… )
So when we say Muslims and we mean “all Muslims” we are in dangerous territory. When we say Jews and we mean “all Jews,” we are also in a bad spot. Now I find myself talking about black on black violence and cop on black violence with “black” becoming more a “thing” to some of my friends and acquaintances, rather than individual human beings and to other friends, it is cops who are dehumanized. It is wrong either way!
You personally may think that someone like Alton Sterling or Philando Castile, and many other black men “deserved” to die, but they were someone’s son, someone’s husband, someone’s father. Just as each person is made in the image and likeness of God, so were they. Even the very worst person in the world (Hitler? Pol Pot? Stalin?) is made in the image and likely of God. Smashing the idol that we loathe in order to supposedly build up the one we love is a most dangerous game, one that is played as night falls.
In my crazy dreams I wish that we could have a collective national reading of Wiesel’s night. It would be there, after we fully immersed ourselves in the history of such profound evil, that we might find ways to talk and to encounter one another, thinking about what it would mean to imagine the book with Muslims, black people, or undocumented people as the Jews.
This is not likely to happen. Who knows who our next president will be; if it is Donald Trump then I think we have a lot to worry about. Either way, night falls. What will we do to illuminate the night with love, with wisdom, with mercy, with willing hearts of grace? Will we even try?
If we do not, then perhaps night will have fallen fully at last. That is a thought I can barely contemplate, but at this point, who knows?