To mix things up a bit, here’s some fiction.
I’m (slowly) working on a collection of short stories about the people who don’t become heroes. People who were given the chance to fight and, for all sorts of reasons, didn’t. I’m calling it “Quitters, Cowards and Idiots”.
This one is about Izaak Silverstein, a young man living in our future maybe a hundred years from now and how he fell out of activism.
Life Gets in the Way
If you’ve ever moved far away from friends and family and promised to keep in touch, you’ll know how it happened. That promise is almost always broken quickly and awkwardly and those “left behind” don’t understand that it was an entirely unintentional breach of their trust. It just happens.
We humans promise more than we can give and yet knowing this we all expect exactly what we’re owed from each other. As if we are the only one in the world who ever lets the phone keep ringing or says “Oh dear I just found your email in the spam box three weeks late!” As if no one else has ever committed themselves to two events on the same night and forgotten one or found themselves too busy or too drunk or too asleep to call home at the expected time. We are fallible and we each know it but find it so hard to accept that everyone else is fallible too.
My parents never quite lost the feeling that I was deliberately avoiding them after I started University. I said I’d email every week, phone twice a week and text in between. I didn’t keep that up even for my first term. They even added me on social networking sites as a “friend” and checked hopelessly for updates, wanting news that I was okay (or perhaps that I wasn’t) and a way to feel close to me despite the physical distance between us. Life, of course, got in the way of keeping in contact. It’s what life does.
And that’s how it happened. Life got in the way. And just like I know my parents sit around their too large dinner table and sigh that their kids just don’t seem to want to see them any more, so I know exactly how I am being spoken of by those I left behind in The Movement and what assumptions they are making about me and all those who leave.
I often wish that I had left, actually. I wish that there was a day when I had said “I am leaving and I’m not coming back”. There wasn’t one – rather than leave I slowly stopped turning up – and if I were to go back now to leave properly I’m sure many people there would have no idea who I was anyway.
Graduating was part of it. Job-hunting. Even dating and taking that Yiddish class came into it. Just other things to do. Other things that were important like shopping for food and turning up in shul every now and then. Life getting in the way.
Unlike some people I could mention but won’t, I’ve never really been Izaak-who-works-for-the-movement or Izaak-who-puts-all-his-time-into-the-movement. I’m Izaak-who-has-a-life, Izaak-who-needs-to-work-to-eat, Izaak-who-wants-to-see-his-mother-at-least-occasionally. I’m Izaak not “some guy who is big in The Movement”. I never wanted to be that kind of guy and I never was – and some people chose to see that as a lack of commitment. I didn’t see it that way. I still don’t.
I think The Movement is doing important and necessary work and that what I did to help when I was still a part of it may turn out to be the most important and significant work I ever do, the most useful thing I ever do with my life. It really might be. Yet… other things can be more important in the moment.
I’ve seen people make themselves sick by working too hard for this, I’ve seen personal relationships fall apart and people losing their homes through not paying their rent on time putting too much money and time and energy into this work. I get it, it’s important, I believe that too but is it really worth ruining your life over?
It probably is, actually. Many people would die for this cause, many have. We can’t afford to let the Earth start another war against our friends in the next star system but neither should anyone be asked to risk losing everything to stop that from happening. We have homes and families and empty stomachs to think of and I wish no one considered us weak for sometimes finding those things more pressing and urgent than preventing a war that hasn’t started yet.
I know that many in The Movement consider those of us who stop attending meetings to be cowards – too afraid to give everything we have. And, yes, that’s what we’re scared of but it’s not cowardice. It’s pragmatism.
And it’s mainly because of that pragmatism that I left. Life got in the way. I’m getting married next Spring, war or no war, but few friends from that long period of my life will be there. The ones that are will be those who left by the sheer force of pragmatism and the in-the-moment necessity to do other things, those who perpetually say that they might attend next week. The others would not begrudge the lack of an invite but will be too busy to attend, maybe too busy to reply. Saving The World can do that to you. If they do reply, they will enquire whether I will attend a meeting next week or if they’ll see me at the next rally and I will say “Maybe”.
I am human and flawed and I care passionately about stopping the war but more than that, though I know it’s trivial in comparison, I care about Izaak Silverstein and his home and his job and his Yiddish class where he met the woman he’s going to marry. I care about his parents and siblings and coming home for Hanukkah, I care about his car insurance and getting his broken TV fixed in time for the Olympics.
Like any other person, I care firstly about myself and my family and if that makes me a coward, then so be it.