My aversion to joining any group is so intense that when I briefly joined an online current-events commentary club, one of my first thoughts was: How do I get out of it?
I unsubscribed to the post-alerts, not that I did not enjoy each and every clever, witty word of the commentary, but I prefer to choose when to go into the Clubhouse. I do not wish the Clubhouse to come knocking on my digital door. This reaction reminded me, yet again, of how innately “claustrophobic” I am; and yet I now wonder, seriously, if my marked response is claustrophobic or even unhealthy. Maybe it’s a robust survival instinct that looks out-of-place in a world where people no longer look for the ins and outs of any situation, setting or scene, particularly ones that would scare the bejeezus out of me.
I once read a book on Pictorial Composition that went straight into the garbage after I plowed half-way through it. Of course, the painter has to lead the eye of the observer through a pathway that leads into the picture and out of the picture! What kind of an idiot, artist or otherwise, does not know that fact — of art or life?
The answer, evidently, is many kinds.
When I was about eight years of age, I built a “clubhouse” — for one — on the far right side of the painted-wood back porch of the second story of the house where I lived. The rectangular tent was hot as heck in the humid summer and so cold in the winter that I had to abandon it, much like a childhood Valley Forge. Gusting winds forced snow through the screened window located beside the clubhouse. The snow accumulated in a small drift on the top of its roof and I’d attentively clear off the snow, so my leave-taking of this tent was not truly abandonment. Faithfully I returned to my Clubhouse at the first sign of spring.
My small panoramic view from that back porch was, from the right, Garrett Mountain and its Lambert Castle; straight-on, my north star and compass head, the Empire State Building, with its elegant Art-Deco design; and, to the left, sycamore trees, with their splotchy peeling bark, and the one-story houses of the far more upscale neighboring town.
The Twin Towers, with their rectangular, strictly utilitarian design, were completed just as I left that house on the edge of town and exited New Jersey. The Towers were not well liked or admired by many in this region at that time; in fact, they were called ugly. The utility of that design, in time, would become something else, something quite else beyond mere function. That function may have been its ultimate destiny.
The Debra Clubhouse was constructed of dropcloths that belonged to my father who painted, non-artistically (although I always found this Dutchman’s choice of shades and their juxtaposition with other nuances to be aesthetic in the most lovely of ways). The heavy beige canvas was splattered with small starbursts of pale turquoise, celestial blue, ecru, soft-salmon, off-white (for the chunky furrowed woodwork or, as the term has been re-termed, the Trim).
In my Clubhouse, I read and wrote and created “book reports” and little research papers for extra credit. My 4th grade teacher, a brand-new Boomer educator with halitosis who did not like children, informed me that she did not believe in giving out “A”s: she’d never met a child that deserved an A. I set out to prove her wrong through Extra Credit Assignments that did me far more good than this woman who begrudgingly gave me straight A’s. Back in my primary-school time, teachers were not known to like children, and when I saw the hug-a-child craze of the 1990s among public school teachers, I asked, “Who is supposed to believe this farce?”
Evidently a lot of suburban moms did.
To return to my Clubhouse, which I’d dearly wished I still had during my Suburban Phase, I particularly loved designing and creating the covers for those lined white-paper “documents.” “The Universe” was my absolute favorite: a thick (pre-recycled rag content) sheet of black construction paper, with nebula and meteors of gold and silver glitter going where no glitter had dared to go before.
I felt safe, creating that Universe, aware perhaps too acutely that the real universe in which I lived was not safe. Nor was that paint-spattered-drop-cloth-tent entirely safe, because there was no escape route from it, except through that screened window, two stories up, and I have a dread fear of heights.
I had, however, placed my Clubhouse far enough away from immediate and apparent threats of danger, in that rectangular cubbyhole nook that was located behind the stairwell leading from the first floor to the second story of a 3-story house. I lived in that house from the ages of eight to roughly eighteen. The third-story was an attic, a refuge for me where I sang and wrote and typed; the Clubhouse had been dismantled by my pre-teen years so that I could pursue other artistic pursuits in a larger, loftier space.
I loved that attic. It was My Attic, my safe haven that was truly safe from the threats of danger in a house that became increasingly chaotic as I left childhood and entered adolescence. To this day, I long for an attic where I can live out my dreams. Perhaps those dreams are now lived out on a grander stage, a “virtual attic”; but in my little-girl heart-and-mind, I will always have My Attic to go to, whenever I feel afraid and need to think my way through things.
It’s not a bad thing, to find your attic, your safe haven. Attics have a special, magical quality about them that is all their own. Most of all, they look out on the world below and you can plot and plan an escape from danger. The danger of my young life came from the truths that lived within that house at 418 North Tenth Street, a brown-shingled 3-story house at the corner of a narrow little street. That street was a one-way street, a dead-end-street, and I did my dead-level best to escape that street before it was too late. The age of seventeen was “before it was too late.”
One of the most agonizing truths within that house was that between myself and my mother, only one of us would leave that house sane and sober. Other agonizing truths I would learn, slowly, over the course of many years, about the evil that consumes itself while it tries to destroy the love among eight siblings, between any two siblings, between husband and wife, even between mother and child. In the end, the evil that I was born of, she destroyed herself. And I forgave her, lest I destroy myself. Forgiveness was the only way out of the prison that she’d constructed to entrap me.
I learned lessons in that house that would last more than a lifetime as I watched the woman who gave birth to me try to destroy life and relentlessly attempt to turn light into darkness. My most profound grief arose from the willful desire of this woman to destroy anything and anyone that I loved. And the things and the ones that I loved above all else were my seven siblings.
It had been an endless sort of mourning for me, watching this blindly vicious and vengeful woman systematically turn each sibling that I loved against me through lies and distortion. Those seven older blood kin had once loved me, but through their own twisted sense of survival they believed they had to turn against me.
For my own supreme survival I had to leave them, though I never stopped loving each and every one of my brothers and sisters. And from that love, I would weave forgiveness of their cruel sins against me. The forgiveness was not easily created. The power to forgive is not meant to be easily won. Such freedom is gained through neither a shrug nor a smile. It is conquered by the courageous heart over intense fear and savage pain with something indefinable, something given by the grace of God, but first one must ask for the gift.
Each and every one of my siblings died, untimely deaths, some unjustly, some justly. Because there were a few who, through hatred and through not only protecting and defending evil but submitting to it, earned their way into hell, paved every step of their pathway to hell. There were, however, my true blood kin who, through love, through sacrificing in love, climbed a long, hard stairway to heaven. There was one, the oldest sibling, my beloved brother, who walked miles through ice and snow to bring food to me. He suffered to protect me. He never once turned against me, and to him I owe more than merely love.
All of the horrors that would befall me out there in the world were more, or less, variations on the same themes of treachery and evil that I learned in that house at 418 North Tenth Street. The amazing grace that saved me from that den of vipers offered to me these supreme truths:
There is no evidence of things one must take on faith. Despair is not only the work of the devil, it's the patented tool of the enemy.
These facets of my personal history were ones that I did not mention to anyone for many years after leaving that house, not due to shame or guilt or any of the emotional baggage that people hoist around today as if they are designer handbags. My silence came from the sense that this part of my life, the survival phase, was of no help to anyone: it wouldn’t matter. I doubted that anyone could benefit from the lessons of my innate abilities to figure out the “ins and outs” of any place, position, situation or state. I just wanted to forget, to be able to forget.
And, yet, my life and its lessons can now serve as lessons in not only survival, but in forgiveness, in triumphing over tragedy, in truly living.
As I see thousands of people in the world unable to grapple with the most fundamental facets of survival, I feel compelled to avow that much of what I learned so early in life formed lessons in not just survival, but in soaring. The “ifs” don’t matter. What matters is how to get from here to there, without sinking into the mire of whatever surrounds you and stalks you and tries to pull you under, into the undertow of despair. For some people, despair is the final undoing; for others, it’s their first step.
The thin line between life and death is often found in the faith of dignity, the dignity of faith, and in the determination that freedom is the only real possession that one can hope to own. That possession is, more accurately, a gift; and it is not owned as much as it is granted by God, and purchased by the blood of heroes whose names are rarely spoken, except by the angels who take them home.
In that home that was never really a home to me, on that dead-end street, I learned that one does not survive a crisis unless one prevails over it. And in that ascendant triumph, there can only be gratitude, to God, not guilt to people who would do you harm; who would do you in at the first chance to destroy you, to butcher others like you, to turn to rubble the world that you’d built diligently, slowly, with unbearable sorrow, from the anguish of death and the ashes of decay, from even the precipice that looms before despair.
There can be no guilt in surviving: You do not survive at the expense of someone else; you survive because you are meant to fulfill a mission that the other person could not live to fulfill. You live because there is a higher purpose for you and you must honor the dead, and that higher purpose, because you have survived what the others could not survive. You must live life fully because they could not live at all.
And all of this gnashing and wailing and bemoaning because of the dead comes at an enormous cost to the souls of any survivors because they, the living, are not going to feel free to go on about the business of life — of living. There is a time for grief, private grief, an emotion so intimate that I feel as if I am watching an obscenity whenever I see “grief” paraded through the streets of any town, city or venue that can attract a camera and satellite feed. Grief is sacred, and grief is solitary. Any mass emotion is fraudulent and grief en masse is despicable.
There is freedom in grief, and well do I know it. No five-step chart or linear graph can show a person how to let go of what will never be, but the Almighty can reach down and touch you with the truth of what can be, what will be — because of the honor that you owe the dead. There is honor in truth, and perhaps the most vile aspect of watching the massacres of citizenry on display, for all to see, for all to mourn, is that the sacred has become profane, for the sake of politics, but more for the sake of people who cannot face the truth.
Surely, they seem to say, surely, if we show enough people our tears, our tragedy, then it will go away, or at least diminish.
Grief does not work that way. Alone, in your attic, you weep and you speak in hushed tones the words that only God can hear. You compose a sonnet to the dead; you sing a hymn to love, to the person who no longer can hear you, here on earth, but who hears you more profoundly, more infinitely, elsewhere. And then you go on about life, asking nothing of anyone. It is, after all, your heart that has been torn. You must fix it. Not alone, but with the hand of God or the wings of angels, or all of them. But for God’s sake, for the angels’ sake, for the sake of the dead, for your own sake, do not expect a politician to mourn anything but a drop in his poll numbers!
Grant yourself the freedom to accept those truths about the tragedies of our modern war, a war that so many people cannot even admit is a war. In summoning up the courage to face so many indecent words, you can accept even the most painful truth — that you have been lied to and tricked and conned and deceived, and, yes, betrayed, by the very people whom you believed would protect you.
You may then ascend in your triumph over heartbreak — and fight the good fight for the next day, that day which your dead beloved did not get to live. So too must you live — in honor, with dignity, with the songs of the centuries, as sung by our fathers and forefathers. The archangels who first whispered to the first heroes — how to fight and win over an enemy, those forces for good are still at work every day, every night, of everyone’s life. The battle is not man against man, nation against nation, but good against evil, barbarism against civilization. And that civilization is ultimately the force that upholds the rights of all free people to live freely, in the liberty granted by their Maker.
The sinister world that is half-worker, half-slave has begun to descend, once again, upon England and upon Europe; and it has not been wrought by the ugly hands of Hitler and his henchmen, but through the wretched, wraithlike claws of politicians — the cowardly eunuchs who crave power not through conquering armies but through the bureaucratic strangulation of the citizenry. The bloodshed from weapons and an outright war, a declared war: that warfare would be too physical, too sensual for these paperweights in clothes. They vilely prefer the distanced, detached approach wherein they durst not touch human flesh. They weaponize words and conduct flanking maneuvers from media allies.
And the sight of all of that humanity, dripping blood on the streets of Paris or along the seaside promenade in Nice or across the bridge of London — those sights are just a bit too much for those puff-pastries of politics, the rough-tough-cream-puffs of modernity. Theirs is the palaver of pastel paint-spots, pathetic but nonetheless hideous and hateful, as these impotent politicians try to silence hate in speech but are unable to stop hate in deed.
War is not for these seedless hucksters and fruitless fonctionnaires of the political parish. These official cowards did not flee a field of battle because they never even stepped onto it. They live in palaces built by kings of long ago, in stone buildings that the medieval warriors protected, glass houses funded by the populace that they neglect to even acknowledge as the citizens they are legally bound to protect against the hordes of barbarians they do protect.
Morally they are bound only to their own appetites, to a codified theology of gutless godlessness. They partake only of the fetid feast of mammon, even while these misanthropes detest the sight of the common man. Everyman is no man, or no woman, to them, but they must fake their sincerity. And they do, at election time. These swine at the public trough know where their bread-is-buttered.
With sorrowful disbelief and frustrated fury, I watch the spectre of vast swaths of populations in Western Europe who are presently unaware that they live on dead-end streets. It is almost too late for these peoples to survive the ominous danger into which they have so blindly placed themselves. It is indeed far too late for them to eliminate that danger without blood spattered on the streets, on their bodies, on the pages of history. Those drops of blood scream of mistakes, deadly, costly mistakes. Those mistakes remain for now, infinitely more indelible in memory than any drops of heavenly-hued paint on those sentimental dropcloths of my childhood Clubhouse.
The cost of survival is more costly when you short-circuit your own path to life. As an American, I look at the people who share the bond of humanity with my forefathers and, in faith, with the future, and I think that the time has come for the peoples of the Old World to take their lives into their own hands instead of permitting savages to take those lives from them.
Timing is everything, in life, in death, and it appears that the timing of the terrorists who wish to destroy Western Civilization has in a most macabre way coincided with the timing of Western Civilization politicians wishing to destroy the foundations of that civilization. This crisis is one that too few could even face on 9/11. On that day, I watched as the region of my birth, the land of my formative years died its final death before my eyes. I recalled vividly, amidst my tears, the words of warning from my French tutor, a French Algerian orphan who grew up in a convent in Paris during the Nazi Occupation:
“You Americans will never know what it feels like to have the foreigner invade, on your soil.”
Soil, no. Air space, yes.
I experienced the day of 9/11 as few Californians did, partly because I am not a Californian, partly because the place that I left was gone from me, forever, except in dreams, in the creation of art from those dreams. I used to gaze at the New York City skyline from that screened-in back porch. That place that I once observed can become something else, something better, but tragedy is the teacher in that reconstruction project; savagery underwrites that renaissance of an entire region of America, perhaps of many parts of America, maybe of America itself.
On that unforgettable day, whatever fertile seeds of THE DAWN were dormant within me came to life, watered with the copious tears that I still shed as I write this portion of this essay. Those tears taught my children lessons they will never forget. Those tears hope to teach others to never forget the horrors that resulted from America’s Holiday from History. For still too many Americans, that holiday has never ended.
It is quite facile for anyone to think that people who have lived in an unreal world can suddenly pop out of it. It will take a long time, in American-stop-watch timing, for the Brits to clear this brutal rubble of a mess that has been going on for a long time in their island nation. It will take an even longer time for France to become again the France of grandeur, la douce France. One must now expect the most absurd of the absurd from the socialist governments and the profiteering, pandering media and the despairing populations that have invested so much in a lunatic view of the world. But all is not lost: for every dozen red roses in public, there are hundreds of tears grieving in private.
Those individuals who mourn their dead, who mourn their nation, who mourn the past, they must face the truth that their view of the world is flat-out wrong: 180 degrees out of phase. This reversal of thought — needed to yet begin in order to effect a reversal of fortune — is not easily accomplished, if it is done at all. The pacifist in the Hitchcock classic film, ”The Lady Vanishes,” dies waving a white flag, saying he does not understand. Indeed.
While so many millions watch the images of slaughter, cowardice, and chaos with outrage, stupefaction, fear, fury, and frustration, we must avow that there are too many people in denial about this reality — the list is long of major cities unable to come to grips with the anarchic assault on Western Civilization. The rubes in the countryside are doing just fine with their humble hold on reality. It’s the city folk who have lost a hold of how to live, even how to survive.
Some individuals surrender to weaklings; I have a hard enough time surrendering to a person stronger than myself! And there are days when I wrestle with my angels almost as much as with my demons. The struggle does build backbone though. Any backbone can be strengthened through blood, sweat and tears. My prayer this day, every day, is that there will not be too much of that vital fluid shed to prompt the sweat of tribulation and the saving grace of that last noun, the one that counts. Those tears may have to add up in countless amounts before the battle is finally joined against the enemies of civilization.
In life, mistakes, if they are not corrected, add up. After a certain point, they start to multiply. Too many tears may have to fall before the fight is truly up in everyone to face their mortal danger. Perhaps it’s not bad enough yet for the peoples of free nations to engage in their fight for civilization in the People’s War of the 21st century.
I quote the English bulldog, Winston Churchill, in a BBC address to the French people 21 Oct 1940:
“Good night then: Sleep to gather strength for the morning. For the morning will come. Brightly it will shine on the brave and true, kindly upon all who suffer for the cause, glorious upon the tombs of heroes. Thus will shine the dawn.”
English poet Rudyard Kipling adds the final “If” in a long line of “if’s” that could soon drive all of us bonkers. Because the time for “ifs” is over. The time to figure out how to get out of what we are presently in, that time is long overdue.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make a heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!