This is an email I wrote about 12 years ago when I was beginning to experience my first ever manic episode. I wrote about having trouble sleeping and a rush of ideas filling my head. I wrote about how I thought I knew who I was at last but, in hindsight, it was the illness talking. I know this because I’ve spent years trying to figure out who I am and, more importantly, learning to be happy with who I am. I didn’t have it together at all at almost 23, but it’s interesting to look back and see how I was experiencing the world back then. If you’d been the recipient of this email, do you think you would have guessed anything was wrong with me at the time?
Date: Friday, January 31, 2003
Subj: knowing who you are
Hey everyone! This will probably be the last of my daily emails as it’s Friday and classes start Monday, so if you can endure this one, you’re doing great! Many thanks to those of you who have responded. I know I’ve thanked you all personally, but it doesn’t hurt to thank you once again. After all, even if we’re no longer school, we’re all still students and we learn from each other.
Something strange happened to me in the wee hours of the morning this morning…I had gone to sleep last night and, after saying my prayers, drifted into a hazy dream, one that impacted me and, for some strange reason, caused me to wake up before the sunrise. The dream was of a Strasbourg friend who came by my place to say hi. I was so delighted that I forgot about cultural boundaries and hugged him saying “It’s such a nice surprise that you came to visit me!” But I was even more surprised when he said “but don’t you remember, Clara? I told you I was going to come around this time.” I didn’t believe him because I’d become so busy in my thoughts that I didn’t pay close attention to my friends around me. I picked up my agenda and sure enough, his name was penciled in on that day at around that time. He invited me to join him and the other Strasbourg friends at a movie. I didn’t have anything to wear and when they came around to pick me up a few hours later, I wasn’t ready and I missed the movie.
When I woke up, my head was so cluttered with thoughts that I couldn’t go back to sleep. What’s worse is that the sun hadn’t risen yet and, when I checked my clock, it was 2 AM. I tried to force myself back to sleep, thinking, if I don’t get my rest I won’t be able to function normally tomorrow. But I just couldn’t and thus grabbed pen and paper and wrote. So what was it that really kept me awake? It was something else that I was yearning to share with all of you.
This is who I am. I’m first and foremost a Christian. It’s more than a religion for me. In fact, I consider it a relationship more than a religion. I’ll explain more about this later.
If you were to describe me politically, I would say that I’m a conservative with liberal ideas. Sitting on my table just before I left were three different books that I was in the process of reading. One of them was Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men, another was the latest copy of the Limbaugh Letter, and, the most important of them all, my Bible. I like Moore and Limbaugh because I see that they are trying to use their political ideas to get people to think, and it’s working because, even if no one else is reading them, I am.
Limbaugh is a right wing, Bush-supporting conservative and Moore is the exact opposite, yet there are some things that the two fail to notice about each other and that is that they are very similar.
Here’s what they have in common: They both are rich, white males. They both grew up around the same generation. Neither of them received a college education yet they are both well informed about the world and various political agendas. They agree with many of the problems facing the country, such as our poor educational system. They have different views about how to solve the world’s problems but they both use (and this is the one that got me) the US Constitution to back them up. However, the two of them are constantly bashing each other, Limbaugh always saying something about “those liberals” and Moore making satirical remarks about Bush and the Republicans controlling congress. Both complain about how the American media represses their ideas.
So here I am, sitting in my room, spending my vacation time learning their ideas and trying to sift through and find what is fact and what is simply propaganda. It’s a daunting task, but I find that it’s very easy to get a people to take your side if you keep knowledge from them.
Now I come to my idea, which again is not new. One of my ways of profiting from my last semester here has been to learn better the history of the country I’m studying in. The comment I hear relentlessly from Europeans is “Americans don’t have a history.” But they are wrong!
I’ve always been interested in my roots, where I came from. I’m not a “native” American because there aren’t very many generations separating me from my European ancestors. One of the things I learned was that my family fled to the Americas before this land was a nation because of religious persecution.
Here was the problem: There was a rupture in the church not too long before they left their nation. Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door and soon other intellectuals such as Calvin were jumping on the bandwagon. One of the big things that came out of this revolt was the translation of the Bible into the languages of the people. This infuriated the Pope because all of a sudden the people could read the Bible for themselves and they didn’t need a pope or a priest to tell them what to do. So what happened? The two sides fought.
I took a tour with the office of tourism in Montpellier that followed the traces of Protestantism in the town. The first place we visited was the Esplanade, which is now a nice city park with a playground and a little pond. The guide, however, explained to us that when the Reformation spread, there were a lot of Protestants burned at the stake in this area, yet no one bothered to erect a monument to them. Most people just take their children to the park to play, unaware of the previous events hundreds of years before.
Digging deeper, I learned that not only was Montpellier a stronghold for the Protestants and that many were martyred for daring to go against the prevailing power (which, at the time, was the Catholic church) but some of the first martyrs were students. STUDENTS! Wait a minute! These were people my age that saw faults in the system and were killed as heretics because they found hypocrisy.
Well, eventually, the Catholic Church won and the Protestants fled to places like Switzerland, Germany, England, and, you guessed it, the Americas.
Here’s the clincher. When the newcomers came to the Americas, they didn’t teach the next generation their history. In fact, each new immigrant group that came in felt that it was better to have their children be like everyone else (assimilation) than to teach them about where they came from. As a result, they never taught their children the language of their homeland or the reasons they left, whether it was famine, religious persecution, or oppressive governmental regimes. Maybe the past had hurt them so much that they wanted to forget. After all, if I had a family member burned at the stake or tortured in front of me, if their death had been used as an example for others to see what happens when you contradict authority, I might want to turn my back on it too. Also, I know as I write this that I will go home when I’m done with my trip, but our ancestors left knowing they would never go back, that they would never set foot on the soil on which they were born for the rest of their lives. I’ve never known that kind of sacrifice, but I do know that they did it for me, so that I could enjoy the freedom they never had.
The sad part is that because we forgot how we were mistreated in Europe, we started doing the same things to others that they did to us. We took over land that belonged to the Natives, killing off as much of them as we could and then sticking the rest on the crummiest pieces of land possible. We moved our factories to the poorest countries and paid them less than a living wage so that those of us who live in the US can reap the benefits of cheaper consumer products, and we silenced the Limbaughs and the Moores because anyone who has some sort of radical idea, any freethinkers, might pose a threat to our way of life.
The US constitution is a great document, but even that is being twisted in such a way that I imagine if our ancestors could see us now, they’d be horrified.
This has been my vacation. This is Clara Tenny, challenging all of you to think! I read my Bible now knowing that with it, I don’t need the church to tell me what to do. It is all there, translated into my language, a feat that even young students like myself sacrificed their lives for, giving me the hope that there is something better than what we have here on Earth.