(This is a continuation of the Mennonite identity series)
I think often about the incredible lives my grandparents had to live. I can see my features in my moms. I have a sense that faith will not leave me, even if I am the only one left.
If there's one thing I would share, it's that you can be a mixture of a lot of people. My mom and I certainly are. Sometimes I feel like I'm just a pile of the broken parts, the shards of whole people. But it doesn't mean you left them. Or that they left you.
Mixed paint is incredibly beautiful. That's what my mom showed me.
Also I would say that Mennonitism and any religions is again, a mixture of people. Mennonites can have black and dark hair. They can have dark skin, dark eyes. They can be tiny and tall.
Mennonites can have Jewish parents. Mennonites really love their kids. And in my experience those parents, those moms, would do anything, to give their kids the best chance at a happy, free, accepted life. No matter what they had to do, or say, to make that happen.
Thinking of my family, especially in reference to the Holocaust and Soviet Union eras, makes me think a lot about humanity and our capacity of violence and peace. It makes me think of choices, and fear. And what can really survive the worst lives imaginable.
We know unfathomable things happened. We know it caused silence. I still don't know a lot of my family history. But I know we had love, because I know what they sacrificed. You know it's bad when its not even just the Mennonite brand of silence, but a whole other level of silent that your family is, about their pasts. I've only gotten to hear tidbits from my mom, and she got to hear even less from her mom.
So I also think we have to let ourselves acknowledge the context of what we are seen as, and what we really have. I get to be an American. Being seen as American, and white saved my family. I got to grow up as the whitest, most Christian kid. Because my mother also got to grow up as an American, but had to grow up as a whisper. And her parents, there were sure thing, a part of America, but they had to be a secret. There is a part somewhere inside of me, I hope, that shares the life and the eternal flame of love of my grandparents' (also mixed) people. It's not my place to call it a Jewish part, because in my opinion that word's not for me to have. But that is a part of me. We're a part of it. I hope when I die we can all be together and the definitions or places or even the choices, won't matter, we can just feel each others love.
I defend people who don't get to be seen as worthy because I know what it's like to love someone who was treated like dirt. From my understanding for my family, its because they were poor, more than any religious affiliation. Not going to lie, thinking of how they were seen and what they had to live without makes me very angry, often.
What scares me is that a lot of rural and thus Mennonite people are getting poorer and poorer, and I saw how much it affected my family already. It erases people. It scarred my mom, as much as she denies it. And it can make you feel like you're running against a clock that just can't wait to swallow you. I want to turn our stories around.
So I'm going to tell you a love story now. It's mine, and my mom and my grandparents. The truth is I don't know if I'll ever get married, or due to some things that happened to us, if I even can have kids, and continue us in that way. But I do believe we are growing with every generation. After learning the serious tragedies everyone in my moms family lived through for personal, medical, and societal reasons, I still was able to see that with each generation we have had more opportunities.
I think that's love. I think working so someone else can have it better than you did, because you know what pain is so you don't want them to suffer, is what we have. I will do that for my generation and the next, however I can.
My grandfather left his Mennonite family as a teenager and fought in the most violent war in human history. My grandmother worked and took care of her entire family at the same age, saw them die, and then raised my moms family herself, because my grandfather could never heal mentally after the war. They both were medics, just by different names. They both had one parent that Europe said shouldn't exist, and a shared understanding that some things are better left unsaid.
They were really beautiful. My mom was born. She had a close family that shared, made, and gave everything they had. It wasn't easy. There was violence and tragedy. But that's for my mom to tell.
Then there was me and my mom and our family. Although it doesn't compare at all to my grandparents or even my mom, because every life is different. I have fought my own people, and I have seen violence and death in my own ways.
I think almost all of us have the capacity to be a peaceful person. But I understand how it can feel when life seems to take that choice from you.
I just pray, that what can stay with us is the good parts of the people that loved us. Maybe that can make us what we are. I say the things I do, and I defend what I defend because as I am doing it I am thinking of love. When I say curly/dark hair is beautiful from any ethnicity, I mean I hope that girls are treated better than my mom was. Because it cut something inside of me to see her made to hate herself, because I love her.
When I fight to find a treatment or diagnosis or general health awareness for a problem my friends/family are facing, I mean that I will spend the rest of my life making sure this doesn't happen to any other people, and it will stop happening to them soon. Because I know what its like to feel at war with yourself but I would stop fighting in a second to help any of them, because I love them.
I've known that a lot of people are cruel. We can try to understand how they got that way, wonder if they can change. But I think all we can try to do is choose peaceful actions for ourselves.
-going to continue in part 4 about having a home and the history of taking people's homes and its going to be very sad.