How I Learned About Evil

How I Learned About Evil

There are things I like to write about—sex, death, love—and things I’ve had trouble writing about—being ill, my father’s gangster family. And then there are things I haven’t written about properly at all. I’ve made stabs, little forays, attempts. All have failed.
These things are connected, I realized, when once more I tried to address them. They all happened in the 1970’s. They all happened to other people—I was a bystander. They have overlapping casts of characters. And at the heart are some secrets of mine. Or, if not exactly secrets, things I have trouble…writing about.
Actually, they are about sex, death, and love. And evil.
Now, I live in a household when 50% of the people (my husband Rich) do not believe in capital E Evil. I probably mostly believe in the Jewish concept of the “evil inclination” as opposed to the good. I don’t think of evil as a personified force walking the earth (a traditional enough pursuit for the devil, though).
And when I say “evil” I see it through the lens of my own experience and society. I see it as racism, fascism, and violence. And I am willing to try and touch on one of these difficult to write about topics.
When I was twenty years old, someone I was close to lost her extended family in one night of the “dirty war” in South America. I’m not ready to elaborate and have the privacy of others to consider. Let me just say that decades later when I walked into SITE Santa Fe’s show on The Disappeared and saw the flag of Chile made out of human femurs, I blacked out.
As a result of the murders of the family by fascists I also witnessed the single greatest heroic act I have ever been close to. An individual, essentially unsupported by law or government, went into terrifying hostile territory to save some children who had miraculously survived.
As I begin to write about this, here and in my notebook, I see that I veer into fiction. A few details change. The narrative becomes more coherent and less messy—essentially less like life. I always experience this process, but here but seems more necessary. I’m not going to write a novel, but neither is this straight out confession.
I was raised to see the world as a terrible place. My father could mention Hiroshima and Auschwitz before breakfast. In many ways, I had to leave the east coast and go to California to learn that the world was also beautiful. In my family, the beauty was a secret, kept apart. I suspect that we were the reverse of others, who kept evil the secret.
This leads me to our current day. I may be easily upset, but I am not easily shocked. I could try and ignore my father’s obsession with the past, but I could not ignore what I had experienced, even if it was indirect. Actually I am grateful that I have spent my adult life trying to accept, explore, and understand both sides of our reality. This is not the time to stop.

4 thoughts on “How I Learned About Evil

  1. I fully agree. I don’t thing “Evil” walks amongst us, though evil sure exists in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins, with or without the religious connotations associated with them.

  2. Such a brave & thoughtful post.

    Wait, your dad had gangster relatives??  I definitely never heard about that in the ’70s.  One of my Jewish friends from Chicago (our age) recently found out the same thing about her uncle and has been in shock over it.  I wonder how many Jewish gangsters there were in the early 20th century . . .

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