Sometimes I am jealous of my Jewish friends. I am jealous of this sense I have of their oneness, if you will. That regardless of their many differences in tone or which side of town they may come from, they still seem to have this one thing in common. And that one thing makes a huge difference.
I was considering this as I was listening to an interview on NPR with Terry Gross. She was hosting Nathan Englander, author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, about his most recent book. Years ago I met Mr. Englander at a book event in California. I had dinner with him and friends. I remember from the conversation that he writes, he works out, and he calls his mother every day. He is a ‘good boy’. And an incredibly, gifted writer. A serious talent not to be overlooked and a beautiful voice about things for those of us who come from different places, cultures, backgrounds is full of truths of a world we do not inhabit.
Part of his interview was spent discussing a collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. His frank disclosure was that although the Holocaust wasn’t a part of his immediate reality, nor his parents immediate reality, he and his sister were still raised with such an awareness of this history of their people that they were led to believe at any moment- it could happen again. In this context I surmise that the Holocaust becomes more than history. If I were him, it would be an ever-present reality, a presence at ever meal, and in some fashion, a whisper in the midst of every prayer.
Mr. Englander goes on to disclose with some embarrassment that he and his sister often played a game called, "Would You Hide Me." (Or something to that effect – I may have the exact title wrong.) After meeting a couple who, if memory serves me correctly, were Gentile, his sister whispered to him, “He would hide us, she would turn us in.” Again, this was part of a reality, this thought, this pattern developed at an early age. And it’s the way that we survive the horror - with a touch of humor. Mr. Englander was greatly embarrassed in this disclosure confessing his face was red as he was even speaking this over the radio.
I didn't quite understand the embarrassment part. Although, I had the pleasure of Mr. Englander guesting on Clearstory Radio years ago I haven’t contacted him recently, so I haven’t had the opportunity to ask him this particular question – Why would that game embarrass you? It’s a natural one to play for anyone who has actually read the Diary of Anne Frank, the true story of Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place or the recent best-selling novel, The Book Thief. Friend or foe? Saviour or satan? What’s it gonna be?
But I began to think about the fact that I am a Christian in a nation made up of many Christians who all seem to disagree. The truth seems to be the hard, cold reality than 'the tie that binds' is broken. Instead the road that divides has become paramount. In recent years I began to feel like Mr. Englander, “Hmmm, I’m a Christian but – what if I’m not your flavor of Christian? What if I like to listen to Dire Straits, and drink beer made in monasteries? What if I color my hair, wear blue jeans, cuss and pray and sometimes both on the same day? To me, with everything Nathan Englander writes he has a surety of who his people really are. And his place within them. What I want to know is - Who are my people?
Throughout that day after listening to that interview I began to wonder things like – Would the Christians that supported President Bush hide President Obama? Would Christians who supported President Obama hide President Trump? I’m talking about hiding someone to save their life under the looming threat of death for doing so. I’m talking about serious business. Hell and humanity. History teaches us a powerful lesson – that history can be repeated before our very eyes. Could some type of holocaust happen again? Could Christians of one denomination attack those of another? Fox Network Christians against CNN network Christians? Could there be a rounding up? A casting out? And if this happened who would be doing the hiding and who would be doing the snitching?
Would the much beloved author, Anne Lamont hide the popular personality, Sara Palin and vice versa? I begin to look at the world through Nathan’s eyes, That day when I came home I told a friend the entire story and we began to do the same thing. Rolling over lists of friends in our mind. "He would turn us in." "That one would hide us, that is if we had something to offer." "Her? That friend? Oh, she hide us without a doubt,” I said. “She’d hide the whole world,” my friend replied.
Which brought me to the place that most my good travels take me - the mirror of my own soul.
I began to consider who I would hide. Part of the list is so easy. The family I love, grudgingly the family I don’t care for, and of course friends I adore old and new. I’d add the readers that cherish my books and write me glowing words of praise. So very, easy. Too easy. What about that book reviewer who didn’t cotton up closely with my words and wrote a stabbing, nasty diatribe about me? That woman that made catty remarks about me behind my back? The person who hurt someone deeply who I love with a fierce passion? I don’t know. I really don’t. None of us know until that horrible, golden moment where we become something very, small, scared and selfish, or something larger than we ever thought ourselves capable of being. So, I ask you to play away. Would you hide me? Would I hide you?
I can tell you this; If Nathan Englander shows up at my door in the middle of the night, yes, we’re hiding him. He calls his mother everyday. He’s a good boy.
(PostScript, September 28, 2017: Mr. Englander's book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, was a finalist for the Pulitzer. His new novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth, was just published to rave reviews. I just discovered a comment on this post from last year. I agree with the reader, every word continues to ring true, the question ever more weighty. Would you hide me? More importantly to me - would I hide you?)