Sunday, March 30, 2008


For ten years, I had an affair with a married man. It's over now. I look back and can't believe the waste. "A waste of spirit in an expense of shame," is that it? So if I had paid more attention in my high school English classes I might have foreseen all this.

He was the principal and I was the kindergarten teacher. Year one: I noticed him becuase he rarely emerged from his office and people -- women -- changed their tone when they talked about him. Everyone else could be laughed at, but not him. Ciriticized, perhaps, but not laughed at. He didn't seem terribly good-looking.

Year two: I atteneded a few meetings with him and other school officials, most of them men. The women who liked him seemed to have a pattern of making fools of themselves, and then leaving. When he walked past my room, he looked in and waved slightly.

Year three: he stopped in at my room several times a week. He seemed better-looking. We chatted about nothing, children, my career. About gardens, even.

Year four: he stopped by my room every day, occasionally twice a day. We served on school committees together. I met his wife, who ran the PTA and sat on the boards of half the organizations in town. She was a lovely, plump, and happy woman, a big piece of handmade jewelry alaways sparkling about her. Her eyes bulged out, blue and glistening cold. She loved me, as she loved everyone, but didn't like me quite as well as she might.

One weekend, I knew she would be away. I drove to his house late at night. He let me in. They lived on an acre and a half of land. There was snow on my boots, and on my coat and in my hair, where I had ducked beneath the branches of his trees. He let me in, and in the dark foyer we kissed. I dropped my coat and scarf and gloves on the real tiled floor. Four hours the dakness and quiet and privacy made the house as much mine as hers. No one else could fill my place. Our whispers and our laughter filled the rooms, secretly, filtered and swirled like incense around the wallpaper and curtains, and into the space behind the glass doors of the beautiful china cabinets. I thought, let her hear them when she comes home.

In the spring I planted my garden with the flowers he liked. I walked the earth in a glow of happiness, believed I understood what it meant to be a woman. We couldn't be blamed if we had found our soulmates now. We had moments of pure felicity, like the old story of Josephine's tears falling on her hands in Notre Dame as Napoleon crowned her.

Year five: ditto.

Year six: ditto. People seemed to go out of their way to talk to me about what a great job I had. Other women around the school discussed parties they had been to at his house -- his and his wife's house. I thought, well, I'm more special than that.

And all this time, I pracatically lived with Harold, my friend. Harold, whom I wasn't cheating on because we were not married, although we may as well have been. Harold, whom I didn't scream with because it would have embarrassed both of us. I thought my other love, my noble love, was above this. I thought how overripe and elegant it was to make good men happy.

Year seven: he stopped visiting my kindergarten room. Stopped, suddenly. A little after, I gave him the code that always meant "tonight?" and he answered plain No. He accompanied his wife on one of those weekend trips she used to take alone, and then on another and another. We had small quiet fights more bitter than those of a married couple, because the bitterness had no outlet. Their grown children were brilliant and successful, and other people heard all the news about them. One afternoon I approached hm at a ameeting. He was polite, but clearly wanted to talk to the man he was with. I died, excused myself, kept smiling professionally, and left. At home, I talked to Harold about his day.

Year eight: ditto. People said he had mentioned me at a meeting, or in a report. I read in a poem: "for hearts of truest mettle, absence doth join."

This year, he and his wife made a new friend, a woman social worker new to the area. She came to our school constantly. Whenever I saw him at any professional function, she was there, too. She sat next to him, she told him her health problems, she told him to ask her what was new and he did, smiling and poking his salad. They talked about politics, about the district's finances, about her adventure-travel vacations. His wife had long since taken her completely to heart. The newcomer, fancy free, changed her plans about moving back to her hometown; they helped her buy a house near their lot.

Year nine: ditto. I had a terrible night. It didn't help that a book I was reading outlined the symptoms of a nervous breakdown. "It's not that he's bad, or that it wasn't real," I thought again and again. My hands and the soles of my feet were sweating. "It's just that ... it's just that ...."

He and his wife became grandparents. They probably had a party. She was jubilant all the time now, her whole face relaxed and light and almost ageless. Her clothes seemed to be always silk, always bright blue.

Year ten: I was sweeping the floor when I thought, he's no earthly use to me. He's no earthly use to me. At the laundromat with Harold, I first pretneded to have a coughing jag and then I started crying. I told him everything. I had to go to the bathroom and when I came back, at first he was silent. Then he said, "You were over twenty-one. Althought I think two guys on a string might have been a bit much." We stayed together. We're even talking about getting married. The relief, despite the awkwardness of someone else's knowing your sin, is better than deceit and just going on an on, while other people live, and are happy.

Waiting in line for a movie with my mother, I overheard a middle-aged woman grimly mutter, "Honey, his wife's girlfriends will see more of him than you do. Ever notice how that works out? And that suits him just fine." Once in a while he looked in on my kindergarten room, and we waved or smiled slightly. I won a Golden Apple award, and he didn't say anything to me about it. That fall I looked, and realized my garden was a mess of mauve and cream.

And that was the end. A door closed. My body, the weight of me and the corner of my eye still remembered trembling for him. My face and fingertips still remembered the flattery of pursuit, pursuit when young. I kept watch for him to avoid him now -- not to be thrillingly discreet, but to avoid him -- and when that made me unhappy and disgusted with myself, when I knew it was still a kind of stupid endless powerlessness, I left. Harold's promotion came through; we move next week.

The End

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Take Me Out of the Whirl of the World

"Take me out of the whirl of the world, place me in the quiet and simple scenes of life that I was born for."
Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Laureth was eighteen and an interloper. Her sins were double - she was not working and she had no college plans. Ms Kummer, the high school guidance counselor, and all her brochures and insistence had faded away and turned part of another life. But odious as Ms. Kummer was, she had been right about one thing. The time had passed. What to do now, really, after all? What to think, what to "want"?

Ms. Kummer had been absolutely odious. Even Laureth’s father did not like her. "Hard-bitten lady, I must say," he commented. Laureth had had a terrible scene with her last December. "I just want to be a mom," she said.
Ms. Kummer had looked blank, and then turned green with anger.
"Okay," she said. "Okay, that’s great. We all want that. I want to be home with my son right now. But that’s not reality, Laureth. We’re here to talk about reality." She raised her long bony fingers before her long, dry, folded face and her long lank hair. She began to tick off her points on her fingers.
"One. You could get divorced. Two. You might never find anybody to marry at all. Three. He could get sick or disabled and you’d have no income to be a mom with. Four. Even if you’re a mom for thirty years, eventually you’ll probably be widowed and you’ll be, like, totally pushing your luck to go that long with no job skills and no reason anybody should hire you. Plus your age will not be a good thing by then. Five. He could be a drinker. What am I on? Five or six? I forget."
Ms. Kummer rattled on fiercely and managed to tick off an even ten reasons why Laureth could not be what she said she wanted. Laureth sat there, grim and polite, the good child. Ms. Kummer’s unrehearsed logic was impressive, Laureth had to admit to herself. But she had also raged and fantasized about bringing a rifle to school the next day. You wonder why, asshole grown-up? This is why.

That was last December, almost a year ago. Now it was September and Ms. Kummer was no doubt getting ready for her newest batch of incoming seniors, good children. The time had passed. Laureth had no purpose. But she had also met a boy.


Laureth’s twin sister Emily was home from college for the Labor Day weekend. She had been away only two weeks. Everyone was happy to be together again so soon, but the little home’s atmosphere was tense regardless, everyone dryly agreeable and a bit off-kilter owing to Laureth’s still unexplained and apparently indefinite presence at the parsonage. Yes, the parsonage, like where the Brontes, adult women, lived with their father in the1840s. What if I also want to write Wuthering Heights now, what if I want to write Shirley, Laureth thought. Mayn’t I? The Brontes might have answered, well yes, all of that perhaps, but we were governesses too, for a while. And then we all died of consumption anyway.

The Labor Day weekend was difficult, off-kilter. There was Emily, fruitful and triumphant and somehow exonerated with her plans – she was proven, yeasty, proofed like bread – and there was Laureth, still a child, still drifting in the ragweed straggles of a dying after-school summer. The corn stood high, and the sun streamed down at a different angle and there seemed no excuse. Nowhere to hide.

That Labor Day, the family sensed Laureth was trembling with something besides her usual moroseness. The Warners loved both their daughters, and had so far, out of delicacy, forbore to quiz the puzzling one much about what she planned to do. They sympathized, up to a point, with the fears and hesitations of this period of life. Emily’s returning home, a little woozy from homesickness but still happy and excited about her prospects as a bringer of French language and civilization to Danville, threw Laureth’s grim indolence into a more awful relief than before, however. They might all have said something to her, Emily especially possessing new rights as a happy, studying, working adult American gentlewoman, a woman with plans, had not John King – blessed, blessed, thrice blessed – driven up in his buggy, clip-clop, to call on Laureth on Labor Day afternoon.

This was Laureth’s boyfriend. He was an Amish lad from a nearby farm. He arrived right during the Warner family backyard cookout. John was a handsome boy, big and bright-skinned across the cheekbones, with small sharp brown eyes and fine, curly gold hair – and yet with a man’s, an executive’s receding hairline and a man’s big jaw and imperfect teeth. Laureth loved him, and he loved her. They had met in town in the spring. Pride, joy, and cold fright surged in her when she heard the clip-clop of Skip’s hooves, and when she glimpsed the boy himself, from where she stood in the yard, through the kitchen window that gave right through the house to the living room window that faced the road. There was his hat, there the thin gold curls. Dear God, he had picked the worst possible time to – no, he had picked the best possible time. Of course, the Amish don’t fuss with "English" holidays. The sooner her parents learned that, the better.
Had no one seen him? In a flash she was reminded of the depressing poem they all had to learn in freshman year, The Highwayman. (Amish schooling ends in eighth grade. More power to them, Laureth thought grimly.) Bess, the landlord’s daughter, shoots herself to warn her bandit-lover of the trap laid for him, baited with her. He was coming. "Were they deaf that they could not hear?" Now John tied the reins, and jumped down from his buggy. She lost sight of him. He was reaching back into the buggy for a big bouquet of spindly farm-garden flowers. She saw the tops of the flowers turn briefly through the window. He walked around to the back of the house and knocked gently at the picket gate, and Laureth got up, shaking, and brought him into her line of vision again. These were the last few seconds when nobody knew.

There they all were, in shade and sun, all but his lover in various attitudes of astonishment. Delicious barbecue smoke wafted across the yard. The birds chipped in the heat, and the cicadas whanged. It was hot. Laureth walked forward and smiled, and opened the little gate and let him in. They kissed.

Of course, Laureth was a nice girl and had not kept her dating habits entirely secret from her family. They knew she had eaten ice cream and gone to tractor-pulls with a handsome boy named John from a nearby farm. She was always home by eleven and had never caused a shred of untoward worry. Only Emily pricked up her ears at the news about tractor-pulls. "That’s like what the Amish do," she said, newly adult, to her parents one night. "You mean they don’t do anything, they don’t go to the movies, they don’t go into Normal or Champaign or anything?"
"Not from what she tells us," Mr. Warner shrugged. "Maybe the kid can’t afford it."
"So she’s got a job. She can afford it," Emily said. "How long has she been working at the pizza place?"
"Not long enough," Mrs. Warner muttered.
But Mr. and Mrs. Warner had never done more than very slightly tease Laureth, a little, about her mysterious admirer. "When are we going to meet the glorious one?" they would say. And she would laugh, and they augured all was well. It was. They only had no idea what else he was, nor that he was the epicenter of their daughter’s very different passion.

John came into the yard, gave Laureth her flowers and kissed her again. She felt terrified, and felt also a naughty, ancient sort of triumph over her sophisticated sister, so busy and perfect out in the rushing, flapping English world. Let her stare. Who had ever kissed her in front of their parents? This was what mattered, this was where real life came from, babies and everything.
She made introductions, calm but as red as the poppies in Mrs.Warner’s garden. Mr. and Mrs. Warner looked narrowly at John while pretending they weren’t. Mr. Warner shook his hand, hard. After being polite the lovers didn’t stay too long. Mrs. Warner turned away from them even before they finished closing the little picket backyard gate – turned away nonchalantly, as if, of course, she was the mother of girls who dated boys. Naturally. But she was furious.

The delicious smoke trailed behind them as they left. Laureth reminded herself she might never eat quite the same cookout food again – store-bought hamburgers, microwaved dinner rolls, store-bought marshmallows roasted over the charcoal fire on sticks. She imagined an Amishwoman lived completely and blessedly in the past, the clean and hard-working past, unpolluted by plastic and condescending commercial brand-names. She imagined that for an Amishwoman, only the sweet corn and the sticks would have been real.


They climbed into John’s buggy. Skip seemed to look around and recognize her. They drove out toward town and then through it, branching off down a country road which led to his family’s farm. Laureth felt almost sick with joy. Other girls made their decisions in Ms. Kummer’s office in the hard winter, under the hard lady’s hard, city gaze. Now she was making hers out here in the clean sun, behind a softly plodding, beautiful horse, that was all. She was still fulfilling her potential.
"Well. Let’s go meet your parents," she grinned, and he leaned over and laughed, laughed into her mouth as he kissed her and their hands pulled at each other. Skip plodded on, drawing her to this blessed, simple world, where people worked out their lives over plants and rain, animals and babies. Anyone can imagine the Brontes at their father’s parsonage, but can we imagine them driving the expressway to go be dental hygienists, or staying in town and being firemen? No? Difficult? Comical? Why? Laureth had longed to scream this at the world and every person in it from the time she was twelve. Why?

All over now. She sat very straight in the buggy and closed her eyes. The smell of leather, of Skip, of John’s clothes with their stiff, funny smell, reminding her in her ignorance of something like warm linen and corn, the jostling of the buggy and the chirps of birds at the roadside all seemed to pervade her head flowing in from every sense, as thick as if they could be wiped off her face. Many things, relief, disbelief, happiness, anxiety, filled her anew with sympathetic love and hope – for Emily, for her parents, for all people in town and everywhere who were happy, or wanted to be, or ever remembered being, for all the world in general. She could have slept. She could have moaned. A car drove by, giving the buggy a wide berth, and she opened her eyes quickly enough to catch sight of a curious little boy’s face in the back seat, looking out the dusty window at the Amish couple in their weird old world. So someone else, an innocent child, considered her one of them. So she was.

After about half an hour at this pace – and that was only about three miles, she would have to get used to Amish distances – John turned to her, smiled, and pulled up the horse. He had stopped in what seemed a little cool hollow in the earth guarded by a screen of tall trees on either side of the road. All beyond was corn and afternoon sun, all of Illinois lost in the middle of the whole rushing country. Invisible webs of satellite signals, television news, phones, and e-mails must be shuttling right now above their heads. She imagined it like an ominous silver net above the innocent, waving green. The net held everyone except her. Except them. She could see through it. There was a hush all around her, a visible hush. It was like the Max Ernst paintings of fugitive kings and queens escaping by humble boat into a broad blue sea. It was like the cessation of weeping; like a first breath. Laureth was like the man in the science fiction movies who finally climbs the ladder up a metal chute out of his terrible society, pops the forbidden manhole cover, and finds himself in the air of earth, amid seagulls floating in the setting sun. Who knew that it was there all the time? He only guessed, and ran for it.

The quiet in the cool hollow was thick and beautiful. They leaned together, wrapped their arms around each other, and kissed as deeply as grown-ups. They kissed again, moving in the sure knowledge that they would soon be a married couple. She was not garbed Amish style yet and they both fully enjoyed the summer-tanned flesh barely concealed by a white slip dress patterned with big orange roses. Now imagine, imagine, she said to herself – imagine doing this in bed in a dark house way out in the cornfields, out in the peace and darkness. Total silence – total privacy. Like the patriarchs, in a tent in the desert. He’ll have to be up at 4 am so we’ll have little time. But we can probably make all the noise we want, unless we live with his parents at first.

When it was time to stop – Skip saw to that, Laureth would have to get used to animals’ needs and characteristics coming first often – they separated. He flicked the reins. The buggy moved off, clip-clop, clip-clop. Laureth wondered how soon she, too, would learn to drive a horse and buggy. Perhaps she would meet Ms. Kummer one day in town. Ms. Kummer would be unchanged, as useless and professional as ever. Laureth saw herself with a line of five or six or eight children, mostly daughters, trailing behind her on a shopping trip to Arthur, all of them knowing with awe what Mother had done to carve out a domain of security and happiness for them in a world which was very good but had somehow turned out – their mother thought, and surely she had a right to her thoughts – frightening and unjust beyond words. A whole legion of women, a family to look Ms. Kummer in the eye and say, "I stayed." And my own mother and father and sister are right over there across the cornfields, underneath the silver net. They like it there. She smiled complacently. She would have left Ms. Kummer and all her expectations far behind.

There ahead lay the King farm. A few children in white and brown clothes played and ran in the yard near the house. They might have been from the seventeenth century. They knew practically nothing, she assumed, of the silver net above their heads. They didn’t follow the NBA or go to the movies or eat microwave popcorn.

"We have guys in Lancaster County selling dope now," John told her earlier in their courtship. Lancaster County, in faraway Pennsylvania, has the largest Amish population in the country. He wanted her without illusions.
"Oh well," she murmured, the image of womanly patience, "Lancaster County has been a bit of a lost cause for years, hasn’t it?"
John grunted. "You may be right. They are on display." He smiled at her. "Too many tourists, too many quilts."
Now at the last minute Laureth felt a few little bizarre icy thrusts of panic. Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre’s beloved guard and friend, would not have been surprised. That’s why women "don’t go a hundred miles alone." The Brontes knew that. What was she thinking of? Who were these people, who was this boy, where was she going? She would have more in common with any strange roommate, any frightening landlord in Normal than with this John King. Look at those children, clothed to the neck on this hot day. We’re getting closer. I didn’t mean it. I changed my mind. What was this horse doing before her? It smelled. Where was her mother? She wanted to go home.

But no. She closed her eyes and fought the fear back, gripping John’s hand. She loved him. Who else was going to possess his gold curls and his scarred, man’s hands as they ran and fumbled across her body? No one; only her. And who else was going to possess her kitchen, her fields, her babies, her time? No one. Only her. She was a Bronte. She didn’t have a dental hygienist’s bone in her body.
Nor could she very well go back now anyway, as if it had all been deceit. An unbidden thought flashed through her oversaturated mind. It was not as if she would be in any real seventeenth-century danger, either. Amish women go to doctors, you don’t hear about them dying in childbirth every day.

Skip pulled the buggy into the Kings’ yard. John stopped it, got out, and handed the reins and whispered to an older boy who looked saucer-eyed at Laureth. Laureth jumped down too, holding her flowers. He held out his hand like a man and she took it – feeling she could not possibly be more in love, he could not possibly be handsomer – and followed him into his parents’ house. Her stomach felt empty and excited and souring, high up in her ribs. Maybe Emily felt just this way when she walked into her first class on the first day of college. Just because you are a woman, fear doesn’t mean you are wrong.

They walked into the big white kitchen. Laureth, within seconds, felt overjoyed at the sight of Lizzie King’s royal purple dress above bare feet – and then crestfallen at the three, four, five plastic lunchboxes covered in popular cartoons sitting on a countertop. School was in session of course, today, and tomorrow like always. She had forgotten that Amish children go to school. And an actual bag of marshmallows and what looked like a newspaper, too. Was there no escape?
"Mamm," John said. Laureth stepped forward to meet her pretty future mother-in-law. She gripped her hand and smiled despite a horrible perception that Mrs. King’s head was alternately ballooning up and shrinking back over and over. A shaft of sunlight on the wall – a very ordinary wall, like any other – the metallic trill of a red-winged blackbird outdoors, seemed calming and portentous. Here was her own world, become very small and very beautiful. How different could they be? This was still America. She could do what she wanted. This was it.

Mrs. King used the customary Amish greeting, like everything else in Amish life, "un-fancy."
"Why are you here?" she said.


Days later, Mrs. Warner cried in anger to her husband, "Our Miss Earth Princess is going to be mightily surprised. If she thinks they all eat whole-grain foods and use pewter dishes like the pilgrims she’s got another think coming. They’re farmers. I had an Amish friend years ago. They eat off plastic plates and live on practically nothing but sugar. They don’t go to the dentist, they just have them all pulled. The women go bald from having their hair skinned back like that. And they go to church for hours, in German, and can’t do anything for fun except read old horse novels from the forties. Or Little House on the Prairie. Whoop-de-woo. And now they’re selling coke in Lancaster County. Like that’s not modern and corrupted. I’m surprised Madam allows that to go on."
Mr. Warner grasped at any straw to comfort her. "Well, that’s Lancaster County," he said gently. "I think that’s been a freak show for some time. This is different. These people are just living. And she may change her mind, honey." Mrs. Warner pursed her lips, and looked out her kitchen window, and shook her head at the corn in the sun.

It was true that even in those first moments in Lizzie King’s kitchen, Laureth had already learned enough not to look around for the old oak cabinets lined with pewter dishes that she really had expected to see. Already she was making the best of things, and planning what to say to her mother. "Don’t worry, Mom," she pictured herself saying. "We roast marshmallows, too." She felt John’s hand in the small of her back. Joy returned, timidly.

The End

A Pearl of Time

We try to imagine what it must mean for a man to throw over everything, the world, his life, for a woman. How on earth does a governor meet a nun? No matter. He met her. It was the year 827 AD, in Sicily. The Greek Byzantine governor was named Euthymius.

Picture 827. Charlemagne, dead these thirteen years, founded the Holy Roman Empire of the west twenty-seven years before, a scandal and affront to the truly and anciently Roman east, Byzantium. The people are at least nominally Christian in Sicily, in Italy, in France, in England, in Ireland. They are no longer Christian in North Africa or the middle or near East (the Muslims have arrived), nor are they in Germany, the Slavic lands, or the Baltic. In those cold wild forests the tribesmen are all still pagan, worshipping Thor until the missionaries come. They sing Beowulf there. All Spain except the north has been conquered by the Muslims. The Vikings prey upon Britain and Ireland, and will begin to prey upon France, Germany, and Russia in another generation or so. Magyars, Avars, and Slavs will throw their own weights into the scales of power. Perhaps the chaos and darkness of the time -- at least, as later times judged it -- can best be illustrated by pointing out that here, in Rome the former center of the world, we are in the era to which legend assigns the woman Pope, Joan. What could be more awful?

Look in a book of Western fashions: men and women at this time dress in a kind of half-way style between the togas, smocks, and veils of antiquity, and the trousered, skirted, and belted styles of the modern age. Look at the world through their eyes: if they are literate, they will read the church Fathers and some of the Bible. Dante has not yet lived, and medieval epics like Parsifal or The Song of Roland have not been set down. If they go for a walk, they will not see or venture into the great Gothic cathedrals or the gray, round-walled castles which we tourists still flock to now. They have not yet been built. Charlemagne's palace chapel at Aachen is there; in Sicily, the remains of the old Greek temples are there, and in better shape than we are privileged to see.

In the middle of all this, smack in the middle of the Mediterranean, Euthymius the governor met a woman, a nun. How? Did he catch a glimpse of her singing in the choir at a cathedral – Palermo, Syracuse, Messina – as he attended mass on some state occasion? Did she retreat, bowing humbly before him, as he inspected her charges at a leper hospital? Did she, at forty perhaps, brazenly tempt a gouty old man, or was he a warped predator who violated a devout teen? Was he a splendid man, made defiant by the sublimity of love (and she worthy of him), or was he a fat idiot, pressed on by a shrew, who looked in a quivering burnished steel mirror and stupidly thought he could win?

History says only that in 827 the governor of Sicily proclaimed his independence from the Empire of Byzanium - from Byzantium! – to detract attention from the scandal of his eloping with a nun. Then he called in the Aglabi Saracens from North Africa – Muslims, Arabs, infidels, the anti-Christ – to help him maintain his new independence. It would be as if the governor of Florida seceded from the United States and called in Cuban troops for help, all to deflect attention from the scandal of his elopement with a nun – or the scandal of elopement with someone, the spiriting of whom out of accustomed life would have caused a commensurate outcry. To deflect attention from that.

"I cannot be seen to be dissipating myself at a convent. We must marry."
"The penalty ... my father and uncles – "
"I’ll take Sicily into rebellion. When I am king I’ll make the law."
"My darling. You could be in chains in a month."
"Not if I have allies. Powerful ones."
Yes, all this to deflect attention from that. We see where the attentions, horror-stricken, of the people really lay. Some things were worse than rebellion and foreign religious alliances. Or do we know anything about history, about the likelihood of human motive, at all?


After years and years of looks and longing they were finally together, facing each other, clothed and upright beside the bed. Their fingers intertwined, the backs of their hands touched. They could not look at each other. All vows were broken, all loyalties shredded. Byzantium defied. They hovered outside the world in a pearl of time, the two of them, like the moon above a medieval Sicilian night, perfect, enclosed, unreachable. The Emperor himself, far off in his palaces on the Golden Horn, master of all Romans, did not yet know. With their new vows tonight he had lost Sicily – Sicily! – and the wild African Saracens were to help see that he never regained it. He, her lover, with his skin as tawny as mustard, would be King Euthymius, and she, his beautiful one, would be queen. She must take a Greek name, something pious and perfect. Helen.

A few lamps around the room flared purls of ochre light on the walls. The air seemed thick and chill, heavy with the scent of the sea and thyme. He felt a shiver run from her fingers up her arms and into her body. It made her long robes tremble. She smiled up at him, a little; and he stepped closer, gripped her hands tighter, and drew her arms around his back. They kissed. It was for this they had waited, for this they had prayed, of this they had dreamed and dreaded and begged forgiveness for. They felt as though they were four people, themselves as they had so long been, yet watching this silent couple they were now, private, utterly knowing, and deservedly melted into one. And then the watching couple seemed to fade away, and there was only one – themselves. Time stopped; it was everlasting night; they had been created by God for each other; this was all that mattered in the whole universe. Whatever would follow would follow.

Later, and as ridiculous as he felt about it at his age, he lay there and silently wept from happiness. She saw it and quickly raised herself up and bent over him.
Suddenly she was the elder, the pursuer. She touched his broad face with her fingers and kept her mouth close to him. "Shall I tell you a story?" she asked.
"Years ago," she began to whisper slowly, staccato, the cloistered nun trained to silence. "I had seen you, years before. I knew all your movements. Every procession. I knew every bit of gossip, and I said nothing but everyone knew I knew. I could recognize you from a mile away, did you know that?" He smiled, and she kissed him.
"And one day, your guards went by, in the street just outside our walls. Your outriders. A sedan chair. I watched and watched. I knew it was you. I stood at the window. I knew you would look for me.
"And you weren’t there. They all passed by. And do you know what? My knees shook. I thought I would fall down. My knees went weak at the sight of your people, even your chair. Just like in poetry. That is how much I loved you."
He rose up in his turn and pressed her down beneath him and covered her mouth with his. She put her arms around him. Perfect, after years of waiting and poetry about other people. The night was still dark. Sicily still floated in the sea. They were still the only man and woman in creation.


History says the Saracens were only too glad to come and invade more Christian land. They "got rid of" Euthymius, and in the next dozen or so years sailed at will up the Adriatic along Italy’s east coast, sacking the Byzantine towns of Bari, Ortronto, and Brindisi. They meted out the same treatment to Ancona, very close to Venice.

This is serious. "Sacking" means houses burned, citizens killed, women raped, shops and libraries destroyed, precious things stolen. We have never seen this happen. Our ancestors lived it. Then in 841, a Saracen fleet met a combined navy of the Byzantine and Venetian states, out to defend the coast and punish the sackings. And the Saracens destroyed it. The flower of Venice’s young manhood, the flower of Byzantium’s, gone. Years of suffering crowned by defeat, and the infidel predator triumphant. A generation, spoiled.

One would think that after such a terrifying victory there would be no reason why Italy today would not be a Muslim country, and St. Mark’s, in Venice, a mosque. It happened to Byzantium – Constantinople – itself, centuries later; it happened to the church of the Hagia Sophia. Italy escaped. But to return to our purpose. We have traveled in time only fourteen years, from 827 to 841. What happened to Euthymius, and to the nun, his wife?

We can only presume that their end was tragic. He beheaded, and she sent to the slave markets of Tripoli, are the most logical and least horrible conclusions to their story. What fascinates is what came before, for when people throw the world over for the sake of a perfect pearl of time, it is so very important that it was worth it. The pearls themselves seem twice-wasted, infinitely wasted, if they are not hunted out, polished, and preserved.

The moon still rises. Sicily still floats in the sea. Palermo was one of the most glorious of European capitals centuries later, during the Normans’ time in the 1100s, though the island seems to have become only a byword for wretchedness and then the Mafia’s haunt in later ages. One wonders if the governor and the nun would recognize any of it – a dusty road, the site of the leper hospital. One wonders how they would explain themselves, after all these years.

The End

Joining the Amish

What security, what simplicity, what ease and joy seem to surround their lives, especially the young girls. Especially the young girls who do not wish to go rum springa, running around.
"I have never had any desire to go out running around," an Amish girl was quoted in the Mattoon Post-Pioneer. "I’ve always been sure about my faith. I’m looking forward to being baptized in a few months."

Laureth Warner took note of that simple happiness as she read the article at her family’s kitchen table one August afternoon. She envied it, or rather, it confirmed her longstanding envy. Not a shred of pressure to get out, to go find your own way and earn your own living. Nice. When she finished she left the paper and went out to the backyard garden, knelt, and weeded silently in the declining sunshine.

The Warner family lived in Arthur, Illinois, in Amishland, corn nine feet high in summer, all around the mysterious hazy gray forests always receding in waves of humidity to the horizon. Mattoon was the closest bigger town, the only place of real note nearby being the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. The Warners were a nice family, by no means discontented, nice twin blond girls – Laureth had a sister, Emily – nice loving parents. Donwstate Illinois had been a beautiful place to grow up, all of it great vistas of the green corn, just as Hiawatha describes it, green feathers and sunny tresses, the stalks after harvest turning to brown stubble poking up in the snow under gigantic, blue-streaked winter prairie skies. Arthur itself was a little cachepot of things, a couple of fine wide streets, fine stone banks and the better shops, an outer strip of squat modern gray glass stores off the highway, and in the center of town what would have been almost majestic-looking Georgian brick and double-storey old wooden homes, except that they seemed to sit right on their lawns and have no dignity at all. It was very quiet. A few new, big ash-blond suburban townhomes reared up outside town, like startling daubs of tan paint on a murky Constable canvas.

Laureth, at eighteen, was a nice girl, privileged, generally good-natured, sometimes both tight-lipped and cocky, temporarily piqued at life, largely thanks to her high school graduation being two unsettling months behind her. It is easy for any young thing to reckon herself nobly misunderstood, a free spirit among cave-dwellers, born too late or too early, etc., but Laureth, in addition to her pique at this unhappy time of life, was genuinely peculiar in one way.
Atop the plinth of a basically pacific, sedentary and overly brooding nature had been laid, by an unsuspecting adult world, a granite monument which will have to be called the fear of working. Not of growing up, for the Amish were not afraid of that and neither was she. Only of working. For the life of them, no one around her could see her fear. As graduation loomed, was accomplished and then receded, neither the monument itself nor other people’s blindness to it stood her in good stead.

The plinth had come from God and from the womb. Of course she rode her bike and had friends and watched movies as much as any other kid, but she liked also to savor the small natural world around her, noticed robins and crickets, liked to think about long dresses and loved the smell of horses. She kept an accurate enough mental tally of the seasons to be disgusted, for instance, when her friends didn’t care about the birds first singing in the dark March dawns, or when people didn’t recognize sandhill cranes going over every spring and fall. "Geese," they exclaimed. Or when they couldn;t identify pepper plants, or tomato or carrot or rhubarb, in a farm garden. Or when they thought the crescent moon was rising in the west. As for the birds, they cease their dark dawn songs in mid-July. The breeding season is over then. The solstice has passed. Next winter is on the road. Laureth was a nice girl. She never told anyone.

In school, construction of the monument of fear of work began quickly. The adults meant well. In fourth grade Laureth’s math teacher taught the class how to make change by, say, counting up to twenty dollars from $3.79, because, she said, "You’ll all work as cashiers at one time or another and you’ll need to know this." Laureth was frightened. She did not want to be a cashier. Why should she have to? When she was old enough to go to the grocery store alone, she saw old ladies fluster the young clerks by giving them $20.26 for a $5.11 bill, "to make it easier." And the young clerks, always girls, would give the wrong change, be corrected, apologize for being stupid, and then the old ladies would sashay out of the store, proud as Lucifer –so it seemed – and high as a kite.

Then when Laureth was in about eighth grade, her mother started a new job as a bank teller in Arthur. She told horror stories of having to stay until ten o’clock at night to "balance her drawer" to the last penny, because you could not go home until you had. Laureth asked no questions and was frightened. She did not want to work in a job that could prevent you going home. Then in high school her Film Rhetoric class watched The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, in which the young heroine who wants to be symphony conductor ends up a cashier at the local dime store, and endures old women berating her because she can’t find things. And they watched the public television drama of Studs Terkel’s Working, in which a sad-eyed actress playing a stifling factory hand says, "When this is all you know how to do ... that’s what you do." Then in health class everybody was talking about embarrassment, and Laureth’s friend Ally said the most embarrassing moment of her life had been during her first week at the restaurant, when her boss had told her to take a scissors and cut up some rags for the rag bag, and she had accidentally cut up her most senior co-worker’s brand new pants instead. He was a very nice but two-hundred-pound black man and she had to tell him what she had done. Then the next week in Film Rhetoric they watched Norma Rae, where the mom goes deaf because the mill isn’t unionized.

Maturing Laureth would emerge from all this into the air of day, in whatever season it was, summer or winter, to feel the sun and watch the birds and breathe again. She was too young to understand how much this was shaping her, even dangerously far into her teen years when one would think the wish to earn some spending money would sugar over the bitter terrors of rubbing shoulders with adults and abiding by their hard, rude working rules. She only felt the difference between what seemed like freedom and what seemed like prison; what seemed like reality and what seemed like nightmare. Why was anyone around her happy? Couldn’t they see they had been caught, that they were working? She did not want a job, ever. There was absolutely nothing she "wanted" to do. Nothing was worth it, not even the ridiculous complexity of working at a cashier’s job to earn money to go to college to get a degree to qualify for a better job. Meanwhile, what of one’s true life and desires ebbing away all that time? What of the setting moon? Long ago the Egyptians saw it as the horns of Apis. Perhaps the only way not to be imprisoned was to stay very still out in the air and sun, just as one had as a child, and not speak. No one bothers children, and how are they any different? Or like an animal.

Or like the Amish. Whenever she emerged out into the air and sun again, year after year, the Amish were there. Couldn’t anyone see how happy they were? It was just after she had learned to make change, in fourth grade, that she noticed them. They drove their buggies, they shopped in town, they walked behind their plows. They wore dresses, broadfalls, and hats, and walked barefoot in summer. With them moved that unmistakable aura of firm, busy, uninterested peace. These were people who owed nothing to anyone, who simply fed and bred in competent ranks as of old and certainly were not expected to give over their lives, at eighteen, to a masterful new world for which nothing in their youths had prepared them, not really. Their newspaper, the Budget, carried news of births and visitings, not of their young people having to think fast in grocery stores. And they did something exhilarating, year after year, while Laureth watched. They circled into her world regularly, saw and sometimes bought its effects, and then disappeared in proud, graceful anonymity. As if to prove a civilized human being, knowing the smallest alternative, could easily live in a better way. These occasional idle glances into the Budget at the hardware store, a casual question to her mother about a long-ago Amish friend, served to reinforce the research that Laureth saw walking past her life almost every day. Look at them. They did not work, and yet they didn’t starve. They probably noticed the moon and the robins. Perhaps they had to, perhaps it meant something having to do with farm routine. Maybe it was possible. Maybe you could stay away.

While weeding this hot afternoon she kept thinking about that Amish girl in the paper who had no desire to go out running around. Nice for her to have the choice. Rum springa is the Amish expression referring to the flight that young Amish people are permitted to take away from their families sometime during the teen years, to taste the pleasures of the ‘English’ world. They leave their farms, for a few months, perhaps for a year, straying only to the nearest farm town, if that. They wear jeans, buy a stereo for their horse and buggy, maybe buy an old car, go to late-night tractor pulls at the county fair. Some experiment with things that would alarm even English parents. Some never venture so far that they can’t go back home every night and have their mothers do their laundry, although Amishwomen, accustomed as they are to these rites of gentle rural defiance, draw the line at laundering jeans ("But I won’t wash his English clothes," they say.)

Some go rum springa in couples, returning to the farm to be baptized and married. Some do not go back, but stay and run bakeries or artisan’s shops in small towns near Amishland. A few, like Sarah in the paper, opt never to try out the English world at all. Because they do not wish to run around does not mean they are immured on their farms. One sees them riding bicycles along country roads, beside the plowing men and the shopping women – perhaps Laureth had once seen this Sarah – free, plain skirts pumping, hair pulled back under white bonnets, white bonnet strings flying. All smiles, their complexions are as perfect as milk. Nice for them. A girl like Laureth, orbiting the catastrophe of high school graduation in the world and always carrying the memory of their example within, her granite monument soldered ever more firmly to her character, is right to envy them.

The year of her graduation had drawn on from January, brightening dreadfully with the returning sun. It was as if the calculating sun pulled up the snow from the ground, and then pulled up the corn and pulled out the leaves on the trees, and then pulled up the humidity, and with it the temperature and pressure on Laureth to make a decision, to give a sign. Her position was incredible. You are supposed to know what you want to do by the last few months before you graduate, supposed to have a plan of some kind, yet she had never so much as applied for a job or lifted a finger over a college form in her life. A few brochures came from a few colleges in the east. She looked at them. "Even if we could afford to send you," her father said, "you could never keep up with that lifestyle."

Yet you never could be sure what they would say. With other girls, they were enthusiastic. Ally had been accepted to Champaign-Urbana as a business major. "How wonderful!" they said. Laureth’s twin sister Emily got the good news from a college near Chicago in May (abnormal psych). In May Laureth wept in her parents’ arms. They tried to commiserate. "It’s like being fired from your job, honey," Mr. Warner said. "Graduation is tough on everyone. School has been your job all these years. When a man is fired from his job after thirteen years, people don’t rush up and say, ‘Congratulations! What are you going to do?’"

Laureth had laughed a little, but didn’t tell him what she wanted to do. She had told no one except the one adult for whom she was just one of a hundred cases, and not a very cheerful, rewarding one, either. During their senior year, Emily, who had gotten along splendidly with Diane Kummer, the guidance counselor, had recommended her sister to lay her case before her. "Go see her," she said. "She’s wonderful."

It was August now. The sun that had stared down hotly on her indecision had faded a little. August loses a whole hour of daylight from start to finish. Gardening at five o’clock in the afternoon was not quite the sweat-bath it used to be. And the angle of shadow from the garage and the trees was a little different. She had almost reached the end of the tomato bed. They were all turning red now, another sign of the time gone.

Laureth had dreaded the idea of going to see Ms. Kummer. The woman seemed all thin professionalism and thin brown hair. But she knew it would at least assuage her increasingly worried parents for a time. They had not known what to make of their daughter’s grim enveloping silence. So she went, that spring. Too late; unprofessional.

It was not a successful interview, and it was not Ms. Kummer’s fault. Laureth could not voice the impressions of her childhood in a way that another person could understand. What kid doesn’t get over the fear of working, of survival? Attractive mothers in their forties laugh together about it, when their eldest goes off in a blue and orange uniform for the first time. "He, uh ... doesn’t like to work," they say, and everyone bursts out laughing wisely. Laureth did not think it was funny, she thought her soul’s justice was at stake. Her soul must be protected at all costs. Therefore she knew better than to begin a high school counselor’s interview by saying, "I really admire the Amish. I wish I could live with them. Do they accept English people?"

She only just threw off one joke, in fake camaraderie telling Ms. Kummer that she knew "people who work in retail go straight to heaven when they die." Ms. Kummer laughed appreciatively, one adult to another. So even she agreed it was terrible. Why were grown-ups so cowed?

Together they had tried to work out Laureth’s future. They struggled through careers, hobbies, girlhood interests, and finally, near defiant tears, Laureth thought of something which happened to be true and which might, if nothing else, test the waters really. She got out, "I just want to get married and have kids."

"That’s great!" Ms. Kummer answered, very warmly. Laureth felt a rush of relieved gratitude.
"I did that, too. We all want to do that." Then she put her elbows on the desk, held up her hands, and prepared to tick off problems on her fingers. Laureth glanced out the second-floor window at the haze of gray-red trees budding around the campus. The spring was beautiful, as always. As always, the windows of her school represented a theater of freedom. For a long time she had envied anything, any bird, rabbit, or elderly man going about his business on that stage, and wished to change places with any of them. How superb of them to be free. What did her new tomato plants look like right now, this very minute? Were there some aphids on them, also free? No, it was too early for aphids. What crops would an Amish family be thinking of planting now? They got to quit school in the eighth grade, didn’t they?

"One, you could get divorced. Two, you may not find anybody to begin with. No offense or anything, you’re a great kid, but if Mrs. Edson has been telling you ‘there’s someone for everyone,’ let me assure you, she’s nuts.

"Three, he could be disabled. Four, he could die. Five, he could walk out on you when you’re forty and leave you with no way to make a living. Six, it’s really, really tough for a family to make it on one income. You could still be wondering how to pay for diapers when it’s time to pay for college.

"Seven, you could be looking at major personal meltdown after you’ve been out here alone in the cornfields with the kids and the dirty dishes for a couple of years...."

And on and on it went. I’m not knocking your ideas, honey, I think it’s great to fall in love and have kids. To plant roots. I love the fresh air. I bicycle to work all the time myself. You’re just an idiot and you’d better do the right thing and live my way, silly. You were never around when I was going through this stage, and my life now is none of your business, but here , let me help you.

"I’m not trying to sneer at you or your ambition," Ms. Kummer was still talking. "I wish it was a perfect world and we could all stay home with our kids all day. I wish I was home with mine right now. But that’s just not the way life is anymore. Okay? A woman who can’t support herself is just up you know what creek without a paddle, that’s all." Laureth had the distinct impression that Ms. Kummer would have used the word ‘shit’ with another girl, but that she reasoned Laureth was too delicate to hear it. "Women don’t have to be like that anymore. I don’t want you to be like that."

Laureth listened to all this with rage boiling as if in a tiny bronze dragon-footed cauldron in her stomach. The session had ceased to be a conference between two adults, acolyte and priestess, peering out at the adult world from a quiet shrine, the one calmly pointing the way, the other excited and afraid. It had become a dull grown-up performance which the polite child, just another child, steeled herself to endure until dismissed. At the end Laureth feigned conviction, and with it, a little humble enthusiasm for Journalism and Psychiatry, so Ms. Kummer happily wrote those down and promised to send for some literature about the best Illinois colleges for those subjects. Laureth left the office alarmed at herself for having tricked an adult into professionally fetching professional materials that she, Laureth, did not intend to use. She left the office thinking, what if I run into her in the hall next year and she asks me if I read her brochures? Then she remembered, I graduate in a month and a half. I’ll never have to see her again. A shock to realize.

She had come home that day disgusted with Ms. Kummer, only to find an eagerly awaiting sister soon disgusted with her. "Well, what do you want?" Emily asked in her room that night. "What do you like to do?"

"Well, gee, I like reading novels! And I like to bake!" Laureth threw some things that she had been tidying on to a desk, and then was ashamed at their clatter. Right now she feared and hated life and everyone in it. When you are eighteen and have no established plans, you forfeit your right to throw things or banter with adults, and Emily, by virtue of her plans, was an adult.

"Oh, I am just so impressed with that! Aren’t we the little princess! That’s leisure, du-uh. What are you going to do with the other twenty-three hours in the day?"

"Live," Laureth had answered vibrantly, and had stormed out of the room and down the stairs.
She knelt now at the end of the tomato bed, finished with her afternoon weeding, remembering. Her parents and Emily were all out now, shopping for a portable refrigerator for Emily’s dorm room. She had time to think.

She could not think what she wanted, though, it was too burdensome, like peering through a fog. All she could think about was what the Amish had, especially the girls. She saw them riding their bicycles in her mind’s eye and thought, Blessed, blessed, thrice blessed. To care about rain and soil, plants and babies. To go home and cook, and take care of animals, and clean, and put up preserves in jars with fifteen other contented, unpursued women during a "bee." No Drivers’-Ed. No job hunting. No television, no bad music, no lectures from grown-ups about budding young sculptresses just like you. Nobody pestering you about race and the economy, injustice and politics and crisis intervention teams. No being shunted out into the world to take your chances with your own apartment, cities, elevators, parking garages, landlords who were also strange men. And college and a dorm room before that, just like Emily. What kind of fate was that for parents to expect their daughters to embrace? It was almost as if they didn’t care. The unprotectedness and the whipping of young women in the world – Laureth privately added, the English world – was criminal.

She tried to "plan." What a marvelous word. Everybody planned. She tried to think of who else got to live like the Amish without actually being of them, but she only conjured up vague visions of gentlewomen in long dresses baking bread, writing novels and walking the moors in a long ago, safer time. They were older than she, over thirty even, because they could go on living in their father’s parsonage without shame if he could afford to keep them. No more. The shame was now too real. Now a gentlewoman would be busy studying to be a paralegal, or a field tech or policeman or cashier. And Jane Eyre would not get written.

Sometimes when alone she felt proud of her sensitive torment, proud that she was different and probably truly made of more elemental, interesting stuff than the Emily who didn’t read novels and had made great friends with their insufferable guidance counselor. It was easy to guess which of the three of them would have been able to carry on a conversation with the gentlewomen on the moors. But Emily’s calling her a princess cut her straight back to earth. So that was how she looked to other people. It wasn’t fair. "’Do you think,’" she might have said, "’because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?’" she was about to be thrust out of the parsonage, soon and forever, her good parents having not the slightest idea of protecting her. She was a modern gentlewoman. That she must not want or require protection was a part of the new rules. No one would demand of her, as Mr. Rochester does of Jane, "’Who goes with you? You don’t travel a hundred miles alone.’"

She rose stiffly from the garden and turned at the sound of a car on the gravel road a little way off. Here they came, with Emily’s refrigerator. She pulled up a smile at the sight of her family – a bit like the sun pulling up the snow in February – waved, and prepared to go into the house with them.

Mr. and Mrs. Warner together carried the refrigerator into the house. Laureth held the door open for them while Emily followed importantly after, as if it were her baby. Once inside, they grunted their way to the kitchen table and slid the box up onto it. The paper Laureth had been reading an hour before had been pushed half off the table by the box and dangled there, ready to scatter forth on the floor. Mr. Warner saw it. He pried the last corner of it loose from under the box and paused to look at the page boasting a full color picture of the pretty Amish girl who didn’t want to go rum springa.

"Now there’s somebody after your own heart, Lor," he said as he tossed the paper out of the way. One of those situations was about to develop, in which nice people suffering under a single unspoken anxiety suddenly come, half-willingly, to hash it out, half-rehearsed, under the silliest circumstances. Maybe Mr. Warner was keyed up to it by the vigorous activity of buying a concrete item for his vigorous daughter’s future.

"Yes," Laureth answered with a forthrightness that up to now her parents had only heard from Emily. She was working to undo the tape from the box. "I admire them a lot. I wish I could join them, for my career, to be honest."

Mr. and Mrs. Warner both burst out laughing. Emily smiled. Laureth saw she had made a bad beginning. She could have dropped the subject in absolute safety but decided to pursue it now or never. She said, shaking, "Well, at least they’ve found a way to get out of this petty society of ours. Everything here is made for machines or money. If you just want to live and be human, like them, you’re out of luck. At least they understand that. And stay away."

Her parents paused a moment. "My dear," her father began softly, "they are not escaping modern life. They’re escaping the seventeenth century. That’s where they began."
When she was silent, he went on. "Still. I see you’ve been paying attention in social studies class."

"I’m so sorry if you’re tired of living off our petty money under our petty roof," Mrs. Warner said, staring. "Would you care to go out and earn your own sometime?"

Silence. They were all mortified, including Emily, whose hands shook as she pried at the tape on her side of the box. It was one thing for her and Laureth to bicker alone. As a whole family, they never argued. This was unprecedented.

Mr. and Mrs. Warner both stole identical glances at Laureth’s shamed face and decided to join forces but proceed as kindly as possible. Mr. Warner got out his pocket knife and said, "What would you like to do, my dear? Really."

Laureth tried to appear lofty and jaded. "I’d like to be left alone to live and have fresh air and have children like everyone has always done. Like they do. That’s all. They survive."

"Are you trying to tell us something interesting?" Mrs. Warner asked. "I didn’t think you even had a boyfriend."

"No," Laureth answered, mentally adding, ‘...stupid,’ as she would have said literally to Emily – and then being terrified of such disrespect, even in her own head.

"Well, I’m sure they have a nice simple life in some ways," Mr. Warner carried on, "but if you’re thinking .... I can’t imagine anyone else would really be happy with them. They certainly would never accept anyone else into their fold. And they’re not as pristine as you think. Especially not where the law is concerned. They use gas generators, and get their immunizations like everybody else."

"And they sell dope in Lancaster County, may I add, speaking of law," Mrs. Warner said. "Gone straight to jail for it, too. I would say that’s pretty modern and corrupted."

"I didn’t say society was corrupt," Laureth answered in a mouselike voice, though she knew she had meant exactly that.

"Well. Anyway, honey, it’s fine to be interested in them as a hobby. You can always, you know, do some of the things they do in your spare time. You like to garden, or you could get some of their recipes and bake and so on. If it interests you, there’s nothing wrong with that as a hobby."
Laureth was almost at the end of her courage but determined to get one more thing said. They still didn’t understand.

"They are the only people who live remotely like I would want to live. People just leave them alone. I don’t want to major in Abnormal Psych and then be a personnel director like everybody else." She ripped off a stubborn piece of tape and broke into her side of the box. "I don’t think they have any laws about English people not joining them. If you’re willing to abide by their rules – "

Her parents both laughed again, laughter shading from merriment into soft pity. "Honey," her mother said, "you can’t join them."
"Why not?"
"Because you can’t!"
"For heaven’s sake, Lor, they’re farmers, when you come right down to it," her father interpolated. "Wearing pretty dresses and riding horses and so on, that’s really just window dressing. They’re farmers, and you’re not. They work incredibly hard."

Laureth frowned. Mr. Warner had not meant to be hurtful, but to Laureth it sounded like the usual dig. You don’t work; therefore you’re a child; therefore you have no right to say what work you’d like to do. Work first, then plan your life. Surrender first; then we’ll discuss terms.
"You’ve got to be born to that life to ever be used to it, even on a modern place. You know that. Not to mention all the things they’re not allowed to do."
"Like what?"

Laureth was so exasperatingly difficult at times. Emily had fished the owner’s manual out of the box but scarcely turned a page of it while her family talked. She was a French major, and dutifully tried to decipher the French third of housewares’ instruction booklets when she came across them.

"Oh, well, honey, you know, no t.v., no movies, no Internet, no air conditioning if you can imagine that. Nothing modern like that. No electricity at all, I think. And then, like I say, they’re farmers from a hundred years ago. They spend most of their time just storing up food to survive, I think. Like people a hundred years ago had to do."
"It sounds just as good as being a dental hygienist or cashier or something in Mattoon if you ask me, to be honest," Laureth shrugged.

Mrs. Warner stared at father and daughter as they talked. Mr. warner went on, "Well, honey, it may sound good to you but you have no idea what the life is really like. Nor are they any too enlightened about women, I don’t think. You could well end up with a husband who thinks a wife has to obey and have ten kids and that’s about it."
"My dears," Mrs. Warner burst out in an annoyed sing-song, "I really cannot believe we are having this conversation! What husband? Why are you even encouraging her? We should be talking about reality, please."
"I’m not encouraging her! I’m just saying – "
Mr. Warner laid his pocket knife on the countertop. "Honey, your mother’s right," he said. "We’re all just being very silly. Look. You’re a great kid with a lot of talent and a great future. The Amish may look like they’ve got it made, but I can’t see you preserving jellies and slaughtering pigs or whatever for the rest of your life. I know this has been a rotten time for you, but you’ll find your niche. Everybody does, believe me. Nobody knows what the hell to do after high school graduation. I just looked through the want ads the next day myself. And you’re a lot more on the ball than I was. You’ll be fine."
"Yeah. And you can’t join the Amish," Mrs. Warner said.
After a small pause Laureth looked up. "Why not?"

Emily rolled her eyes, slammed something down and left the kitchen. "Excuse me, are we done with this yet?" Mrs. Warner yelled. "My darling, it’s a religious cult. It’s a cult, and it’s a very inbred family. Did you ever wonder why they’re all called Yoder and they all speak German? It’s an old, wacko European farm cult. They can have buttons, but not suspenders, or the other way around, or whatever. Because the Bible forbids buttons. Plus now they sell dope. Du-uh, as your sister would say. Nobody just walks in."
"Why not?"
"Because you can’t! And I really think I am through hearing about this!"
Laureth nodded. "I understand. Women can’t do what they want."
"Oh, don’t be idiotic! You can do whatever you want, you just can’t be what you’re not. You’re not Amish."
"But they become what they’re not. They go rum springa, they leave, they become English."
"Well of course they do," Mrs. Warner laughed. "Who wants to boil jam and kill pigs in the heat and humidity all day?"
"Yeah, when you can zap a pizza and put your feet up and watch wrestling," Mr. Warner said.
"They go rum springa, and they come back," Laureth said in a small voice.
"Uh-huh. They’re Amish," her mother replied.
"Emily is doing what she wants," Laureth faltered. "She is going to be what she isn’t yet."

Mrs. Warner wanted to say, Emily is rational, but she checked herself. "Yes, and so will you," she said mildly. "It takes everyone a little time to find their niche, that’s all. Daddy is right. You’ll find yours." Mrs. Warner sighed, and sniffed as if she had a cold, and looked down into the box. "Now. Whose bright idea was it to plop this thing on the kitchen table until September? It weighs a fricking ton."

Laureth sulked against the cabinets, no longer helping with the box. Her parents were scooping out the Styrofoam fill and dumping it in the garbage can. Her mother looked at her and decided, out of kindness, to go back to the subject, only for a moment.
"Besides, honey, these people don’t live in some kind of earthy artist’s colony, you know. They’re not pilgrims with pewter jugs and mandolins lying around. I had an Amish friend years ago. They’re up at four in the morning, and they live on sugar because they need the calories. Orange soda at every meal. And they live off plastic dishes and polyester clothes because they have huge families and it’s easy."

Emily must have sensed safety because now she wandered back in to the kitchen and took part in the dying conversation. "And I hate the men in those bowl haircuts, du-uh," she said.
"What exactly interests you about them?" Mr. Warner asked, busy. "I mean, what do you think you’d like to do, in general, that pertains to that? Knowing that could be helpful."
"Anthropology," Mrs. Warner said, suddenly struck by the idea. "What about anthropology? I’d say you have that written all over you."

Laureth summoned the nerve to laugh bitterly. Normally she would not have dared to do that in her parents’ faces. "Well who really gives an f what I’d like to do?" she cried, and fled, banging, from the house.
She went for a walk.

What a waste of effort it had all been. Half the point of her upbringing had been that women can have anything they want, and really should want a lot. Perhaps she was still child enough to be in the habit of thinking that to tell her parents she wanted something was as good as getting it. Perhaps she had read too many stories in girls’ magazines about young Tracys and Megans who had taken one look at an Olympic ice skater, or famous ballerina, and then "decided" that in x number of years, they would be the same. Laureth had a great vision of herself safe in a bonnet and cornflower-colored dress, baby one-year-old in tow, herself heavily pregnant again, proudly eyeing Ms. Kummer when they met by chance in the street a few years hence. And how lovely it would be, surely, to make love in a dark bedroom way out in the silent cornfields, having put off all those heavy modest clothes. As if Amish people did not know what a naked body looked like! Knowing you have only a few hours before he will have to be out in the barns at four a.m., and you up probably making bread at that hour, too. And how lovely to know that when you woke up in the morning, you need not go anywhere. He would think of you in the fields, and you would think of him in the kitchen, and you would be all the while so very near each other, in the same world. You would be like the patriarchs. "And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes." You need not meet people you do not wish to see, you need not rush about doing unnatural things.

Now it was all ridiculous, now it irritated her. As she walked out towards open farmland through the summer evening she had the unpleasant feeling of living out a childhood memory, of tramping out the last moments of an episode which she would remember as important, but whose original sources and cataracts of excitement she would never feel as deeply again. This was disappointment, straight, unwatered. She was rebuked, beaten, and knew it was correct. All the familiarity of this childhood dream, maybe all childhood dreams, was over. She wondered if she had not lost some ability to recognize magic or dreams, wondered if she had lost a perfection of soul. All her school years she had been told that children are the future, are wise and good and could do anything they wanted. Only no one warned you when it was over. They just pushed you into the abyss and you had to make room for the next batch of children who were he future. A real child would have been asked his opinion.

Now she could imagine that cashiering might not be the end of the world and the death of the soul after all. And it might be nice to earn some money to buy things of her own. Was that so terrible? It would have seemed so yesterday. The monument was crumbling.

She walked along, thinking honestly but bitterly that above all, she had not expected to be taken aback by her family’s casual strength in this encounter. Family can be wonderful for this service, painful though it is sometimes: they are very good at safely jeering their members out of tempting projects whose dangers can never be lit up so neatly as when the guilty one tremblingly puts forth a dark desire and hears, in response, a shrieked What? If only she had brought this up long before, they could have, so to speak, lanced the boil and she could have had the intervening months to make real plans and be as advanced in adulthood as Emily was now.

It was nearing sunset. She must have gardened a long time this afternoon. They must have stayed out shopping for that fridge very late. Rows of small, round high clouds trooped up from the western horizon, handsome gray clouds rimmed with gold before the washed blue sky. The corn was nine feet high. The crickets rang like shaken winter bells. Arthur was quiet. Her family waited lovingly for her at home. Somewhere a few miles away there must be a houseful of Amish at a singing, men and children and women nursing their babies in a room where fine ancient people sang Gregorian chant in German. People whom, even as late as this afternoon, she had regarded as her future in-laws. People who never had to count change up from $5.11, probably. Albeit maybe her mother could enlighten her about that, too. They did run a lot of gift shops and bakeries. Why did any of it ever seem attractive?

She went home before dark, so as not to worry her family. It was a measure of her upbringing that, still upset and exhausted, she accepted their small greetings when they saw her safely in that night, and bade them a grudging "Good night" in turn before going up to her pink room. It was a measure of her resilience that she got a job the next week at the local grocery store, bagging and stocking with a view to promotion to cashier – and possibly money for college, and who would have thought it required promotion? – in the near future. It was a measure of her nobility that she performed so pleasantly, so competently, that old ladies learned to look anxiously for her when they shopped, and to steer their carts firmly into her checkout lane because no one else was so careful with things like eggs and blueberries. They told her so, which pleased her.

And when the Amish housewives came in with their families, mother and elder daughter sometimes both greatly pregnant, they told her the same. That pleased her, too. Sometimes she got the treat of loading sack upon sack of sugar into their wagons. She took care then to feel the rough wood and bare steel of the wheels, to drink in the gorgeous, sour-musk smell of horses. She still felt an affinity with these women which she liked to think they could sense, and maybe the horses too sensed it too.

She baked from their recipes, as her father suggested. Someday – for she did not work at the grocery store forever – she would answer questions about this time with great poise, laughing and saying yes, I wanted to join the Amish, but instead my interest led me to do x; for she became great in x.

The End

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Watching Dhimmiwatch

I have been keeping track of the website "DhimmiWatch" for so long that I forget when or how I first found it. Now I have it bookmarked, just as if I were some sort of computer whiz. Consulting it for the latest news on the incremental spread of supremacist Islam has become a part of my morning routine, along with coffee, toast, and getting the kids off to school.

DhimmiWatch is run by Hugh Fitzgerald, vice president of the board of JihadWatch, which sponsors a site of that name, too. These sites are the offspring of several parents, among them the newspaper Human Events ("Reagan’s favorite newspaper" and "home of ‘HillaryWatch’ " as well) and David Horowitz’s Freedom Center. DhimmiWatch and "Jihadwatch" were both founded on the same day, October 28th 2003, and both are under the governance – which is not meant to sound sinister – of Robert Spencer, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, The Truth About Mohammed, Religion of Peace? Why Christianity is and Islam is Not, and many other books. Both sites link not only to Fitzgerald’s and Spencer’s writings but to Gregory
M. Davis’ "Islam 101" and Spencer’s own "Quran blog." Confusingly, Gregory Davis has also written a book titled Religion of Peace? (subtitled Islam’s War Against The World). All three of these men have appeared, I take it, as if out of a trap to do their work.

They do a Herculean job making topics that no one ever used to have to bother about, making news stories that never used to happen, available and at least somewhat digestible. It is all on one theme: Islam, always unique in its insistence on the physical subjugation of all inferior faiths and indeed everything non-Muslim (who knew?), is muscling in on every continent but especially on a bewildered West, especially a bewildered Western Europe. Through massive population increase, through violence and the shrill insistence that failure to accommodate Islam is "intolerance," the fogbanks of imperial Islam are slowly surging in, not only into faraway cultures but into every Western nook and cranny, and beginning to smother all. They are transforming the practice of Western freedom itself, in ways Westerners literally can’t believe is happening. DhimmiWatch accumulates evidence.

It comes from European newspapers and Malaysian church spokesmen and Israeli broadcasters. The news is sometimes of national scope and sometimes concerns personal tragedies, but it is always grim. Parisian "youths" riot, and this time they have big guns. A British bishop complains of "no go" areas in Britain where non-Muslims dare not show their faces, and he receives death threats for saying so. Christians in Gaza, Egypt, and Malaysia are afraid to worship. Muslim teen girls in Canada, Texas , and Britain have been murdered by their fathers for having a boyfriend or not wearing hijab. The archaeological treasure of Persepolis in Iran is to be flooded by a dam built by the mullahs, apparently not so much because Iran needs the dam as because Persepolis is pre-Islamic and therefore worthless. A jihadist will vet delegates to the Democratic National Convention (February 2, 2008). The Archbishop of Canterbury thinks sharia in Britain is unavoidable. Muslims demand separate Muslim-only days at public swimming pools in the United States, so that Muslim women can swim in modesty. Muslim students turn state college "meditation rooms" into mosques where unbelieving students dare not go. A minaret is almost finished building in St. Louis – closer than Canada, closer than Texas – presumably for a muezzin to sound the call to prayer to the large community of Bosnian Muslim immigrants there. The minaret happens to be ten miles from the mosque, Islamic law allows that, so perhaps the call to prayer will have to be amplified through loudspeakers, for all of St. Louis to hear.

This last is not technically wrong. Church bells ring, too. Water towers are tall, which is apparently the argument that won the mayor of St. Louis over when he was applied to for final permission to build the minaret. But it does help create a new world one piece at a time, everywhere and anywhere. A very different world, which is what DhimmiWatch is warning us about.

You can easily get lost in this site for the length of a morning, if not an entire day. The archives alone are huge. And this is not to speak of the scores of links to the side of the page, especially the JihadWatch page. My goodness, but people are worried, and they are blogging away. They collect comments from the same handfuls of readers again and again. Some are real haters, and do not trouble to use capital letters or punctuation marks. Some are obviously decent and aware souls, intelligent and able to phrase things so shrewdly that I wish they held public office, or at least were not completely anonymous. Some, Fitzgerald thinks, are provocateurs seeding the comment board with vulgarity to discredit the whole enterprise. A few of the blogroll links go to
recognizable names like "Little Green Footballs" and "Andrew Bostom," many do not. I had never heard of "Infidels are Cool," "Gates of Vienna," "God Help Britain," or "Northern Virginiastan."

Thanks to all who sent this in is the acknowledgment after many and many a DhimmiWatch alert. Those thanks leave me with the impression that lots of people know what is happening, and are philosophically arming themselves against an onslaught that is of course not launched by every Muslim, but that could be launched by any of them, because the reasons for it are enshrined in a holy creed. Who knew? But no one that I know talks about DhimmiWatch. When I emerge from a morning spent with it, I find to my surprise that the sky is not falling, and that there are new books on the bestseller lists, and new plays in the theaters.

It seems that thoughtful, calm, open-minded liberals, busy with progressive things, are also not too concerned with DhimmiWatch. Searching the word on The Nation’s webpage turns up nothing. Its editors did recently touch, as if with a carefully clean fingertip, a story about David Horowitz’s organizing of the first "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" on college campuses last fall. But they disposed of it nicely. Harvard and Princeton would not allow it to take place, of course. Elsewhere, "some student groups felt that subtle, non-confrontational responses would best take the wind from the sails of Islamo Fascism Awareness week." There were interfaith prayers and the handing out of "satirical flyers" (remember, in Manhattan, Woody Allen’s distrust of satire’s effect on guys in shiny boots?). Some young thing, offended by intolerant connections drawn between Islam and violence, questioned Robert Spencer, after a speech, about the violent parts of the Bible.

And as to sources beyond The Nation, neither National Public Radio nor USAToday nor Newsweek nor the New York Times has ever, in the four years of DhimmiWatch’s existence,
apparently had any reason to mention it. The curious thing is that posts to DhimmiWatch often come from reputable (I assume) foreign newspapers, like Britain’s Telegraph and Daily Mail. The editors of the American "msm" – mainstream media, in blogger talk – must have heard of the Telegraph, and must ignore it for a reason.

To avoid mucking about with hate, perhaps. I don’t want to hate, or be taught by sources run on hate. Each blogger only opens one window on his world, his own, and you cannot be sure when was the last time he cleaned it. "God Help Britain" at one time planned to take down her blog, because "Lionheart" had been arrested and she feared for herself. For all I know, "Lionheart" may have been arrested because he robbed a grocery store to support a crystal meth habit. Not being on the spot with them, I lose trust in them when they become desperate, sarcastic, and snide. Even Hugh Fitzgerald, who rides herd on comments that are "off-topic, offensive, slanderous, and annoying," tends to interrupt his posts with editorial comment of the "gee, ya think?" tone, a technique I find ham-fisted and unprofessional. What makes him do it? Rational outrage spurred by witness, or the panic of the blinkered and the obsessed?

Over and over again, these bloggers insist that they are warning all of us and that something must be done. But it is awfully hard to judge what to do, when one’s few Muslim neighbors - and one’s many Muslim doctors, for that matter – have done nothing wrong, nor has one’s own ox been gored. September 11th qualifies as a national goring. But it exemplifies a paradox also, if I may speak so daintily of mass murder. An attack not launched from a nation-state, but from warriors of a religion which has no official spokesmen, still leaves me as yet unassaulted personally by duplicitous demands for tolerance from others in the fold. And, from a distance, it still looks like their demands, when they come, are hard to face down because they are never technically wrong. A commentator who calls himself Alarmed Pig Farmer put it well: "Incrementalism works. Always [operate] a hair’s breadth beneath the Infidels’ threshold for action ..." (May 1, 2007).

Besides, people blogging on other things, food and wine for instance, open different windows. The sky is not necessarily falling on other people’s oxen – so to speak – either. It looks like the vineyards of Europe are still being worked and harvested, even though alcohol would be a problem in a swiftly changing "Eurabia." It looks like the restaurants are still running, and still serving pork cassoulet. To flip through Harper’s Bazaar is to see that Dior and everybody are still putting on fashion shows in Paris and Milan, complete with racily, spectacularly clad young women. If Paris had truly changed, then I would not expect to see that. I would not expect even to see women on the streets for too much longer in bewildered western Europe, except in flowing robes and with a man.

(An aside: to take the specter of Eurabia seriously is to foresee the day when, among other things, that glorious creature, the Frenchwoman, disappears from Western vision. The Frenchwoman, the heroine who loves fashion and wine and millefeuilles, who takes the trouble, with her perfume and her scarves, to make herself deliberately scrumptious as an act of will, must vanish from a new continent where only men, poverty, and Allah matter. What a pity. I wonder if I could prove the fancy that American women buy all those books about French style in an attempt to encode her into ourselves, before it’s too late.)

Not being able to double-check, personally, what the blogs report, I go on reading. I’ve read Bruce Bawer, Ibn Warraq, Andrew Bostom, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Brigitte Gabriel, whose book Because They Hate did bring back memories of, and new information on, the evening news stories from Lebanon of my teen years. Then I look at the authors’ photographs and biographies and I get cynical. Some of these newly minted celebrity authors, descanting on radical Islam, are either distractingly unique types – gay American expatriate translates from all the Scandinavian languages – or glamorous-looking women. I smell marketing. I’m a complacent dhimmi ....

Dhimmi is one of those words I’ve learned from DhimmiWatch. It means the subdued and chastened infidel living on sufferance under Islamic law after Islamic conquest. I’ve also learned the words jahiliyya (pre-Islamic ignorance), shaheed (martyr), and jeziya (the tax paid by dhimmis for being allowed to live under Islam). Many readers probably incorporated jihab, sharia, and burqa into their vocabulary about as long ago as I found the site, and about as unwittingly. I remember when the term chador, for Iranian women’s black robes, was new. When I was in seventh grade, a girl brought a political cartoon into class, showing a floating black chador clothing only an empty skull. I wonder if it would be published now.

From further exploring the books of the marketable expatriates and the glamorous-looking women, I’ve also learned about taqiyya (deceit for the sake of Islam), naksh (the principle of abrogation, that later, often violent verses in the Koran supersede early, pacific ones), and kufur or kaffir (unbelief). Yesterday I came across a new word, shahada, which I will have to look up, and today fitna (the dreadful tumult of pre-Islamic religious pluralism, which must end when Islam conquers). I know, further, that it’s the ninth chapter of the Koran which really wails on unbelievers, and it came after chapter 2 with its oft-quoted "no compulsion in religion" verse, so naksh may apply to that one. Even if naksh didn’t apply, omitting to enforce conversions still allows the imposing of dhimmi status on kaffir until they or their descendants convert "freely," through da’wa (persuasion). So it goes, and see how fluent even a complacent Westerner can become.

I find I am getting tired of DhimmiWatch, or rather, I’d like to be tired of it. It fascinates the way a car wreck does – a commentator from Britain said the same thing about Britain itself recently – but I resent having to be concerned with it. Maybe I want to study the frescoes of Andrea Mantegna instead; maybe I want to blog on food and wine. It occurs to me that, for all the warnings from the bloggers that we must know this and we must do something, having to keep up with DhimmiWatch and all its background information amounts in itself to a kind of dhimmitude. One chapter of the Koran was enough. I’ve got better things to do with my time. "This book is not to be questioned, know believers, the unbeliever shall go to hell," and so on, and hadith and sira should not my problem either. I am a Westerner. I am free.

Read over these previous pages, if you please, and note what they are. What a whine. Note that I am actually breathing a small sigh of relief and reassurance when I find proof that the vineyards of Europe are still being harvested, and fashion shows full of strutting women still being staged in the capitals. Thirty years ago even an essay like this, just something private from me who am nobody, would have been incredible. Has the world changed so completely, or is DhimmiWatch, and the absurd connections to anonymous strangers inherent in the internet, impelling me to see mountains where there are molehills? "They can’t really take over, can they?" my daughter asked at the dinner table one night. "Of course not," I said.

It would be reassuring to think that They cannot take over because Western civilization is too complex and gives too much good to too many people for it to unravel at anyone’s behest. Modern finance, medicine, the internet, are only parts of a whole structure which is at once too vibrant, too fast-moving, and yet too ossified with prosperity, the individual prosperity of millions, for it simply to be crumbled by people who think their way is purer. But, perhaps the ancient Romans thought the same thing when faced with Goths and Vandals – not necessarily Goths and Vandals hammering at the gates, but Goths and Vandals who just wanted tolerance, who just wanted separate and kindly accommodations for their houses of worship, their way of treating women, their worldview DhimmiWatch, the panicky blogs, Ali, Bawer, Gabriel, all say yes they can and they have before. It is commanded them and they enjoy it. Do something.

I am not sure what there is to do, but I do think that the present situation – let’s just call it one in which I who am nobody know more Arabic than I ever would have foreseen necessary thirty years ago – is speedily teaching Westerners what to think. Thirty years ago, the late novelist Walker Percy was much respected as an artist and a seer of contemporary America’s problems. He was concerned with religious emptiness, especially in young people’s lives, and with a smarmy and violent popular culture. In one of his novels he wrote of the disappearance of the concept of sin from American life. People cannot be decent if they do not tolerate the idea that sin can exist, that sin can be done. I suppose in those days we were all fresh from the "I’m OK – you’re OK" decade.

Anyway, I suspect that Percy was on to something. There is a concept missing from American and maybe Western life, but it’s not sin, it’s malice. The possibility of sheer malice existing in another worldview, worse, another religion, is what the rise of radical Islam is teaching Westerners, and this is what we nonplused readers of DhimmiWatch will have to take away from all the anxious posts, until our own ox is gored and we are forced into more than just thinking and wondering what to do.

We can recognize malice peering from an individual ne’er-do-well’s mug shot, of course, or maybe in the idea of invaders from outer space. Of course, we are all schooled to recognize malice in the West, in colonialism and war and so on. Malice in a foreign religion, stemming from the religion’s sacred scripture and its founding personality, is something different. It requires some effort to absorb the idea of a holy man telling his flock that proof of the kaffirs’ contumacy lies in their not loving death – if they truly believed their own idiotic faiths, they would want to die and go to heaven. Wanting to live proves the fear of hell and the guilty acknowledgment that the Muslims are right (chapter 2:94). This book is not to be questioned.

That core of malice also makes old stories and former wisdoms seem strangely current. Charles Martel stopping the Moslems at Tours, 732 A.D., is a sunny but lifeless medieval tableau, until we imagine Martel fighting screaming, green-flagged hordes willing, if they were anything like their descendants now, to cut off women’s genitals to keep them "pure." Did he know? Dante put Mohammed in the eighth circle of the Inferno, Canto XXVIII, among the sowers of religious discord. What did he know? At the turn of the 17th century Shakespeare wrote Othello, and made his hero a Moor whose murder of his innocent wife now looks simply like an honor killing. People say he knew everything. Turkish armies were only beaten back from their assault on Vienna in 1683; Harvard University had already been founded fifty-seven years before. When Gibbon wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776, he recorded pronouncements that, thanks to DhimmiWatch, are no longer remote: " ‘We require of you,’" said Abu Obeidah to the people of Aelia (Jerusalem), " ‘to testify that there is but one God, and that Mohammed is his apostle. If you refuse this, consent to pay tribute, and be under us forthwith. Otherwise I shall bring men against you who love death better than you do the drinking of wine ...’ " (Modern Library, Volume 3, chapter LI, p. 161). Samuel Johnson mentioned in passing "the Turkic contempt for women." How did he know? Muslim beys were still enslaving Christian sailors, including Americans, because they were infidels and Islam permits slavery, in the early 1800s.
Then, it seems, came a short period of quiescence and colonialism; then oil money and rage; now, jihad. Along with an appreciation for the capacity for malice of another civilization, the current age is also teaching Westerners, or at least it should, that indeed there are objective truths, and in fact some civilizations are better than others, warts and all. Ours is.

And so, what to do? DhimmiWatch and the blogs and the glamorous successful authors all say "do," they all say "know." I want to know how to balance the need to learn DhimmiWatch’s lessons – naksh, taqiyya, jahiliyya, malice – with the need to distinguish eyewitness reality from panic, and the need not to have all my time enslaved to a study habit which chips away at one’s Western-ness anyway. Keeping in mind that most people are not aware of DhimmiWatch at all and that the progressive types wouldn’t dream of touching it with a clean finger, I think the balance is struck when we put on, as a kind of simple interior armor, a few simple attitudes. These are attitudes that have not required to be explained or even though through for a long time now. They should help the individual recognize and act when his ox is finally gored.

One is that free people are not obliged to help create a Muslim environment from a public space. Even that is a negative freedom, notice; Westerners should also know that they have the positive freedom to say and write anything they like about any religion or ideology whatsoever. But our memories are poor, and it has been a long time since we dealt with a malice that treats its own supremacy as a kind of etiquette challenge for the low-born. And that is before it pulls out a gun. But the simple understanding that Muslim practice needs are not the public’s problem should take care of any bleatings for Muslim-women-only days at public swimming pools, or at the gym at Harvard. That is already a done deal, by the way (February 25, 2008). Anyone who quarrels with this simple assessment, even if he mentions the sacred word tolerance, is saying yes they are obliged.....

Another simple attitude, good I think for politicians to adopt and to announce, is that Islam has no right to subjugate non-Muslim populations. Anyone who quarrels with this is saying, oh yes it does.

Beyond remembering and voicing if need be these two simple attitudes, which harm no practicing Muslim except in the realm of his ego, I think the Westerner who cares about civilization’s future is best off returning to the frescoes of Andrea Mantegna, and such like. Hugh Fitzgerald and Robert Spencer agree: "Start with Shakespeare," one of them advised in a recent post. Know the shoulders on which you stand. Know the whole body, even the – well, even the smarmy hedonism that Walker Percy hated, which has its place. I wish we all enjoyed minds too lofty to care what Britney Spears is doing, but a universe of freedom, technology, leisure, and art stand behind her. So does the entire concept of the free and accomplished Western woman. Let’s think before we diss poor Britney.

Predictions for our future run all over the road, from Theodore Dalrymple’s quiet belief that a faith more than one billion strong is actually too weak at its core to endure more than a few generations, to Bernard Lewis’ and Ba’at Yeor’s agreement that Europe will be an utter Eurabia in less than that same time frame, to the desperate bloggers signing off their posts, "Goodbye, Britain" now. I don’t look forward, as if out of sheer spite, to a day when Islam does not exist. I don’t relish the idea of people of another religion being in constant, suicidal pain because the world is not as their holy writings say it should be. Any devout Muslim could point to Western troops in Baghdad and ask whose civilization is slowly being smothered. But I will keep on consulting DhimmiWatch with my morning coffee, because to be a Westerner now is to come back around to an old concern, after a sort of long historic holiday from it. Malice, truth, freedom and slavery are not abstractions. Neither is diversity. As our ancestors knew, some people and some cultures really are as diverse as hell. Depressing – makes one a bit whiny at times – but there it is. It makes for a strange little thrill in driving to my job at a wine shop. I think, wow ... this wouldn’t be allowed, would it. A strange perspective to have, suddenly. Thanks to all who keep sending stuff in.

The End