Saturday, 28 July 2012

Public Mourning

I think today was summed up by that favourite word of mine...dianafication. For those unfamiliar with the noun it is: our seeking of a shared public grief at any given opportunity. Today we witnessed an example of such in the form of a memorial to the Murrah building attack of 1995. This was, of course, when one American citizen, dissatisfied with the 'bullying' tactics of
his government took action by blowing
up a federal building killing 168 people, many of them children.
I am already aware that some of my English friends reading this might be questioning my decision to take an 11 year old and a 6 year old to such a 'tourist attraction'. My daughter was taken with the educational proviso of being tasked with making her own decision as to whether she believed the memorial to be fitting and appropriate while the youngest tagged along, listened to the 10 minute presentation then promptly 'needed a poo' thus enabling him to get mum on her own to pronounce his judgement: 'I don't want to go back there mummy, it's too sad'.

I have come to consider the appropriateness of grief in recent years and had many discussions with friends about 'public grief'. At what point does public grief become a spectacle or simple an excuse for people to jump on the grief bandwagon.
I have friends who strongly believe that the right to mourn the death of a family member is the right only of those closest to that person, those who have played a role in their life. Others have taken comfort in the shared grieving that takes place on Facebook. However I do believe that while we, as English people, have many memorials and monuments to historic events, we do not mark them in such a major way as Americans.

The Murrah memorial comprises not one but 8 component parts including two huge gates each marking the two seconds between which the bomb exploded, 168 giant statuesque chairs depicting the empty chairs now left at the dining tables of the victims's families, a reflective pool, a survivor tree, a fence incorporating well-wishers' personal tributes, a survivors' wall of names and a museum depicting the whole story.
My daughter offered her considered opinion today saying she felt the empty chairs were very 'touching' especially as those representing the children who died were fittingly smaller. But, she concluded, did they need a whole museum about it?
Do they?
My American friend puts the convincing case that this was the first incident of its kind, differentiated from 911 even in the fact that it was an incident perpetrated by a citizen of the country against his fellow men, and that, in her opinion and those of the survivors involved, the erection of the memorial was essential to ensure that the lives of those people were marked and remembered forever.
I considered comparative incidents and how they have been marked in Britain...Aberfan? A disaster which killed 116 children and 28 adults although not the fault of one person. Fred West? There popular opinion decided it was best to mark the deaths he had caused in a subtle way so as not to immortalise him.
Perhaps we should remember that the bigger we mark the tragic event the longer we will remember en masse the act of a perpetrator who might best be forgotten?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Can't Believe I'm in Texas

Yee Haw! We're experiencing life as a member of an ethnic minority. I can't say that we've experienced any negative reactions to our vampirishly pale skin, dark hair and, of course, 'funny British accents'. No, I suppose the main response from people here is to treat us like novelties, persistently asking us to speak so they can hear that 'overseas talk'. Going through the supermarket today our friend's eldest, Samantha, stopped at two boys she knew. Without looking at us she said to her mother: "Mom. Make them talk British."
In today's Global community this quaint fascination in this town with the Brit factor is as fresh now as when I first visited Texas 23 years ago.
The supermarket encounter made me question what other things have remained the same since that first visit. This thought was further fuelled by the news that during our trip I would be going back to Dallas, the city where I lived, worked and even had a minor car crash (!) when I was 21...not far off the age that Samantha is now. How would life as a 20 year old Texan, born and bred in the state, compare to my memories of being a visiting student?
We'll see.
After only a day in Pampa, situated in the barren, windswept cowboy country of what is known as The Panhandle, I have been reminded of so many of the things that I realise many people, including fellow Americans, hate about Texas but which I love.
The Texan drawl, the 'Y'alls randomly thrown into sentences like we Brits throw in swear words.
Then there's the enveloping heat and the 'traditional' heavy interior design (no Ikea here).
But these are superficial things. I'm here to investigate, absorb and analyse the many more deeper differences from health, diet and fitness to schooling and, of course, politics.
I get to Texas on average once every 4 years. I'm in my element not chilling on a beach holiday but consuming culture (sometimes literally) and absorbing the way of life and I am privileged to have like-minded friends in the Kellys who see the huge benefits of being able to expose our children so deeply to another culture. It's not for everyone but it sure is for me and hubby...y'all!

....more to come