We had a death in the family yesterday. Oh, no person passed away, but a relationship died.
I’m not going to identify the person in question, at Mark’s request. Suffice it to say that this is a relation by marriage. This is what happened. Yesterday morning, I was still in my pjs, hanging on the couch with my coffee and Facebook. I happened to look at a post by the friend of another relative in the same branch of the family. The topic on this post, as on so many others, was the ongoing protests over the systemic racism in the USA. One of the comments was about the autonomous zone (should that be capitalized?) in Seattle. The person in question commented as follows: “Kill them all! Let God sort them out.”
I knew that this part of Mark’s family was conservative, right-wing self-described “Christian,” and very into guns, but I mean – words fail me. Folks, that doesn’t happen often.
I know the origin of this phrase, although I have no idea whether the poster does. It’s attributed to a French Cistercian monk named Arnaud Almaric. Almaric was the official representative of the ironically-named Pope Innocent III, who promised in 1209 that anyone who went on crusade against the Cathars, a group of French Christians who had rejected some tenets of Roman Catholicism, could keep the land they seized. French nobleman Simon de Montfort decided to take the Pope up on his offer and attacked a town in southern France, Béziers, where the Cathars and Catholics had lived together peacefully for years. The invaders showed up on July 22, the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene, which Cathars and Catholics observed together. The Catholics of Béziers refused to surrender the Cathars to de Montfort. The invaders then attacked. Reportedly a soldier asked Almaric how they could distinguish between fellow Catholics and Cathars. Almaric is quoted as responding, “Kill them all. God will know his own.” So they did. And over the next 40 years, roughly 1,000,000 people were killed in this bloody domestic crusade.
The epithet has refused to die. American Special Forces adapted the phrase into its current form during the war in Vietnam. It was also the name of Metallica’s first album. The phrase continues to be associated with massacres and genocides.
And here it was on Facebook, posted by a relation. I showed it to Mark, who was as horrified as I was.
Virtually every family, I suspect, struggles with what to do with members who say horrible things. Excruciating conversations at holidays, for example, are commonplace. I had one uncle who always got drunk and loud and obnoxious at Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. That was fun. But many of us are struggling now with how to handle relationships with family members who are advocating what can only be described as evil. Usually, in our situation, this comes from people who consider themselves to be Christian, even though their statements and actions would have poor Jesus whirling in his grave if he were still in it. How are we supposed to handle this?
Mark decided to handle it by cutting off the relationship with the person in question. He sent a message saying that we never want to see that person again. This practically is not a big deal, as these are not people with whom we’ve spent a great deal of time. In fact, I’m not sure I could pick the poster out of a lineup. But are we part of the problem by ceasing to engage? It feels like there’s a yes in there, but it also feels like there’s a boundary that just can’t be crossed. I’m all right with that, and Mark seems to be, too. But it also feels like a loss, like an ending. It feels like a death in the family.
I decided to deal with the hubbub by baking the apple pie pictured above. Butter and sugar are comfort foods, right? If I do say so myself, it turned out pretty well. Of course, I made a complete mess in the kitchen while cooking, which leads me to wonder why anyone would use the phrase “apple pie order” to describe cleanliness and order. And it also brought up a memory from childhood. My brother, who’s nine years older than I, was a child of the ‘60s. He dropped out and tuned in, growing his hair long and protesting the war. All of these behaviors drove my conservative WWII veteran father crazy. The specific memory that came to me was when my brother put up a quote from H. Rap Brown on his bedroom wall: “Violence is as American as apple pie.” In truth, Brown said “cherry pie,” and my brother used a sheet of cardboard for his sign that had come in my dad’s shirts from Munro’s Dry Cleaners, but we were a bit behind in Beaumont. Anyway, it took Dad and my brother years to find some equilibrium with each other. Some of those scars never healed.
As we sit down to pie today, I have no idea whether this death in our family will ever heal, either. All I can say is this: if you’re in the same situation as we are, there’s a slice waiting on our table for you.