by Nick Fracaro
America was in the middle of the Civil War when Lincoln declared that the fourth Thursday of November would be celebrated as the national holiday of Thanksgiving. Over the informal gatherings at various dinners and events this holiday, I have discovered that the contemporary “war” being discussed has begun to provoke complicated divisions among individuals who would normally be aligned. Professors in universities tell us how difficult it is to speak about American culpability in acts of terrorism with both their students and fellow professors.
This developing civil war of thought belongs more to each individual’s own complicated relationship to America than to any real division among one another. After long years as a dissident, Vaclav Havel came to understand the regime he fought was not something imposed from the outside but was the result of a division of self that existed within him and each of his countrymen. Within himself and within each of his peers was a part that supported the system right beside another part that opposed it.
Mac Wellman in an essay too easily claimed peers when he termed the opposition Geezer Theater. All of us live within and support one and the same theater world and system. Whether brat or geezer, each is complicit in its perpetuation. Tennessee Williams’ character Brick provides a truer description of Big Daddy’s theater world. “Mendacity is a system that we live in.”
I ambivalently attended an event on Saturday night that friends and peers had organized:
The Healing Arts Coalition presents "Acts of Kindness" a FREE performance The theater community's gift to Philadelphia to help heal the pain of Sept. 11th.
When I was nine, I got a Daisy BB gun for my birthday. Out in the woods later that day a robin landed in the tree branch above me. I took aim at its breast and shot. The bird fell dead at my feet. Suddenly another bird swooped down at me from the tree missing my ear by inches. Then it sat on a branch above me screeching a moment before swooping down at my head again. When it attacked me a third time I ran toward home in fear. On the way home, the fear would transform into horror when I realized exactly what I had done. It was springtime and the birds in the area had paired and begun nesting. The robin that attacked me was just trying to defend its fallen mate by chasing me away.
I grew up a farm boy. I would learn how to hunt and raise animals for meat. Killing animals eventually became easy for me, almost natural, I guess. But this one incident would always haunt me. Much like my own personal Original Sin. Any grief I was to suffer over the years when losing family or friends that I loved would be tinged with the guilt and full knowledge that I was both the perpetrator and victim of my fate, as well as that of others.
Today alone 24,000 people in my world will die from starvation. And tomorrow and so on. On the sidewalk in front of my local firehouse in Brooklyn, neighbors daily place fresh flowers to commemorate those lost on September 11. While on the sidewalk directly across the street, a well-fed, overweight homeless man nightly erects some cardboard boxes to sleep beneath.
The pain I wish to heal is not something that can be healed with ten thousand acts of kindness. I seek an art as cruel and unsentimental as a surgeon’s knife.