Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Love your Enemy: A Novelist's Dilemma

If I had known what it would be like to pore over and over historical accounts of military strategy and weaponry and then attempt, imaginatively, to place myself in the midst the horror and chaos of battle, I might not have planted a certain hint in Volume One of The Maeve Chronicles. Now I am reaping what I sowed: the child Maeve bore (and had taken from her by force) grew up to be Queen Boudica who led several Celtic tribes in an uprising against the Roman occupation in 61CE. In Volume Four, Maeve is in the thick of it.

Apart from my determination to complete Maeve’s epic adventures, what keeps me going is the knowledge that this almost two thousand year old story is also contemporary—a fatal clash of interests and cultures, betrayals and humiliations, violent retaliation that spins out of control, slaughter of the innocent and not so innocent, and the costly victory of an invading, colonizing force over a native population. Sound familiar? It may not be a timeless story. (ie, there may have been times on earth when warfare was intertribal and did not involve significant imbalances of power, wealth, and technical prowess.) But it is timely. The news tells us this story in one form or another every day.

There is an old adage: write what you know. I do not know about battle first hand. I have never lived in occupied territory. But then I have never lived in a whorehouse or witnessed a crucifixion either, and I have already written about both as though I have. A better adage might be: write what you want to know. In the case of writing about battle (at least for me): write what you are afraid to know.

Yet in order to brave this undertaking, I must also call on what I do know: I do know what it’s like to see both sides of a conflict, to love people on both sides of a conflict. I know what it’s like to want desperately to fix something, to change something, and to feel that it’s my fault if I can’t. I know rage and blame. I know grief and anguish. Maeve’s position in this deadly conflict between the Romans and the Celts involves all these emotions and conundrums.

Seven years ago, I began to study Tai Chi Chuan with a traditional teacher who insists we at least understand martial applications, if not employ them. A sometime pacifist, I have found it challenging and fascinating to try to understand a warrior’s point of view. My teacher has told me that I lack killer instinct. I am afraid Maeve does, too. She was the lover and beloved of Jesus. When she shifts shape, she takes the form of a dove. On the eve of a battle she could not prevent and cannot escape, she must ask herself: what does it mean to love your enemy?

For Maeve it means she cannot fight someone unless she knows and loves him. (There is someone who qualifies, but no plot revelations.) Her particular solution can’t be generalized. But her question continues to haunt me as I write her story. And because I am writing this story, the question haunts me when I think about what happened on the Flotilla bound for Gaza. How unknown and threatening the soldiers who boarded the vessel must have appeared. The soldiers also believed, rightly or wrongly, that they were confronting the unknown and threatening. In that moment, no one knew anyone. No one had a name or a story. Neither side was even in the same story. And yet each side had a story of which they were convinced, for which they were willing to die—or to kill.

If there needs to be a reason, maybe that is why I have to write this story, because it has come to me, and I can’t escape it. Because it demands that I do more than have opinions or pass judgment about who is right and wrong. It demands that I place myself imaginatively in the midst of current battles and see myself surrounded by friends and enemies, challenged each time to find a way to love both.


  1. Maave speaking. I am glad Eliz has mentioned a struggle that is her every day reality at the moment. She feels daunted by the task of writing this story. I feel daunted by the task of living it. You may feel daunted when you read it, but we are doing our best to make it worth your while.

  2. you make me think of a new life mantra: "Live Undaunted!" Off to make the tee shirt. :)

  3. Wow, this was such an interesting post on so many levels. Do you ever get confused about which world is real, yours or Maeve's?

    You speak to so many themes that are active in me at the moment. I am so thankful that you give such a multi-faceted view of the issues she is facing. I feel like I want to start asking myself 'what would Maeve do?' for guidance?

    I can't wait to read it!

  4. Your blogs are always rich in a kind of beautiful wisdom that isn't afraid to be puzzled, that isn't ashamed not to know all the answers, that holds the paradoxical tenderly and with compassion. Thank you for encouraging us to go more deeply, beyond cant, beyond the knee-jerk, beyond jingoist politics, to the very heart of things.

  5. This is so wise. In so many conflicts, the participants on both sides are blinded by fear, paranoia and an inability to see from any but their own perspective.

    That was certainly true of the people on the flotilla and of the IDF forces brought to stop it. It also seems to be true of the governments behind both sides.

    Maeve, and you, bring a needed perspective: an attempt to see through the eyes of both sides, or perhaps more accurately, to feel through their hearts.