So I don’t remember my parents ever actually lying to me. At least, I never caught them doing so, which amounts to the same thing. I suffered the usual heart-rending Santa Claus disillusionment at their hands, but that was a lie perpetrated by the whole culture. And, as lies go, that’s a good one; the world needs more kindly, fat and jolly old gentlemen whose only job is to spread joy (and presents. Let’s face it – for a kid, it’s all about the presents. All that goodwill-toward-men and baby-Jesus stuff is what you have to mouth to get the Easy-Bake Oven on page 257 of the big Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog that you’ve been lusting after for months).
Then there was what might arguably be called the lie about my beloved Grampa smiling down at me from the soft puffy white clouds of heaven. That, too, is a comfortable social security blanket. That, too, is an OK story to tell a child; one is not always ready at the age of 10 to face the stark realities of life and death. Hell, I’m 55 now, and still not ready to face them.
I was the first grandchild, and the apple of the Old Man’s eye. Grampa would show up in his big white convertible (a Pontiac, maybe? Light blue interior, with a magnetic gold Saint Christopher medal on the dashboard) and whisk me away for a “vacation” – a pampered weekend at his house, just across the border in Vermont. He drove really fast, or so it seemed to me, with the top down and his billowy white hair blowing in the wind. I always felt like Cinderella. My mother tells me I learned to work the Fairy Godmother angle pretty well, too – I’m said to have called my grandmother pleading for escape, saying “I can’t get any privatation in this house.”
I’m 55 now, and I still don’t have any privacy. Where is my Grampa when I need him?
The lie I remember my parents telling was this: One of my grandmothers was named Inez. The other was Pauline. My given name, Eileen, was announced as an artful thoughtful combination of those. Both matriarchs were honored and pleased, and I learned very early how to throw the constructive creative bull.
Even if they’d named me Paulez, I’d have turned out OK.
I have to wonder about little Messiah McCollough, though, born in Cocke County, Tennessee (No lie. No immaculate conception involved here — just a 443 square-mile phallus).
Messiah’s unmarried parents (and don’t you be looking down your nose – the Virgin Mary got pregnant out of wedlock, too) took each other to court over his name. Thank God! you say. But their legal dispute was over the boy’s last name; mother and father agreed that their baby was indeed a “Messiah.”
At the hearing last month, Judge Lu Ann Ballew took issue with the Messiah (never a wise move). “The word ‘Messiah’ is a title, and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person, and that one person is Jesus Christ,” she explained. She said the name would be offensive to Tennessee Christians. She ordered that Messiah should henceforth be called “Martin McCullough,” a combination of the parents’ last names.
Lu Ann Ballew blew it. She needs to read that bible she’s bellowing about. Her blue-eyed fair-skinned American Jesus does not hold exclusive trademark rights to the word Messiah. In Hebrew, Mashiach means Anointed One – a salvo that was rubbed generously on the egos of most of the kings in the Old Testament.
Here’s the thing: A legal precedent has now been set. Since the Greek translation of Mashiach is Christ™, Ballew will need to spend the rest of her distinguished career changing the names of every Christine, Christy, Christopher, Christen, and Christian in Christendom. Fair is fair.
And stupid is stupid. Last year, according to the Social Security Administration, more than 700 Messiahs were born in the USA. Fourteen hundred American parents sired saviors! – and there was nary a wise man in sight.
“Labeling this child Messiah places an undue burden on him that, as a human being, he cannot fulfill,” said Ballew. Would she say the same for little Jihad Bagour of Nimes, France, who technically could in fact live (or die) up to his name?
Jihad’s mother wound up in court after sending her three-year-old son to nursery school in a T-shirt that read, “Jihad: Born September 11– I am a bomb.” Bouchra Bagour was found guilty of condoning a criminal act, along with her brother Zeyad, who bought the child the T-shirt. She was fined and given a suspended jail sentence by a French court this past Friday.
“It’s just his name,” said she. “It’s just his birthday. The Bomb just means something is beautiful. I didn’t think twice about it; I just thought it was funny.”
Stupid is just stupid.
Lawyers for the Mayor of Sorgues had no patience with all that justification. “Idiocy is often the best alibi to hide our real intentions,” said Claude Avril. “The most scandalous aspect of this is the manipulation of a three year-year-old to convey the words of terrorism.”
“Dumb like a fox,” is how my Father who art back in New England puts this. Never trust someone who blinks his eyes at you in innocent amazement, saying “Oh! But that’s not at all what I meant!” implying that you are to blame for misunderstanding. Trust that you are being played like a violin. Trust that you are the dumb one. Trust that you haven been out-foxed.
Bouchra Bagour is also a fox in The Bomb sense of the word. She’s got that sophisticated French sort of austere urbane beauty that intimidates the hell out of us insecure American women. As mothers go, she doesn’t have that warm fuzzy loving look. She looks like she’d name her kid Holy War and then expect him to obediently blow himself up at the preordained time.
Jihad, like Messiah, is a word rich in meanings. I will try to get it right so as to avoid a messy death at the hands of some offended Islamist. Most MIRTH readers, when offended, simply unsubscribe – which does kill me, but not in a strewn-body-parts sort of way.
The “greater jihad” is the inner struggle by a believer to fulfill his religious duties. I’ll buy that – true faith is always at war with reason. I pretended to believe in Santa with all my might that last year, to avoid hurting my parents’ feelings. I wanted to keep the faith. I wanted them to continue to believe that I was a nice unspoiled girl (they know better, now—but I still worry).
It’s the “lesser jihad” that is the physical struggle against the enemies of Islam. Filling an innocent three-year-old with the shrapnel of hate and bigotry falls under this category. I will not think the less of little Jihad if he turns from lesser struggles to greater ones. With luck, he’ll one day be able to change his name to Martin and save himself. With luck, he’ll sit at pleasant dinner parties with friends and say, “You think YOUR mother was bad? Wait ‘til you hear this!”
Without luck, we’ll read about him and his strewn body parts on the front page some day.
Lucky for us, there were only 34 Jihads born in the US last year. We’ll count on our 700 Messiahs to save us. I like these odds.