In the Body of the World and the City of Joy
If Memorial Day is the bridge between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as metaphorically and calendarically it is, then Eve Ensler’s In The Body of the World: A Memoir is the text the day. It can be read in a single sitting, though it presents an emotional challenge to do so.
I would not wish this book on anyone, but I think everyone should read it. Ensler has captured, painfully and poetically, the nature of a war between the body and the world which violates the maternal and the paternal in the same acts. Rape and Cancer are the gods of a world in which violence and degradation define the relationship of the person to the earth and persons to one another.
Memory, as Sigmund Freud or Jonathan Lear or Marshall McLuhan before her have each reminded us, plays tricks sometimes as a way of protecting us from pain, sometimes as one more instrument of evil in the world. And it is those subtle twists of memory that are celebrated on Memorial Day, as though remembering the dead will disguise or hide from us the ways and whys of their dying so that we can heal even if they cannot. Ensler recognizes that road but she won’t let us go down it.
At its center, the memoir weaves Ensler’s growing championing of the Congo catastrophe into the story of her battle with uterine cancer. Like Teresa D ‘Avila, she walks through the mysteries of learning to love while experiencing hate and evil and disease. Like Terry Tempest Williams, she uses language in ways that often seem beyond magical, helping us to laugh at pain, to cry in joy in the midst of sorrows.
There is cancer and there is Cancer. Even those of us who have had a passing dance with cancer can barely imagine the courage and providence of Ensler’s battle and survival. There is rape and there is Rape, though the difference is not one of degree, but rather of the microcosmic and the apocalyptic. The rape of women in Ohio, or Rio, or India are the grimy lens of the millions raped in Africa from Liberia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and they are the mirror of the rape of the earth.
The providence in Ensler’s survival rings out in her closing words which have already begun to gather around the campaign which just may yet offer redemption in “one billion rising.”