Thursday, September 27, 2007
Just Say "Non!"
We should pause today and observe a moment of silence to honor the great Marcel Marceau, a man whose fame was based on not saying anything. In remembering him we should acknowledge not only his achievements as a mime, but also this strange irony: Sometimes the quietest people still say the most important things.
In the too infrequent words of Marcel Marceau, “Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us without words?”
Had Marceau talked more, we might have learned sooner that he was a French Jew who narrowly escaped the genocidal madness of the Holocaust, and that his father Charles, who gave to his son a love of theater and music, was murdered at Auschwitz along with more than a million other human beings.
Marceau didn’t say much about his father’s death. Here is what he did say though about the children who were killed at Auschwitz: "Among those kids was maybe an Einstein, a Mozart, somebody who (would have) found a cancer drug," he told reporters in 2000."That is why we have a great responsibility. Let us love one another."
“Let us love one another.” When, if ever, do we hear those words spoken by our celebrities, our politicians, or even amongst ourselves? Those five simple words should pass our lips every day to counter the malicious intent of those who have dedicated themselves to hatred and intolerance.
Marcel Marceau worked with the French Resistance during World War II to help protect Jewish children. Later he was recruited to work as a liaison officer with Gen. George S. Patton’s army because he (Marceau, not Patton) spoke passable English. When he was offstage though, Marceau loved to chat: “Never get a mime talking. He won’t stop.”
(Patton probably replied “Shut up, Marceau-- and quit miming Eisenhower, you know how I hate that).
As a child, Marceau loved the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and the Marx Brothers. One would guess that his favorite Marx brother was probably Harpo, who only spoke in the language of music. Many years later, Marcel said that “Music conveys moods and images. Even in opera, where plots deal with the structure of destiny, it’s music, not words, that provides power.”
In many ways, our world now resembles a Marx Brothers production: Increasingly noisy, frantically paced, and crazy. We should all remember the advice of that famously silent man, Marcel Marceau: “It’s good to shut up sometimes.” If Groucho and Chico could occasionally be quiet, we can too.
Sometimes, though, it is not so good to shut up. In the paraphrased words attributed to many, including Pastor Martin Niemoller (Who refused to shut up and was imprisoned at both the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps) here are some very good words about silence, and the ramifications of silence, which are inscribed at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me- and there was no one left to speak for me.
In Mel Brooks’ classic “Silent Movie,” only one word was spoken, and it was uttered by the great Marceau. It was the single word “Non!” which is the very best word for courageous people to use when confronted by social injustice, religious intolerance and bigotry. Think of it as a kind of spiritual weed-killer to use against hatred.
If you and I will just say “Non,” the bright red flower that blossomed from the hat of the world’s greatest mime will live forever.