I met Václav Havel at a nightclub in Washington, DC. Former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright was there, too. They were simply hoping to enjoy the music of the Czech band, Plastic People of the Universe, but a small line had begun forming at the edge of their table. A line of people wishing to say hello and receive an autograph.
My friend Suzy and I waited in that line. I don’t remember for how long. But when it was finally my turn to greet them, my mind went blank. After a moment of just smiling and staring at Václav Havel (pronounced Vaht-slav), I managed to say thank you and thrust a copy of an article he wrote on the human rights situation in Cuba in front of him. He looked at it and Madeleine Albright confirmed in Czech, what he recognized as his own words translated into English. He signed it almost buoyantly and handed it back to me with a smile. I want to believe we shook hands, but I don’t actually remember if that happened.
I hadn’t intended to write about this. When I sat down, my intention was to write something heartfelt about our current political situation. Something that would address the anger and chaos. Something that would soothe the wounds currently being ripped open. Something that would awaken people to the love within them, goddammit.
I know. What was I thinking? No pressure or anything, dear self.
To this day, I don’t know why I became so drawn to Czech dissidents, like Václav Havel. Maybe it was because they asked questions I’d never heard anyone ask before (hello, Phenomenology). Or because their literature was like no other literature I’d ever read. And a lot of them went to jail for what they wrote. To jail. For writing. I was impressed. And moved.
So maybe it’s appropriate that rather than a lofty blog post, which would probably have just driven me nuts (and possibly you) anyway, Václav Havel came tumbling out of my memories today instead. Reminding me that the simple (but not always easy) acts of writing and asking questions are powerful and necessary. Asking questions, being the most essential, I think.
Keep asking questions. For the love all that is holy. For the love of humanity. For all of us.
“Foreigners are sometimes amazed at the suffering that we are willing to undergo here, and at the same time they are amazed at the things we are still able to laugh at. It’s difficult to explain, but without the laughter we would simply be unable to do the serious things.”
Václav Havel, Disturbing the Peace
(What I'm listening to right now: The Avalanches - Because I'm Me)