The following discusses characters and material from Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. Maybe read that first. Maybe not.
~~~<@ The Rose Garden @>~~~
"It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and apologized to no one."
Don’t cry for Valerie, don’t you dare. Not so small. Dare larger, dare bolder, dare with your whole soul, because she did no less. Fictional as she may be. Terrifying as we may find her world. Don’t cry. Love. Love deeply and endlessly until love bursts open your heart and pushes all that isn’t love away. Until you are left with peace and endless joy. And change. Valerie is the destroyer of worlds, the breaker of chains. If you weep, weep tears of triumph. She tore down the old and planted the new, and if you understand her message she will do the same for you.
The first thing that Valerie ever tells us is that even though she has no idea who we are, even though we might simply be another pain inflicted upon her, she loves us.
Hold that for a moment.
She begins with love because hers is a love story. A love story filled with pain and bigotry and cruelty, a love story framed in a reality filled with suffering on an authoritarian scale, but a love story all the same.
Girl grows into a woman.
Woman meets woman.
Woman falls in love.
And in that story, deep in the heart of it, are roses. Ruth’s roses. Grown from dirt as roses are. Living but for a time, as roses do. Loved deeply as perhaps they were made to be. These roses are the center of a love story at the center of Valerie who is at the center of V’s story who is at the center of Evey’s story who is at the center of V for Vendetta, which sits in the center of where we all were in the real world which, in that time and also today, sits in the center of pain and turmoil and seemingly endless opportunity for loss.
Those roses are love. So hold that for a moment too.
I cannot see Valerie’s face. Not simply because she is fictional. I can’t see her face because she’s not trying to show it. She wrote an autobiography on a roll of toilet paper in a death camp, and I can’t see any of that either. All I can see is an inch. That last inch of integrity which she holds so dear and which drives her to reach out beyond her fear and love a stranger. All strangers. She doesn’t know who we are, if we are a man or a woman, but she’s telling us she loves us. She’s using her last bit of pencil, her last anything, to write a story whose only true purpose is give light and strength, and love to another. Any other.
That, ladies and gentlemen of the shadow gallery, is what we like to call God.
And maybe it is. Maybe it is divinity. Perhaps that integrity is a gift to humanity or perhaps it is what makes us humanity. I honestly do not know.
I find myself not caring.
All I see is that act of unqualified love and the change it inspires. Valerie’s note transforms V from an inhumane science experiment into a force of will that does not stop until the evil around him is broken. Valerie’s note transforms Evey from a terrified victim of her life into a woman at peace, and from that peace transforms her again into the guardian of a new freedom. And Valerie asks us, the reader, to transform as well.
Because I hate to tell you guys, but we’re all going to die alone in a terrible place. True, death can spirit you away gently in the night with nothing more than a kiss of wind to caress you on your way. But for most of us, death comes first with pain. With sorrow. Death brings us into hospitals, and nursing homes, and beds that smell of shit covered in disinfectant. Death comes first with age, and weakness, and loss. Death arrives as a terrible place, and it asks for us by name. Calls us to step alone through its jaws and into...whatever lies beyond.
Long before then, Death comes in little bites; taking away our loves, our sacred places, and the joys of our youth. It gnaws at us for decades. We are all sick with death from the moment we are born. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
And roses grow in the earth.
Ask Valerie, there in her damp cell, bald and shuddering, about your earthly concerns. Ask her. But what about pain, Valerie? What about suffering? What about betrayal? Your parents betrayed your nature. Your government betrayed its oath. Even your love, your Ruth, even she betrayed you in the end. What about your terrible place, Valerie, it’s here and it’s coming for you soon, and it is as evil as any tragedy humanity has thought fit to create.
Ah, well, …”it seems strange…”
That’s all? That’s it? Strange! A death camp is strange?
Yes, throw any of your mundane concerns against that last inch of integrity and they become nothing but ‘strange’.
Oh then, what is important? Ask her. Ask Valerie, what is important? Hmmm? If millions dying in an industrialized machine of torture isn’t worth your integrity, what is? If holocaust won’t steal it, what will? What can? What is so goddamn important, Valerie?
“...for three years I had roses and apologized to no one. "
There it is. There it is.
Take her whole life, from the ache of being born an outsider to the terror of dying alone in hell. Show all that to her, and she points to three years of love. That, right there, that’s my life. That’s the important bit. Do you see it? It’s so short. But it’s everything.
Why are you crying? What aren’t you doing the same?
It’s not an either/or situation. Valerie doesn’t shy away from the reality of her fictional existence. She tells us everything she can in the brevity reserved for those moments that are at the end of all our moments. She does not hide. She is not afraid of who she is. She rolls who she is up on a sheet of toilet paper and shoves it through to the other side and in that action tells us more than her autobiography ever could.
She is love. Hold it again if you can.
She’s the kind of love that brings you peace. The love that stares into oblivion and greets it as an inevitability that changes nothing. She’s the love that breaks down tyrants, raises up a people, and allows the sun to part the clouded skies.
She doesn’t give up her inch of integrity because she is able to accept her death and move beyond it. To see her death as permission to live. Permission to accept the joy she has experienced as the true center of her life. And permission to make a change.
Knowing you will die allows you to accept that you are truly alive. Accepting you are truly alive allows you to accept your right to change this world for the better.
We’re all dying anyway, best get to making this place as good for everyone else you can. It’s the only the bit that matters. It’s the only bit that survives.
V takes that permission and turns into a force of vengeance. He breaks the Norsefire government, but he breaks Evey too. Knowing no way to share Valerie’s message but through his own trauma, he inflicts it upon her. Not a hero then, but a message. Evey takes that permission and finds peace. Finds permission to leave V as a mystery, to shroud his wrongs in a symbol for change and integrity. To become that symbol and move forward into a brighter day.
You have Valerie’s permission, too.
You know your life, I do not. You know the circumstances of your world. I do not. You can see your history. I can too.
I see that you started in dust, that you will end in dust, and in between, somewhere, somewhere...I hope you have roses. If you don’t, or even if you do, I give myself permission to share mine with you.
Share them, too.
And we should both probably strive harder to remember the second half of Valerie’s summary. The part that’s so much harder for me to fathom. I can see the value of roses, see the value of framing your life upon the love that you have shared no matter how brief. But this…
“...and I apologized to no one.”
That keeps me up at night.
For in my youth I took that as a commandment for defiance. To embrace the righteous passion that screams in the face of violence and grants it not even a single step more on its path. Apologize to no one for your love, tear down those who would tear down the roses. Fight! Fight! Always fight.
I wonder though if there’s not another side to that mirror. What if it was never about someone else deserving her apology? What if Valerie never apologized simply because she had nothing to apologize for? For three years. Can you imagine? To never once commit an act that harmed or hurt another. To go three years and never cause unwelcome pain? Three years and never a doubt that you spoke even a single word in sin?
I cannot. I cannot fathom ever doing so.
So I hold on to the first part as dearly as I can. Surrender little by little to the surrender that grants peace and determination. Surrender to the one inevitability so that all other good things become not just possible, but inevitable as well. Inevitable because you are the one who will create them.
We are not told the end of Valerie’s life as she lived it. We only know how she ended her story with us. She loved us, she wished us and the world well, and then she kissed us goodbye.
Feel that kiss. Hold it for a moment. Let it land right on your tears and drink them all away.
Far, far beyond, to where we shall forever not be, to where we can look back and see all our lives.
~~~<@ The Rose Garden @>~~~