It started like any other birthday of mine, except it has never been a 64th before. I was greeted by my wife first and I enjoyed the nice thoughtful present she gave me. I was looking forward to a quiet, relaxed day ending with a fine dinner, just the two us.
Later in the morning family members living “at home” and on this continent as well, called me to congratulate me. As I said, it was the same as it happened in the last several years…
I was contemplating to write something about the interesting fact that this day (November 13) has been declared the Day of the Hungarian Language. For me, as a Hungarian-speaking linguist, journalist, author, translator and also former teacher of that language, it seemed almost to be a “sign” or something related to more spiritual realms that the day of my mother tongue is exactly on my birthday. I used to make a living because I know how to write in Hungarian, I used to translate into Hungarian, I came to know the world looking at it through the prisme of the Hungarian language. That’s the language I use when talking to my mother or to my son: it’s the link between the generations. This year the Day of the Hungarian Language was even more joyful since the first time even my fellow Hungarians from Transylvania, where I was born, could celebrate it officially: the Romanian parliament’s decision approved it as a holiday, which is indeed a nice gesture… and, probably, the only sane thing done by that assembly in the last couple of years.
While I had all these ideas in my head, I also remembered that a dear former student of mine from the seventies of the last century, also celebrates his birthday on November 13. Those memories of my long gone teaching days put me in a nostalgic mood and looking back further and further into the past I added some more data and photos to our family tree. And as the day was passing, from time to time I checked – what else? – Facebook, which told me exactly each time how many people posted to my wall as a result of FB warning them about my celebration. Wow, together with those that sent private messages and/or email… the number is well over hundred. I wasn’t able to decide whether to be proud(?) of that number or see it just as an aspect of our dependency on social media, so, still undecided, I booked a table at one of the best restaurants in our village. I was envisioning a “birthday stake” for a change.
Then the first breaking news from Paris started to come. It is sad but this day will remain in our history as the day of the terrorist attack in Paris. I was just as sad as all of you: the death of innocent people always makes me angry and feel helpless. Yes, Paris has a special place in the heart of most of us – it is the city of light, it is the city of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (and all the modern societies and states rely to some extent on those ideas) and, of course, the city of love and lovers. In Hungarian we even have a poem written in 1789 that calls us to keep our eyes on Paris where the social changes, a.k.a. the great French revolution, were happening. That line is remembered by all of us that went to Hungarian school, so it’s kind of common knowledge we should watch what’s going on in Paris. However, seeing the world wide attention, I couldn’t help but think about the attack and killings in Beirut, Lebanon a day before, and about the Russian plane that was recently blown up by the same fictive state, killing 240 people. Why didn’t we feel the same outrage? Why is our grief and mourning so selective? – I don’t have an answer.