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Sister Cecelia Clegg On Forging Peace In Northern Ireland.

Sister Cecelia Clegg, a Scottish Roman Catholic nun, works for peace in Northern Ireland by way of her project: "Moving Beyond Sectarianism," a workshop for Catholic and Protestant congregations to speak about their lives and their differences. In the three years she has lived and worked in Belfast, Sister Cecelia has been viewed as a British outsider to Irish Catholics as well as a Catholic outsider to Protestants. She has overseen "Beyond Sectarianism" from its days as a suspicious program in the midst of a fragile cease-fire peace in 1994 to the present, with her workshops now in demand.


Other segments from the episode on October 9, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 9, 1997: Interview with Cecelia Clegg; Interview with Jacki Lyden; Review of J. Anthony Lukas's book "Big Trouble."


Date: OCTOBER 09, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 100901np.217
Head: Sister Cecelia Clegg
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Peace talks in Northern Ireland began this week, bringing together warring Catholics and Protestants. But it isn't easy to get a dialogue going on a neighborhood level between Catholics and Protestants. That's what Sister Cecelia Clegg is trying to do.

Sister Cecelia is a Roman Catholic nun who grew up in Scotland and was educated in England. She moved to Northern Ireland in 1994, just after a ceasefire made the idea of a peaceful dialogue feasible. Her work in Northern Ireland is part of a larger project called "Moving Beyond Sectarianism" which addresses an international problem: how to end hatred and violence that have resulted from the malignant intersection of religion and politics.

We asked her to share some of her experiences in Northern Ireland. I asked her first if the peace talks have changed the mood in her neighborhood.

SISTER CECELIA CLEGG, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND FACILITATOR, "MOVING BEYOND SECTARIANISM" PROGRAM IN NORTHERN IRELAND: That's difficult, actually, to tell. I think that people are very hesitant. They dare not hope too much with the opening of the talks, though there is a bubbling of relief that we've actually got to first base and that people are sitting down with one another and talking.

But since the second ceasefire of the IRA, there has been a very kind of holding your breath sort of atmosphere around in Northern Ireland; people not daring to hope too much.

GROSS: Were you in Northern Ireland when the first ceasefire ended?

CLEGG: Yes I was.

GROSS: And what was the impact of that around -- in your neighborhood?

CLEGG: People were stunned, literally stunned. I think shock was the biggest impact, and fear. I was actually working with a group of people in Belfast, and what it meant for some of those people who live in an area which has been particularly marked by sectarian violence was that they would have to put grills and bars back on their windows, and to start taking the kind of security precautions that they had been taking before the ceasefire.

And there was real grief and sadness in the people, that they were having to go back to living that way and looking over their shoulders again.

GROSS: So are people living now with the bars back on their windows, or have the bars come back off?

CLEGG: I think the bars mostly have come back off, since we've gone into a period, though everything has happened so fast since the IRA announced its second ceasefire, and suddenly within weeks we are into an actual negotiations process. I think the speed at which things have happened this summer has taken people by surprise.

But I think that the -- by and large, the bars are back off and people have relaxed a little bit.

GROSS: Sister Cecelia, tell us a little bit more about your project and what your hopes for it are?

CLEGG: The project was initiated by the Irish School of Ecumenics because we realized that whereas there had been studies of sectarianism which took in the socio-political and the socio-economic elements, nobody had really sat down and in a systematic way pinned down us as churches to our responsibility for creating and maintaining sectarianism.

And so we have been tasked, myself and my coworkers, have been tasked with researching into what is actually happening and how the churches are functioning within that pattern of sectarianism and what we can do, particularly as churches though not exclusively, to help ourselves and the community move beyond it.

GROSS: Well, and one of your goals here is to bring together Catholics and Protestants, recognize their differences, and somehow respect each other in spite of those differences. Does being a nun make you biased in the eyes of the people you're working with?

CLEGG: I'd like to think that it didn't, but inevitably it does. Because I am professed as a religious sister in the Catholic community, I am regarded very strongly as Catholic, and I make no secret of the fact that I stand within the Catholic tradition.

What is rather odd here is that I happen to be Catholic and British, and so, the Catholic community, which looks more towards the Irish nation as its sort of source, and you know well that the IRA is fighting for a united Ireland and would be seen to be the Catholic side of the argument, though that's not entirely true, because I'm Catholic and British, I'm regarded with some suspicion in certain quarters of the Catholic community.

So I don't fit with the Protestant community 'cause I'm Catholic, and in some quarters of the Catholic community, I'm regarded a little bit suspiciously because I'm British.

GROSS: Do you wear a habit?

CLEGG: No I don't. I'm sitting here in a brown skirt and sort of ginger-colored top and green blouse. I wear ordinary -- ordinary dress of the day.

GROSS: And that's maybe a help in not calling attention to the fact that you're a Catholic nun.

CLEGG: Yes, it is. And I would be quite careful in my dealings with people, particularly in the Protestant community or if I don't know from which community someone comes, not to introduce myself immediately as a Roman Catholic religious sister, because it raises all sorts of pre-conceptions, both in the minds of Protestants and in the minds of Catholics, and I like them to get to know me as Cecelia before they discover that I am a Catholic sister.

GROSS: Well, describe the neighborhood that you first moved into when you moved to Belfast and why you chose that neighborhood.

CLEGG: Well, I moved into a neighborhood which is on the edge of one of the -- what they call the "peace lines" here in Belfast. "Peace lines" is a little bit of a misnomer. They are large either corrugated-iron fences or actual brick walls which separate the two communities from one another.

And I moved right onto the edge of one of these peace lines, so that looking out of my window I could see the peace line and I was just -- just a couple of houses on the Protestant side of it, because that was where I happened to be able to get a flat.

It's a fairly poor area in terms of its physical surroundings, but it would be an area that was in process of regeneration; an area that was marked by some of the worst violence and the highest numbers of actual killings in the north during the time of The Troubles.

GROSS: Are you still in that neighborhood?

CLEGG: No, I'm not. I had hoped to keep my Catholic background quiet in the neighborhood because I knew it would be contentious. But obviously didn't manage to, and had difficulty with some of the local people, and eventually was forced to move from that flat to another neighborhood.

GROSS: What forced you?

CLEGG: Well, the flat was being attacked -- stones at the windows. And I had some Protestant neighbors who went down to see if they could negotiate with the people who were attacking the building, because inevitably stones were flying in all directions and hitting the neighbors' windows and things. And the guy who went down to try and talk to them actually got about -- a brick bounced off him.

So at that point, I realized that I was endangering other people, as well as myself, by wanting to stay there. And so, I moved.

GROSS: And where are you now?

CLEGG: I live on another area which is between the two communities, but it is much less marked by violence. It's in an area of north Belfast which is slightly more up-market -- not too much more up-market, but slightly more up-market.

But still, I want to live, if I can, quite close to the dividing line between the two communities so that I can try and even physically situate myself between the two.

GROSS: I think one of the ironies when it comes to internal conflicts is that the people who are fighting each other; who are each other's avowed enemies, look identical to outsiders. You know, like the Catholics and Protestants look the same and sound the same to anybody outside Ireland. And you know, people who were warring in Bosnia, you know, kind of look the same to everybody outside there. You know -- you know what I'm saying, that...

CLEGG: I do.

GROSS: ... people who seem so close together to outsiders are unable to get together at all.

CLEGG: Yes, and you're pointing to an irony which makes the situation particularly tragic, which is that we share a lot more than actually divides us, if only we could begin to accept that we share a huge amount, and begin to emphasize and celebrate what we do share.

GROSS: My guest is Sister Cecelia Clegg. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Sister Cecelia Clegg. She's living in Belfast, where she's organizing dialogues between Catholics and Protestants.

Now tell me how you bring together Catholics and Protestants for the meetings that you organize?

CLEGG: Well, I try to work through the churches because our brief is to work and feed back to the churches our responsibility for sectarianism. So I began by consulting a number of ministers of different denominations, and then inviting them -- making a proposal about the group work -- and inviting them to participate.

Now, at the time that we began, which was in 1995, the first ceasefire was quite new and things were still very tense. There was still a lot of security activity in Belfast City itself and around the north. The troops had not been at that stage withdrawn from the streets, which they were subsequently, and then they had to come back again onto the streets.

So it -- it was still a very tense situation, and it was an uphill struggle to get anyone to agree to participate, because the thought of meeting with the other community raised all sorts of fears; particularly the fear of "what would my own side say if they knew I was talking to the others."

GROSS: Well how did you overcome that, and start the ball rolling?

CLEGG: Simply by making personal contacts with the ministers, talking with them, explaining to them, and eventually finding two who were willing to take the risk and work very hard at trying to find members of their community who would be willing to take the risk to join in the group work.

I got the pilot scheme going, and it was running -- it was due to run for eight weeks, and it was quite tense because it was in an area that has been really particularly marked by violence. So it was brave of those people to agree to come. And we were meeting at the request of the Protestants. We were meeting on the Catholic side of the divide.

And some of the Protestants were actually afraid that some of their community would find out that they were on the Catholic side meeting and talking with the others. So I mean, it was that much of a strain for them.

GROSS: So the people involved felt that they were taking a risk just to participate in this group. What did you do with them once you got them together?

CLEGG: Well, it's a very structured process. You can imagine if you're dealing with such deep fears in people. We first of all took the group separately. I usually work with a male co-facilitator who is Protestant so that we have male and female, Catholic and Protestant, represented on the facilitation team.

And what we did was that we worked firstly with the Protestant group on their own, and then with the Catholic group on their own -- just to get them in touch with their own identity and to get them to talk through some of their own issues of difference, to begin with.

And then we bring them together in the inter-group situation, and we ask them first of all to think about what stories of sectarianism they could tell one another, and we work with them in separate Catholic and Protestant groups even within the inter-group process.

So we took them separately. My Protestant co-facilitator took the Protestants. I took the Catholic group. And they shared stories of sectarianism, and decided on two that they would be willing to tell the other side in inverti comus (ph). And then we bring them back together again and there is a structured process for telling the stories, and getting feedback from the group who are listening.

GROSS: Are these stories about how they'd been victimized by the other side?

CLEGG: Yes. We've had all kinds of stories -- stories of people who have been forced out of their homes; stories of people who've been attacked; stories of people who've been caught in bombings and how their families coped; stories of discrimination at work -- all kinds of stories. Some of them absolutely would tear your heart out, just hearing them told.

GROSS: So you -- so you've got Catholics and Protestants finally sharing stories with each other...


GROSS: ... about how they've been attacked in some way or hurt deeply in some way by the other side. What does that get you? They're still both victimized by the other side. They're still both angry.

CLEGG: Well, one of the points of the exercise of telling the stories -- it's a structured listening exercise as well. And we're helping people to learn about empathy, so there's a very structured process for response to any story. We ask -- before the story's told, I ask one-half of the listening group to listen for the feelings and the other half to listen for the needs of the person who's speaking.

And then, there's a structured feedback. So there is -- this part of the group work -- that part of the group work is aimed at connecting people and bonding people.

GROSS: You know, it seems that one of the things that keeps internal conflicts continuing is this sense of having to avenge the wrongs of the past. Do you, in these groups, bring up the idea that at some point, you maybe need to stop hanging on to the past and just deal with the present and the future?

CLEGG: I have not actually found that I've had to bring that up. What happens is that once the people start talking to one another and sharing and becoming in some way bonded at a different level, they begin to say that to one another.

It would be -- in my -- from my point of view, it would be presumptuous of me as an outsider to suggest to these people, because I have come to Northern Ireland as a Scot from the outside, to suggest to these people that they need to leave the past and move on.

But it is actually something that they come to themselves. Now some groups come to it quicker than others. It depends on the mix of people and on their experiences. But the process moves on from the story-telling into talking more about what sectarianism is; making their definitions of sectarianism; and then in the early part where I was talking with them about their identity in separate groups, they make out an identity statement at that point under certain headings, and both groups do it.

And then we share the identity statements, and they start realizing how little they actually know about one another, and how many myths and rumors and stereotypes are floating between them which are not true at all.

GROSS: Give me an example of kind of typical stereotypes that you've found Catholics and Protestants have of each other in Belfast.

CLEGG: Well for example, one of the most obvious ones from the Protestant side is that all Catholics agree with absolutely everything that the Pope says, and are directed in what they think by their priests. And when they hear the Catholic group raising questions about Catholic doctrine, and the way the Catholic Church has dealt with things and so on, they begin to realize that this monolith of the Catholic Church that they have imagined is waiting to swallow them up if they move into united Ireland, because that's the big fear -- that, for Protestants, if they -- if they move towards a united Ireland, the Catholic ethos would just swallow up their Protestant religion and culture.

When they see that this monolith actually does not exist in the way that they presumed that it did, it kind of relieves tension.

GROSS: What about stereotypes that Catholics have of Protestants?

CLEGG: One stereotype that Catholics have of Protestants is that they are all absolutely married to the monarchy and the union, and that this is the most important single thing that they can think of, and they wouldn't be critical of either of those institutions.

And when they hear Protestants talking about the fact, for example, that some of them are not monarchists, and would be quite happy to live without the monarchy, it's an immediate shock to the Catholic system, to think that this might be true.

Or to hear Protestants talking about whether they would be willing to consider an arrangement other than the union -- now, obviously not all Protestants do feel that way, but to hear that that is even considered by the Protestant community is a big shock to some of the Catholics.

GROSS: So by talking about the stereotypes that Catholics and Protestants have of each other, you end up talking about their political views, about the role of England, and the future of the country.

CLEGG: Absolutely, absolutely. And that's the actual dynamic of the process. It takes people from their own identity through sharing hurts and stories and learning to empathize and bond, into the whole questions of the present; of the differences that we share.

And very often what happens is that the group will bond very well, and then we'll suddenly get into the whole question of the political situation and how things are moving and what people desire. And there was one group I was working with -- they had been through the process of empathizing and had bonded very well. And they had got to the point where they were trying to help each other to understand where the other stood. And they were really trying to construct a -- an agreed view of history.

And suddenly, it degenerated into what one of the participants described as a "tit for tat" situation of exchanging hurts again. And when they found themselves doing that, they stopped and looked at one another in kind of disbelief.

And there was a sort of shock went through the group -- that here we had worked so hard and thought we got on so well and had bonded, and here we were again doing exactly what people do in Northern Ireland -- exchanging hurts and getting at one another.

And it -- instead of tearing them apart, it made them renew their determination to really understand one another and to stop this exchange of hurts and try and work on their differences. And that group have gone on meeting. Most of our groups do go on meeting once the process is finished. But they've gone on with particular vigor, meeting to talk about their differences.

GROSS: What good to you think this does in the larger picture?

CLEGG: It's very difficult for me to assess that, because I'm so taken up by the process and what's happening for these people, I can sometimes over-estimate what is going on. In truth, what we're doing is a drop in the ocean, but what it is doing for the people who participate in the process is it's opening up a vista of new possibilities, new ways of thinking, new ways of being, and in a sense, new reasons to hope that there are ways through this. And it's giving them the tools to be able to move on.

GROSS: Sister Cecelia Clegg will be back with us in the second half of our show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Sister Cecelia Clegg. Since 1994, she's been living in Belfast trying to open up a dialogue between Catholics and Protestants on the neighborhood level. It's part of her larger project examining sectarianism in the church. Sister Cecelia is a Roman Catholic nun who grew up in Scotland and was educated in England.

One of the inspirations behind this project is to try to explore the responsibility that the churches in sectarian conflicts have for creating or for furthering the conflict. Can you give me an example?

CLEGG: One of the examples on the Catholic side would have been the rules on mixed marriage. It's one thing to want to preserve the Catholic ethos in a family situation, but where you're living in a situation of conflict, to insist on that is to insist on rights of one side over the other in the community. So, that would be one of the areas.

Just trying to think whether there's a very clear Protestant one -- there are some ways in which the Protestant sense of the doctrine of election, of being the chosen people, can lend itself to a sense of superiority, which in a contested situation leads to us claiming precedence over the other side.

GROSS: This reminds me of a point I know you've liked to make, which is that sectarianism is, in a way, a perversion of essentially positive desires -- the desires to belong to a group; to think that your group is -- represents positive values. Can you elaborate on that for us -- how sectarianism is a perversion of essentially positive values and positive desires?

CLEGG: Yeah. What is happening is that we -- as human beings, we have a need for identity and belonging and the freedom to be myself, to be different from you. And what happens in sectarianism is: instead of expressing that identity, which is a positive and natural need, in cooperation with you and in communication with you, I begin to express it over against you as the other. And so that part of being Catholic becomes not being Protestant, or of being against Protestants; and part of being Protestant becomes not being Catholic or being against Catholics.

And the distortion is that when I express my sense of identity, I have to create you as the enemy in the situation, over whom I stand and that gives me my sense of identity.

GROSS: You know, it seems that there's at least two separate levels that the conflict in Northern Ireland needs to be resolved on. One is the purely political level, and there are peace talks going on now; and the other is just the kind of personal level -- how people relate to each other in the neighborhoods as they go about their daily lives. I guess that's the level you're working on.

CLEGG: Yes. It is and it isn't. One of the problems here is that the conflict is not purely a political one, even though we need some kind of a political agreement and settlement which will give us a framework for working at some of the other levels.

One of the difficulties about sectarianism is that -- and sectarian conflict -- is that religion and politics are inextricably intertwined, and then economics enters into the equation, because a number of the areas that would have been most marked by violence are also the most socially-disadvantaged in the north.

So it's a very complex web. But yes, you're right -- we are working at different levels, but I would strive away from seeing anything as purely political.

GROSS: Do you feel like you have to avoid getting too touchy-feely in these things -- avoid from -- oh, everything's beautiful; we should all love each other; we're all the same underneath?

CLEGG: Yes, I would -- one of the areas that I react most strongly to is the kind of Christianity that says: "if only we loved each other enough, everything would be all right; really, we are all one" -- because it is not true.

We actually have different identities within the churches and within our different strands of Christian tradition. And it's absolutely essential, if we're ever going to make our way out of this mess, that people are able to and are encouraged to stand in their own tradition and their own identity and say: "I'm proud to be who I am. We are proud to be who we are. And we believe it is positive. And we are able to affirm you as being who you are."

So any movement to just make us one amorphous mass of Christians, I would resist. Firstly, because it's destined to fail, just even psychologically; and secondly because it takes away from us the very positive aspects of our difference.

GROSS: Sister Cecelia, is there anything in your personal background that has led you to gravitate toward this kind of sectarian conflict?

CLEGG: Part of my training is in psychology; the other part is in theology. I have had to struggle in my own life, personally, to deal with the conflicts inside myself. And I also have a background whereby my mother was -- in Scotland -- was stoned for wearing Catholic school uniform in her young days and would come from a family who felt quite badly at a sort of unconscious level towards Protestants.

So I have been struggling in my own life to overcome the conflicts that I have both personally and from my family background. And I am still struggling. I find it a struggle each day and there are moments when people from the Protestant unionist community say things in groups, and I feel my gut react. So I'm still in a learning process here, too.

GROSS: So when you get really angry, do you feel like you shouldn't show it?

CLEGG: It depends where I am, Terry. I -- if I'm facilitating a group of Catholics and Protestants working together, it is not appropriate for me to show it because I need to be helping them to work on their issues. If I'm sitting at a dinner table with friends, then I have no problem getting angry and letting it show.

GROSS: I want to thank you very much for talking with us about your work. I really appreciate it.

CLEGG: Terry, I've enjoyed the interview.

GROSS: Sister Cecelia Clegg spoke with us from the BBC studio in Belfast. Her project is sponsored by the Irish School of Ecumenics.

Coming up, NPR correspondent Jacki Lyden on her new memoir.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Cecelia Clegg
High: Sister Cecelia Clegg, a Scottish Roman Catholic nun, works for peace in Northern Ireland by way of her project: "Moving Beyond Sectarianism," a workshop for Catholic and Protestant congregations to speak about their lives and their differences. In the three years she has lived and worked in Belfast, Sister Cecelia has been viewed as a British outsider to Irish Catholics as well as a Catholic outsider to Protestants. She has overseen "Beyond Sectarianism" from its days as a suspicious program in the midst of a fragile cease-fire peace in 1994 to the present, with her workshops now in demand.
Spec: Europe; Northern Ireland; Religion; Military; Violence; History; Cecilia Clegg; Moving Beyond Sectarianism
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Sister Cecelia Clegg
Date: OCTOBER 09, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 100902NP.217
Head: Daughter of the Queen of Sheba
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

TERRY GROSS, HOST: There's always so much you don't know about the people you listen to on the radio. I learned surprising things about NPR correspondent Jacki Lyden by reading her new memoir, "Daughter of the Queen of Sheba."

It's about growing up with a mother whose mental illness makes her unpredictable and unreliable, but in her own way, mesmerizing and strong. The New York Times review called the book "one of the most indelible portraits of a mother-daughter relationship to come along in years."

Just before Jacki was preparing for her very first radio broadcast, on an FM station in Chicago, she got a call from her grandmother saying that Jacki's mother Delores (ph) was dead. Jacki's grandmother had gotten a call from someone who said that Delores had been in an accident, and was smashed like hickory nuts on the highway.

The hickory nuts image made Jacki suspicious. It was an image her mother would use because the girls used to enjoy smashing hickory nuts. Jacki suspected her mother made the call herself, using a phony voice. Well sure enough, the Highway Patrol had no report of this accident, so Jacki made her radio debut reasonably confident her mother was still alive, but certain that her mother was missing.

JACKI LYDEN, NPR SENIOR CORRESPONDENT AND AUTHOR, "DAUGHTER OF THE QUEEN OF SHEBA": I was very nervous going live that first night. It was a two-hour program, so it wasn't just like a short cameo appearance. And I remember thinking that as I'm sitting there talking about what seems like an absurdity -- it was about the gold standard, this was back in the late '70s; and unstable tribes in the Middle East; and what all this portended; things I really knew nothing about -- that my mother was out there somewhere.

And I imagine, even though she was in Wisconsin and I was in Chicago, that maybe she could hear my voice, and that maybe that's who I was talking to. You know, they tell young broadcasters -- I'm sure you got this advice -- pretend you're talking to that one special person out there. And I decided that that one special person would be my delusional, disappeared mom.

GROSS: You write, Jacki, that your mother's fierce resistance to getting treated made it difficult to actually get a diagnosis for a long time. What were some of the difficulties you had in actually getting a diagnosis?

LYDEN: When mania of any type is left untreated; when any form of mental illness is left untreated, it becomes more severe. My mother's symptoms at the height of the illness would be hearing voices, seeing things that weren't there, personality that wasn't hers, free association, and in the very, very last stages, speech that was guttural -- speech that you couldn't identify intermixed with regular vocabulary.

All those things, when a psychiatrist first encounters them, you know, when somebody's finally hauled into a psychiatric ward, look like schizophrenia. But that was not, in fact, what was wrong with my mother.

She first became ill -- not that ill, not nearly that ill -- when I was about 12. So that it just wasn't easy for these rural doctors to figure out what was wrong with this woman, and I think also, Terry, that the mental health profession got more savvy. I don't know that manic depression used to be nearly as properly diagnosed as it is today.

GROSS: When she was properly diagnosed and received medication, did it help her?

LYDEN: Potion from heaven -- it was just like the sorcerer's green liquid, I think is what I call it, Terry. It's just -- at least in my mother's case, it's fantastic.

GROSS: You were 12 the first time she had, you know, her breakdown.

LYDEN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: How did it look to you as a 12-year-old, when you saw your mother becoming totally transformed into somebody else?

LYDEN: Well what happened was that when I was 12, in the fall, which is about the time of my birthday, right around that time, I came home from school and found that my mother had vanished, and that my stepfather had taken her off to "the nut house," as my grandmother described it to me.

And my grandmother was crying. My grandmother was a really dramatic, wonderful, wonderful woman. And I didn't see my mother, and my grandmother would drive my sisters and me past the hospital, and I say it was like watching for a character behind the harem's scrim (ph). I mean, we'd look up at the windows and think she must be up there. And you know, we'd see the patients walking around in a state of lassitude on the grounds, but we never saw her.

Only learned later that what she was actually doing was being given what she called "a lot of stupid craft projects."


GROSS: When your mother returned after that first stay in the home for the mentally ill, she shocked you one day by becoming transformed into the Queen of Sheba. Would you tell us about that?

LYDEN: The most shocking transformation that I ever had seen in her delusions -- I was 12 years old and home from school. My mom was home alone. She had only recently come back from the place that we called the nut house, the loony bin, the good ship Lollapalooza. We had all kinds of names for it.

And she was pretty frail that afternoon and depressed, and I thought I'll go into my bedroom and cheer her up. And I was planning on making her a treasure hunt, and reading this book about other cultures -- the Aztec Indians, and dancing with headdresses. And there was a knock on the door, and I opened it and it was my mother.

And she had wrapped the bed sheets around herself and stuck this tiara that we played with as children on her head. And drawn some pencil drawings on her shoulder, and she said: "I am the Queen of Sheba, and I bequeath to each of my daughters a country." To you, Jack, Mesopotamia; to your sisters Kate and Sarah, Thebes and Carthage."

And I -- I said: "Mom," you know, "what are you doing?" And she didn't answer me. She didn't seem to be seeing me. And she just sort of blew me a kiss and kind of moved from side to side and closed the door. And I did not follow her. I laid back down on the bed and just kind of went into a fetal position for a while -- so shocked.

I called my grandmother as soon as I got up, and I said: "you gotta get over here." And I told her what had happened. And she said: "you just stay in your room." Well first she said: "I don't believe you for a second." I said: "it's true. You have to come over here."

And I didn't come out of the bedroom 'til my grandmother came, and by the time she came, my mother was apparently fine. And my grandmother and I never talked about this. She said: "I just don't want you to ever say a thing. You have a big imagination yourself, Jacki."

And I thought, all right, maybe I really thought something up there. And yet, that vision stayed with me. I never saw it again.

GROSS: You said that you and your sisters tried tough love on your mother for a period. What was your version of tough love and how well did it work?

LYDEN: Well, it sure as heck didn't work 'cause we really weren't able to be very tough. There was a Christmas where we were trying to get her in the hospital. She'd been sick for about four or five months, and we'd just had it up to our eyeballs. We were really worn out.

And so we decided to boycott and not talk to her, because at that time, she had started an imaginary business called "Deja Vous Foods" and its motto, which she put on coffee cups, was: "think about me" -- which was so wonderful. But we'd sort of moved past the time of even being able to make jokes about it, and we thought well, maybe we're too indulgent. Maybe that's why she won't go into the hospital. Let's try not seeing her.

And I wrote her a letter and said I'm not going to see you. And unless you get treatment, and this is what you ought to do. And she wrote me back and said: "listen you creep, I'm returning every Mother's Day card you ever sent me" -- and did. You know, I got this whole box of cards -- not only mine that I had sent her, but my sisters' as well. It was just -- it was just shocking.

And then -- and then she very quickly followed it up with invitations to a Christmas fantasy that she was planning. And it was such a heartbreak because every other day I'd get something to this Christmas fantasy party. You know: "bring your own booze" -- and some of it would make sense and some of it wasn't. You know, and so we just hunkered in. My sister came down to Chicago where I was living then, and my mother went ahead with her Christmas feast. We just stayed away.

And I did call her on Christmas Day, and she went into this whole long delusional thing about, you know, the Mafia being outside. And then she was hallucinating and saying: "all is forgiven. Leave them laughing when you go." And I thought what's the point of tough love? And my sister went home and we had decided, all right, this is really heartbreaking, but we're not going to give in.

And of course, she stopped at my mother's and there was my mother, you know, alone at the table with this completely dessicated by now roast and these dried mashed potatoes and, you know, stiff little mounds of cranberry -- completely alone. It was awful.

GROSS: When your mother got well, you say that you missed her Palo. What exactly did you miss?

LYDEN: When my mother was well, she was a divorced woman who had no real career skills; who worked as a waitress, a hotel clerk, took packaging orders I think at one time; worked double-shifts; worked in a weight-loss clinic. This was someone who was spending her 40s drudging through the most wearying sorts of jobs.

Whereas before, she had been a wealthy doctor's wife. And she was suffering. And when she was ill, she was none of those things, you know. I mean, she was always a vivacious, outgoing woman -- sick or well -- but when she was sick, she was so fantastic.

And she gave my sisters and me just this parade of images and writings and costume and sense of drama -- and the sense, Terry, that you can be whoever you want to be -- a phrase that my mother had spoken of a little bit differently when we were children. She would tell us much the same thing by sitting at her vanity and turning to us -- you have to remember my mother's a former model -- and saying: "always remember girls, you are the most beautiful woman in the room" and then she'd turn back.

And you know, in her case, it was true. And we'd -- oh, mom -- you know, sort of decorate her and -- so her fantasies had power.

GROSS: It's interesting to me how you learned to be so capable, so confident -- I mean, so good that, you know, NPR's ready to ship you off into war zones. To cover a war, you really have to be very self-assured and resourceful, not to mention, you know, accurate in a situation like that. And I'm wondering if you think that you became that, you know, competent in spite of your mother? Or, if you needed to become that competent to compensate for your mother?

LYDEN: You know, it took a long, long time to put it all together -- until I wrote this book, I think. But I think that there is a huge correspondence between covering a war and living with someone who's mentally ill. The similarities are that you don't know what will happen; you don't know whom to trust; you don't know if what you just heard is true; you don't know where the threat is, but you know that there's a threat there and you would be foolish to ignore it -- a physical threat.

And that you feel comfortable with chaos. I have to say that it has taken me most of my adult life to sort of extricate myself with too much comfort with chaos; to look for a conflict seemed a very natural thing for me; to be able to empathize with people, I think, is a good thing; to feel comfortable around violence is perhaps not such a good thing, frankly. There are other ways to live than to hear bullets whizzing past your head and that sort of thing.

And yet I feel that I know how to look beyond the immediate aspects of the story. I'm not freaked out by things that are foreign or strange. In fact, I'm dearly attracted to them. And I think that's one of the great gifts of my mother's legacy.

GROSS: You said that your mother doesn't really remember anything about her delusional period, but you've set a lot of that down in your memoir. Has your mother read it?

LYDEN: She has. She's looked at a lot of it and there are things she agrees with and things she doesn't. One of the things I have is that my mother had what's called "scribatiousness" (ph), which is, you know, she -- a lot of this is directly from the -- "scribatiousness" means that you have compulsive handwriting. So a lot of this is directly from those times.

And I think that she feels, even when something makes her uncomfortable, that it is a testament to all these years of trying to find out what was wrong and living this very hard life and being delusional and coming back. My mother's a survivor. She is a fantastic survivor. She's a funny, vivacious, outgoing woman.

GROSS: Well Jacki Lyden, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

LYDEN: Terry, thank you so much. It was a great pleasure to talk to you.

GROSS: Jacki Lyden's new memoir is called Daughter of the Queen of Sheba. She's a senior correspondent for NPR and a regular substitute host for WEEKEND EDITION.

Coming up, book critic Maureen Corrigan.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Jacki Lyden; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: NPR correspondent Jackie Lyden has written a memoir, entitled "Daughter of the Queen of Sheba." It's a tale of her mother, who suffered from manic depression, often imagining herself as various historical and fictional characters. The book also touches on how her mother's illness influenced Jacki's fascination with "exotic" places, including the Middle East. Lyden was stationed in Baghdad as a correspondent during the Persian Gulf War. She is also a substitute host for WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and WEEKEND EDITION on National Public Radio.
Spec: Books; Authors; Media; Family; Health and Medicine; Daughter of the Queen of Sheba
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Daughter of the Queen of Sheba
Date: OCTOBER 09, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 100903NP.217
Head: Big Trouble
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: After seven years of research, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Anthony Lukas finished his final book, "Big Trouble," earlier this summer. And then, overwhelmed by depression, he took his own life.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Back in the late 1970s when the late investigative journalist J. Anthony Lukas began working on "Common Ground," his Pulitzer Prize-winning book about three Boston families caught up in the school desegregation wars, he assumed he'd be writing about the dilemma of race, but the dilemma of class kept intruding.

So when it was time to choose a topic for his next book, Lukas decided to write more explicitly about the ineffable subject of class in America. He trained his super-human research powers on the turn of the century -- a period when struggles between capital and labor were so fierce America came as close as it's ever been to all-out class warfare.

Lukas found the core of his projected new book in the story of the 1905 assassination of Idaho's former Governor Frank Stunenberg (ph). Big Bill Heywood (ph), leader of the Western Federation of Miners and one of the most powerful radicals in the country, was fingered as the mastermind behind the murder, along with two other union associates.

Eventually, Clarence Darrow would defend Heywood in a trial that one reporter, resorting to the typically hyperbolic language of early journalese, called "the greatest trial of modern times." The funny thing is that by the end of Big Trouble, which is what Lukas decided to call his monumental last book, that reporter's claim doesn't seem like much of an exaggeration at all.

The bare-bones of the Stunenberg assassination story look something like this. On a snowy Saturday evening just after Christmas in 1905, Stunenberg walked home from doing errands in the bustling town of Caldwell, Idaho. He opened his garden gate and was blown to kingdom come by a bomb. Though Stunenberg's murder was a shock, it wasn't totally unexpected. He'd received death threats for years.

Stunenberg had been governor of Idaho six years earlier, when he'd put down a bloody, so-called "insurrection" of striking miners by calling in federal troops. Ever since, Stunenberg felt that in the eyes of the Western Federation of Miners, he was a marked man.

Now in the wake of his murder, Caldwell swelled with lawmen, vigilantes, and Pinkerton detectives including the most famous Pinkerton of them all, the 62-year-old James McParland (ph), who'd even been immortalized in a Sherlock Holmes story. McParland soon nabbed a drifter who confessed to killing Stunenberg on Big Bill Heywood's orders.

In an illegal feat of daring, McParland and his crew of Pinkertons kidnapped Heywood and two other union officials from their homes in Denver, smuggled them aboard a train, and sped them over 800 miles of barren prairie and icy rivers to a prison in Idaho. When Darrow arrived in Idaho, Lukas says, a titanic battle ensued between America's greatest detective and America's greatest lawyer -- not only for the fate of Heywood, but for the soul of America.

Big Trouble is a big book -- some 750 pages not counting end-notes. And anyone familiar with Lukas' narrative techniques in Common Ground will know that he piles digression upon digression in order to flesh out the cultural and political context of his story.

Here, in addition to describing the growth of corporations, as well as the socialist and anarchist movements at the turn of the century, Lukas also delves deep into the history of colored regiments in the U.S. Army, fraternal organizations like the Elks and Moose, and the careers of Heywood, Darrow, Ethel Barrymore, and baseball phenom Walter Johnson.

Because a murder mystery lies at the center of Big Trouble, and because Lukas doesn't offer his educated guess on who really done it until the very last page, his Scheherazade-like digressions work not only to enlighten the reader, but to heighten suspense.

Amazingly, Heywood was found not guilty by a jury of unsympathetic farmers after Darrow gave what Lukas characterizes as "a closing marathon oration of 11 hours and 15 minutes in the suffocating heat of a Boise, Idaho courtroom." Before the verdict, Darrow himself thought he had blown the case.

According to his friends, Lukas, too, mistakenly thought he had blown it -- that despite his own marathon feats of research and writing, Big Trouble wasn't the book it should have been. Lukas suffered from chronic depression, and his disappointment in Big Trouble reportedly was a factor in his decision to commit suicide.

If only, like Darrow, he could have hung on until the tide turned.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed Big Trouble by J. Anthony Lukas.

Dateline: Maureen Corrigan; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Maureen Corrigan reviews "Big Trouble" by J. Anthony Lukas.
Spec: Books; Authors; J. Anthony Lukas; Big Trouble
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Big Trouble
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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