I have always loved the Iris, especially the traditional one, purple with a sensuous golden center. It has an innate beauty in the way
it grows and develops, and it’s wonderfully smart in the way it blossoms. So it was with one of the flower’s namesakes, Iris Chang. She was a diligent and perceptive
historian who was also a gifted writer. Her 1997 Rape of Nanking became a best-seller and catapulted her to celebrity status which she used in her passionate and eloquent pursuit of historical justice.
Eleven years ago, on November 9, 2004, Iris Chang put a bullet in her head and ended a charismatic 36-year life.
I knew her from a few telephone conversations and a couple of meetings over tea and coffee. I didn’t know her family. I didn’t
go to her memorial service because I don’t go to funerals.
They say she was depressed; they say she was self-shattered from the depths she explored of humans’ horrific treatment of other
humans. She left a note asking to be remembered as she was: ‘engaged with life, committed to her causes, her writing, and her family’.
I don’t understand depression with any clarity. It seems to be like a virus that re-programs the operating system of the mind and
elevates one of an individual’s selves that typically only wanders in the deepest, darkest shadows of the memory. And I’m unclear about suicide as well. I’ve
written about it – from a deformed death-row inmate who opts for it to taste a freedom of self-choice he’s never had, to a woman who discovers that her mortality
will coldly erase all that is her life and opts for it, to at least hold the eraser herself and warmly blank out all that she is.
These are created characters that lived within me. I didn't know how to paint such a profile of Iris Chang. I’m still at a loss.
And as with all deaths, self-inflicted or not, I acquired another irrevocable sadness.
She was a bright light, and when it burned out, there was just that more darkness to live with.