How Do The Birds Still Sing?

I had been procrastinating on this visit for, well…years. It was Miss Cookie, my friend of eons and more, who came for a short visit that prompted me to rip off the band-aid so to speak. There was never going to be a good time. There was never going to be a time where my head would be in the “right” place to receive the horror without profound effect on my heart.  Of course there wouldn’t be…

Oddly enough, even the weather knew.  It was almost bone-chilling cold.  The skies above our nation’s capital were a somber gray, not a hint of blue to be seen.  In fact, spits of rain threatened to turn into sloppy snowflakes later in the day.

As we waited on the metro platform Miss Cookie posed the question yet again:  “Are you sure you want to go there?  After all, I’m just here to see you…no need to do any touristy stuff.”

“I lived here for more than fourteen years and never went and now that I am back in the area I cannot put it off any longer,” was my reply.  “I don’t know why…I just feel It’s necessary, especially with what just happened.”

Miss Cookie nods in silent understanding.  The attack and murder of Jewish worshipers at The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh had happened just a few weeks before.

After a small hiccup on our metro journey into downtown we disembarked at The Smithsonian metro. It took a moment to get our bearings before we headed in the direction of our purpose.  Bundled cozily enough against the cold it would only be a short walk…eight minutes or so.  Our pace was quick though in hindsight I should have slowed to a stroll ….taken my time…but that meant delaying the inevitable.  I cannot procrastinate any longer on this.  I was not about to turn around no matter how tempting it would be.

And then, there we were.  Standing in front on the one museum that I’d avoided for years…

The Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and author of some 57 books, including Night which describes his experience as a prisoner in both the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps said:

“Better than one heart be broken a thousand times in the retelling, if it means  that a thousand other hearts need not be broken at all.”

This museum, and many others like it…as well as countless books and movies about the Holocaust…all are an integral part in this constant, necessary retelling.  The reason is painfully obvious…

“A destruction, an annihilation that only man can provoke, only man can prevent.” ~ Elie Wiesel

And so, our self-guided visit began with a docent whose parents were survivors of the calculated annihilation that would take more than six million souls.  She told us her brief story while a group of us queued-up in the elevator that would take us to the fourth floor (in keeping with the chronological timeline, it’s recommended to start at the top floor and work down).  Just before getting on the elevator folks were directed to pick up an “identification card” from a large bookshelf containing hundreds upon hundreds of cards.  Each card told the story of a real person who lived during the Holocaust.  My card told the story of Monique, who thankfully survived the Holocaust.  She and her parents were among the lucky ones; they emigrated to the U.S. in 1950.  I will admit to breathing a heavy sigh of relief that the card I held told of a “happy” ending.

Miss Cookie and I would spend over three hours in the museum.  At first, I was peeved that what seemed like hoards of school kids were at the museum.  I’ve been to countless museums where groups of school kids behaved less than desirably.  In most cases they would be loud, obnoxious and, well….generally rude.  But this time I was truly moved by the hush of every young soul that toured the memorial.  There were times as we moved from one brutal image to another…or one exhibit on to the next…that you could hear a feather drop. The air was thick with a sobering reverence to be sure.

As we wound our way through each floor my heart, of course, grew heavier and heavier.  The exhibit of thousands of pairs of shoes worn by those souls who were exterminated made my stomach turn.  Though only a moment, it seemed like hours that I leaned against the wall staring at those shoes.  Every fiber in my being struggled to process what was left of the unimaginable horror some seven decades ago in the deliberately staged, and undeniably veritable scene of personal effects just inches away from me…

Shoes.  Shoes survived the horror. 

There are loonies (yes, absurdly idiotic folks) who firmly believe that the Holocaust did NOT happen.  Their minds are firm: There was no coordinated, systematic genocide of more than two thirds of European Jews, or their sympathizers, nor political activists, homosexuals, people of other races, the disabled,or, in effect, anyone whose looks and beliefs were in opposition with the Nazi regime during World War II.  They disregard, for example,  that entire towns were wiped off the map….more than SIX MILLION PEOPLE, murdered.  Such people claim that the six million count was wildly exaggerated…..that there are no credible records…no real “paper trail” to support the “claim”….no gas chambers….etc. etc.

Yeah. Right.

The black and white images in this memorial, and similar ones all over the world, tell a far different, incontrovertible story.  One need only Google “Holocaust” and in an instant hundreds upon hundreds of images from as many credible sources are to be found.  You’ve seen them, to be sure, dear reader…but though we must tell and retell until the end of time I still cannot post even one gruesome image.

Standing in front of a wall of names of those who rescued Jews, a memory surfaces from some thirty years ago when I first arrived in Stuttgart Germany as a young military wife.  As clear as yesterday I am sitting on a city bus with my toddler son sleeping on my lap.  I’d only been in country for a couple of weeks and was taking my first trip downtown for shopping.  Across from me an old man sits, his arm resting on an elaborately carved handle on a cane made of dark wood.  His body language seems sad beyond measure.  Our eyes met…it was barely a fleeting moment.  Was I imagining the weight of that evil not so long ago in his eyes?   I still remember being startled by the question in my heart…

Which were you…friend or foe?

I’m almost too ashamed to admit that I would spend three years in Germany without a visit to the concentration camps.  I did visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, an almost featherweight view in comparison, I know.  But the actual camps...

I simply could not do it.

Here I am today:  Miss Cookie has made her way home, grateful (as I am) that we shared this memorial visit together.  Though we were subdued for the remainder of that day we managed to finish the weekend visit with a fun-filled day of shopping for dinner fixings and then chopping those fixings to music and girlfriend talk.  How lucky am I for a friend like Miss Cookie; she filled my home with her unique wit, love, laughter, and the still-lingering scent of her fabulous Hungarian Goulash.

As I walked with The Poodle this morning,  I opt for no music…just silence.  I am still thinking about the memorial visit.  Perhaps it’s the approach of bitter cold weather that makes me think of the Holocaust or the few pages I’ve read of the historical fiction book I picked up just yesterday,  “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris.  A wave of cold grips me though I’m bundled up quite nicely in a down coat. Dry, crisp autumn leaves swirl about us as the wind picks up.   “Let’s go home Poodle-love and sit together for awhile.”

The nightmare of those years makes me ask a hundred questions in my mind.  And now, uppermost in my thoughts in this moment, as I sit here struggling for the right words for this post with images swirling in my head of unspeakable things that I did not personally endure (and, failing miserably, to articulate anything coherent) is:

How is it that birds still sing?

How is it that the sun still shines? 

…And how can I feel so content with my poodle-love in my lap….when….

well, you get it….right?

Gas Chamber, Dachau


What’s With The Gift Exchange?

Wall Street Journal Photo:  Pope Francis and Iran's President at The Vatican, exchanging gifts

Wall Street Journal Photo: Pope Francis and Iran’s President at The Vatican, exchanging gifts

Bleary-eyed from another night of interrupted by nothing-to-speak-of sleep, I made my way to the kitchen to make a pot of espresso. While it brewed on the stove I opened up the latest edition of The Wall Street Journal. The front page featured a large photo which literally made me close my eyes, shake my head and then re-open my eyes thinking the image before me was just an illusion due to lack of sleep.

Nope.

Wall Street Journal photo: Pope Francis and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Wall Street Journal photo: Pope Francis and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Wow.  There is was. It was a photo of a smiling Pope Francis and an equally smiling, relaxed-looking Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani…together. Well…isn’t that just peachy!  The headline for the photo reads: Iranian President’s European Charm Offensive Comes to Vatican. There is even a photo of the two exchanging gifts at the Vatican. Shudder. Seriously.  I know that the Vatican and Iran enjoyed close ties in the past…long ago past.  I’m sure many would disagree with me but given more recent history, this happy-looking exchange just strikes me as…well…wrong.  I make a mental note to talk to my bro-in-law about this.  He’s much wiser than me and will no doubt get me to consider a different perspective.

President Rouhani is on a campaign across Europe to get people to like—and trust— all things Iranian. They want to be regarded as a tolerant country again.  So, first stop towards that end was an audience with Pope Francis.  Rouhani also wants to discuss human rights and Iran’s role in doing something positive about the Middle East conflicts and stemming the tide of terrorism. Incredulous. Incredulous too that His Holiness could believe a scintilla of that BS from a country that sponsors terrorism and chants “Death to America.” Excuse my extreme cynicism and so early in the morning too; this is not how I wanted to start the day. Clearly I should not have read the paper so early in the morning.

I know everyone just loves this new Pope and there is indeed a lot to like about him. But does His Holiness sincerely believe that the man with whom he is shaking hands with is really going to make serious changes to Iran’s human rights policies? Does he for one moment hold a shred of belief in the honesty and integrity of Rouhani and Iran’s “Supreme” Leader Al Khamenei…a man who holds more power and authority than the president or any other government official in Iran; a guy who has pursued weapons of mass destruction in the past? Iran needs money and desperately so. Dissatisfaction in Iran is growing and the best way to quell the seeds of uprising is doing whatever it takes in the moment to garner economic gain. They desperately need to be liked now and they will lie through their teeth–and have– to meet those ends.

I certainly don’t profess to be an expert on much of anything (shocking, I know!) but this omnipotent “Supreme Leader” business is troublesome to me on so many levels.  Mostly, I don’t believe that anything that comes out of Khamenei’s mouth can be trusted although our own naive and incompetent leaders seems to think so. On the one hand the Supreme Leader can say whatever the West wants to hear in an effort to appease for political and financial gain but on the other he can practice obscure Shia doctrine that allows “Muslims to lie to infidels.” Folks, that would be anyone other than Shia Muslims. How can we who are labeled “infidels” trust anyone in Iran that clings to this kind of belief system?  The official position of the Iranian government is being against the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons since it is “forbidden by Islam.” I don’t believe for one moment that Khamenei would hold that position to the fire and there are plenty of people in the U.S. and Israel (infinitely more intelligent than I) that would agree. Except of course for our President and Secretary of State.

I fundamentally believe these are bad guys. It takes time and real effort to turn things around.  Iran has not done enough to change my opinion otherwise.  Until substantial change is truly evident we shouldn’t be engaging with the bad guys on any level.  That’s just my humble opinion.  Perhaps Pope Francis, at some level, must understand this too, although I wish he would not have appeared in a photo laughing, joking and exchanging gifts with the Iranian president.  Must an audience with the Pope need to be all smiles and such anyway?

Your Holiness, I am confident that you will keep praying for peace and change all over the world.

And so will I.

Shaken

I’ve often questioned my mother’s sense of justice. Without going into a whole litany of things to explain this suffice it to say that she has a unique way of seeing the world. Sometimes, it’s crystal clear as to why she does or says a certain thing …sometimes it’s entirely the opposite, leaving me (and I’m sure others) to wonder: What the hell? How could she possibly think that?

I disagree with my mother on a lot of things and, for the sake of peace and harmony, I keep most of my thoughts close to my chest. For example, for years, my mother has held firm in her views about what needs to be done to address the Islamic reign of terror. If my mother were President of the Free World, she’d drop a nuke on part of the Asian continent, eradicating Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Syria.

“Mama…no!” I’d say.  That’s not the way for peace. 

Wipe them all out, it’s the only way,” she’d say.

I’d often chalk up opinions like this to losing her filter in her senior years. Yes. That’s her method of dealing with radical Islam. And, spending any amount of time perusing comments posted on social media it’s apparent that she is not alone in that view!  Still, through the years I’ve gently reminded her that such an act would take millions of innocent lives. Innocent men, women and children. It’s not the way. Another Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not the way.

But folks, I will confess to a moment…one moment where a thought crossed my mind…. and in that moment, I was just like my mother. Simply thinking that she may be right brought a chill up my spine. Let me tell you, I froze.

The moment was the events of yesterday. The image of the young Jordanian pilot…..in a cage…..being burned alive…..

It made me physically ill… extraordinarily sad… then burning with anger. Naturally, I spent a sleepless night.  I do not want to think, for one moment, that my mother is right about this.

And yet, It was in that moment that I found myself thinking that maybe my mother could be right.  Fortunately, It was a fleeting moment. It passed, but not without a visceral attack of soul-searching. The next moment had me thinking instead of the old law of retaliation: “An eye for an eye.”  OK then, I thought. That Iraqi woman you evil bastards wanted in exchange for the Jordanian pilot…the admitted Al-Qaeda operative, being held by Jordan for her role in the terrorist bombings of three hotels in Amman, Jordan which killed over 60 people and injured 115 others…she must die…. today. Don’t blink. Do it.

Jordan did not blink. She was executed at dawn.

I can only imagine what our President would have done if the same horror had been done to one of our own. Would he have swiftly acted against the atrocity or would he have, as he did when journalists were beheaded, go for another round of golf. Just wondering.

The Buddha

The Buddha

I am not one bit comfortable about “an eye for an eye.” It’s not who I am. I do not want to root for anyone’s execution and I’m horrified with myself.  I just want peace for all. I long for milk and cookies and a soft blanket for a lovely nap kind of a world.  I know. It’s not going to happen. But I can dream for it.

And that’s another reason I’m shaken by what’s happening in the world. All this evil and violence is threatening to destroy the beautiful nature of the hearts and souls of the human race. It has made me very afraid for humanity.

Seriously, I don’t profess to know much. In fact the more I try to read and learn, the less I know! I certainly don’t have all the answers…It was difficult enough to raise two children and frankly, I’m not sure I pulled that off 100% correctly. But one thing I do feel, in the depths of my bones:  this wave of radical Islam has become a tsunami of pure evil and it must be stopped. The only way to eradicate this evil is for Muslim communities, all over the globe, to rise up. They must acknowledge what is happening to their religion—to innocent men, women, and children of all faiths—and they must denounce in one clear, booming, reverberating voice the supremely vile and insane radical Islamic terrorists who are destroying what is supposed to be (at least in the view of many revered scholars) a peaceful religion. As one social media commentator posted: “I believe that the only hope for the Middle East is ordinary Muslims rising up to destroy the plague of homicidal Islam in their midst…”

So, I’ve got to fight this erosion, so to speak, of humanity on the most basic, personal level.  A good start is to deepen my practice of gratitude.   There really are so many things to be thankful for in this life; sometimes in the midst of chaos it is so easy to forget that.

And so, on this day, I’m immensely thankful that I’ve got many heroes in my life that can soften, in an instant, the ugliness that is in the world.  I’ve got my Italian family in Italy, Alexandre-the-Greatest, my sis and her husband, Rocket-man, friends and family near and far…all heroes with hearts of gold and souls that yearn for the same things that I do: Peace, love, joy and the best of health.

And, I’ve got dark chocolate, good wine and loads of books to escape to.  I’ve got music to soothe my soul and Netflix too!   I can also get all the angst out on a punching bag with a couple of swift jab-crosses.  I can take in a beautiful sunrise and enjoy the memory of a hundred spectacular sunsets….

Sunrise in the Outer Banks, North Carolina

Sunrise in the Outer Banks, North Carolina

 

And let’s not forget The Poodle, who is currently sitting at attention at my feet, looking at me with forlorn eyes as his orange ball has just rolled under the sofa for the umpteenth time this morning. Yes, I’ll happily retrieve your ball…again!

All the ugliness in this world….

All the more reason to live in the moment.