Friday, May 27, 2016

Stone of sorrow

Stone of Sorrow
Originally published, Memorial Day, 2014

Both of my grandfathers served in the military during the Second World War.  Two men from what has become known as The Greatest Generation were thankfully never involved in combat, and I'm grateful that I was able to sit on their knees as a child and listen to their stories of what the war was like from where they were stationed.  Pa-pal was a cook at a military base and Granddaddy served as a driver for the USO. 
More recently, my friend's father often told me tales of his multitude of experiences on a destroyer in the Pacific Ocean...right up until he passed away on Veteran's Day.  For it was the war that constantly lingered in his memory...the horror and the aftermath.
As we celebrate Memorial Day this weekend, I find myself looking back to World War II and why it's become known as the most necessary of wars.  A few months ago, a friend suggested I read The Book Thief, a story told by Death that takes place during the Holocaust and the unbelievable crimes against humanity that took place during those long, unspeakable years. 
After exploring this more modern depiction of this period in history, I finally watched "Schindler's List," a film I had consciously avoided for two decades, for I knew it wouldn't be easy to witness.   When I was a child, I spent almost an entire week in my basement watching the mini-series "Holocaust," and a host of the images were burned into my brain.  But "Schindler's List" took my understanding of why World War II needed to be fought to a different level. 
While I believe in striving for peaceful resolution when possible, I now clearly comprehend that that was simply not realistic at a time when the world was confronted with the murderous actions of a mad man.  The annihilation of eleven million people is unthinkable now...but I wonder if, in this culture of extremism and intolerance, could we be on the brink of another mass scale destruction of human life?

Last weekend I was talking with my friend, Shirley, about how I've been spending a lot of time reading about and researching slavery, the Civil War, and the Holocaust.  "I'm not quite sure where all of this well lead," I told her.  "I'm not ever sure why it's coming up for me now.  But I do know they're linked in the way that human beings were degraded and abused -- used as chattel or forced to dig their own graves before they were mercilessly killed."
"Have you read Night by Elie Wiesel?" Shirley asked.  "I read it more than ten years ago and I still remember it clearly."  She went on to describe the memoir of a young man who had survived the death camps during the war.
"I started it years ago," I replied.  "But it was too difficult...I couldn't handle it then."
"You might want to pick up a copy at the library," Shirley suggested.
And so I did.
Last Monday, I opened the book and began reading.  From the very first page I could feel, touch, sense, taste, and hear all of what Elie was illustrating through his haunting language.  The destruction of his community.  His separation from his mother and sisters.  The agony of being transported to Auschwitz. When he arrived with his father at the concentration camp, Elie clearly describes the fire and smoke rising from the crematoriums.  The overwhelming stench.  The indescribable fear rippling through his body.
It was then that I remembered more than ten years ago a friend's sister had been traveling through Europe and collected tiny stones from each of her destinations.  She had visited Auschwitz and was able to bring back a small rock which she gave to me in 2003.  When I first held it, a strange feeling passed through my hands and into my heart.  Overwhelming grief is the best way to describe it.
This week, after I found the stone nestled among rocks from Greece, Paris, and Italy, I held it in my hand whenever I read more of Night.  It was incredibly sorrowful to know the rock that was touching my skin was in Auschwitz when Elie Wiesel and his father suffered unspeakable torture.  It was left in the aftermath as a talisman to never forget what happened there.  It possesses the memories, the energy of that time and it's difficult to hold it...knowing how many people suffered and died in its presence. 
In personally revisiting this time in our history, I've been thinking about the countless souls who died and their unborn legacies that will never be.  I think about the soldiers who gave their lives in World War II.  Their families.  Their legacies still unfolding.  And I pray for them all.  The stone of sorrow that I've placed on the altar in my yoga room will now be in the company of good people.  Will be imbibed with peace and love and gratitude.  Will be a reminder of a dark period in our world's history and its long journey into the light.
But there's hope...there's always hope.  And always, I cling to Ghandi's beautiful words of faith: "When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it, always." 

This blog eventually led to the 2015 publication of THE LACE MAKERS.
The second edition is now available here on Amazon.com.