Thursday, November 6, 2008

Remembrance Day: I Remember. I will Never Ever Forget

In 1969 my family went to live in England for a year. It was quite the adventure. We rented a house. Dad worked on his thesis and my brother and sister and I donned school uniforms for the first time.

Of course we travelled a lot. Many weekends and summer holidays we did the touristy things. We also visited war memorials. We visited Flanders Fields and recited the poem. My sister and I picked poppies that grew in a field across from the cemetery and we laid them on the white crosses marking the spot where men gave up their lives so we could be free.

We read “Unknown Soldier” over and over and over on the gravestones. I’ll never forget looking in each direction and seeing so many crosses, each representing a dead soldier. I asked my mother, “Are these all the people that died in the war?” To my mind there were just so many graves. “No,” she said, “Many, many more people than this died in the war.” It broke my heart and I remember crying as my sister and I laid our poppies on their gravestones.

We travelled Europe for three months, living in a small caravan and staying in camp sites. We did all the must see and historic sites and of course everywhere were reminders of the war. I recall climbing inside thick cement foxholes that dotted the coastline of France and touring museum after museum.

At night we’d sit in our caravan around our table and by the light of a small candle Dad told stories. We also read Anne Frank’s book. By the time we visited her hiding place we had talked about her so much it felt like we knew her. I remember the bookcase covering the entrance to her hiding place and the stairs going upward.

In Dachau Germany we saw a prison camp. Mom and Dad had told us about the Nazis and we heard about the horrors of the camps. We knew that men, women and children were horribly treated and murdered. Mom told me about the gas showers and the ovens. I remember being especially horrified about the ovens.

There’s a big difference between seeing and hearing. (I can’t imagine what it was like to actually have lived through it). The Nazis had photographed everything they did. I’ll never forget touring a room that was just filled with photos. People whose bodies were so emancipated they looked like walking corpses; women who had the tops of their skulls cut off or their pregnant abdomens cut open by so-called doctors as they experimented on their helpless human guinea pigs. And the pits, dug deep and wide and at the bottom body after body after body after body. Horror washed over me, but not at what I was seeing, but at the realization that this inhumanity had been carried out by people—by humans--one human to another. I was forever changed that afternoon as I learned the depths of cruelty that humans were capable of.

I think I was traumatized that day. Despite that, I wouldn’t take that shock filled day back for anything. If I carry one small scar for having seen the photographs, the ovens and the gas chambers then so be it. I can live with it. Since that time I’ve been filled with the tragic knowledge that man was not the great being I thought he was.

We returned to tour England again in 1972, and renewed our friendships and saw more of it's history.

No, I will never forget. I hold all those soldiers and citizens, those that died and those that survived, in very high regard. When I see films like Schindler’s List, Paperclip, Shake Hands with the Devil and so on, I applaud these works. New generations need to see, need to know about genocide and holocausts. We must never forget. We must not let it happen again.

A few years back I saw an old man who lived on the streets. I would see him fairly frequently. He walked stooped and used two canes. He wasn’t alright in his mind but I’ll never forget the day I saw him go up to a man in a coffee shop that was wearing camouflage clothing and a beret. The old man saw him and came to life, talking, smiling and nodding. I realized then that he was probably a veteran. I was wondering about what happened to him, why he lived on the streets and was a little bit crazy in the head. Then I heard that inner voice say, “In the war …. he gave everything he had.”

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's all a Matter of Perspective

I was enjoying another sunny warm day in the backyard watching the birds and squirrels. I had put bird houses up on the back of the house and each season several of them would have a nest of sparrows. Now I know that sparrows aren't indigenous to North America but let's face it, they are here to stay. I think by now they've earned their spot. And I discovered you can learn a lot from the lowly sparrow.

I was reading and relaxing when all of a sudden a huge uproar broke out among the sparrows. They were squabbling and carrying on in a very fierce battle. I thought, what on earth is bothering them so much that they would make all this noise and complaining. It wasn't the 'cat in the yard' type of squabble, but something else entirely. To resolve my curiosity I got up to go have a look. There on the patio stones were two sparrows and they were telling each other off in what I would guess to be sparrow swear language. It was world war three and they were fighting over something that they valued very highly and they both wanted. Only the strongest and fiercest sparrow would gain the prize.

On the ground was the object of their adoration, the object worth fighting and risking injury to obtain, the object that any self respecting sparrow had to have. What was it? A dirty Kleenex.

Of course I just have to make a human comparison over the things that we prize so very highly that we want to fight over them--to the death! I'm sure God watches us and shakes His head just like I did at the two sparrows, thinking that maybe they just needed a little perspective to help them see better.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Importance of Salt

I read a book recently called "Cure for the Common Life - Living in Your Sweet Spot". I really enjoyed reading about real-life examples of people who found themselves living and working outside of their niche area. At some point in their lives came an opportunity to choose a different kind of life. And with the decision to make a major change came all the fears and concerns about giving up job security, what will family members think, etc., etc. The book reported that these people never regretted moving and rearranging their lives to be able to live and work in their niche area. It's based on Christian principles that each of us has a talent, something we're naturally good at and love to do and it's about recognizing and realizing that God built that into us for a purpose.

I know about this niche because for brief times, sometimes only moments in time in my life I've experienced it. When operating in my niche, others notice and they frequently comment on it. They tell me I'm a natural and doing what I was meant to do. I know they are right--I can feel it. My face reflects the joy I feel inside when I do what I'm meant to do. The size of my smile and the natural glow I get when I operate in my niche is evident with one look in the mirror. Sometimes I'll go to my niche for a few hours and come back to work and people look and say "I know what you've been doing". It's so evident to them... and me.

What holds me back from making a great leap into the niche? Fear of course. Bills to pay and the need for a roof over my head. But I do my best and I'm focusing on angling and positioning, trying to get myself closer and closer to that opportunity. I'm sure at some point there will be a requirement for a leap of faith....

Most of the time life doesn't hand us our niche on a platter and say, "This is it wht you're meant to do. Go to it." Most of us are barely aware and quite frankly afraid to dream that we could actually live in our sweet spot. But the book does try to get parents to pay attention to their children and watch for their sweet spots so that they can be encouragers and enablers to help their children grow into what they are naturally and happily inclined to want to do.

About the salt, I had been attempting to bake on the weekend and found myself always puzzled as to why recipes for sweet desserts always required some measure of salt. I remember years ago asking my Mom about this and she said that the food just doesn't taste right unless you put the salt in. Sometimes I'd opt out and not put it in just to see. But I still kept wondering about it. So, after the weekend baking, while riding into work with my car pool companions, older women who cook and bake, I raised the topic. And I got the answer from the sage old Englishwoman. She said that you add the salt because the salt makes the sweet taste sweeter. And I got it. I finally understood.

So, when reading about living in my sweet spot I just kept thinking that, now after most of my life operating, working and living mostly outside my sweet spot, if I ever get to do what I really want to do (and I know very much what that is) then I will appreciate it so much more because of the salt... because of all the years working at a job and doing what I didn't like. This salty job will make that sweet niche spot so much sweeter.... I can't wait. I just have to keep hoping and praying that I find it. And too, when I do that I'll have the faith to take that leap.