Friday, February 20, 2015

When the Winds Change

from Jacqueline (and written very much on the fly, a stream of consciousness composition ...)

Maybe its my sense of irony, but of all the things I’ve seen here today during my whistle-stop trip to Munich – including the beer hall where Hitler gave one of his first rousing speeches, the headquarters of the Nazi party, and Dachau concentration camp – the thing that will stick in my mind is walking through Marienplatz later in the day, and stopping to watch a Jewish klezmer trio busking in the square under the famous Glockenspiel.  Children were skipping around to the music, tourists snapped photos with their iPhones, while others hurried to and fro carrying bags revealing their shopping habits – teens who’d been spending money in H&M, forty-somethings in Zara, and the wealthier of any age in Prada, Burberry or Chanel.  Along the way a woman of middle-eastern origin held out a Starbucks cup to beg for money, and a couple of very blonde German twenty-something lads with shoulder-length dreadlocks seemed to bounce along to shared listening through earpieces attached to the same device, whatever it was.  I stood there feeling as if I was having an out-of-body experience, and not for the first time in my life, a completely different memory converged with the scene - I'm strange that way.

I remembered the Point Reyes fire, not far from my home in northern California; it must have been nigh on twenty years ago now.  It was a massive forest fire that consumed over 10,000 acres in the blink of an eye. I remember riding my friend’s horse to a higher elevation so I could see the fire in the distance, and being quite stunned by the power of the conflagration, even though it was some miles away.  I moved off quickly in case the winds changed.  Then just a couple of months later, I’d heard that my beloved cousin, Stephanie, was dying following a brave fight against the cancer that eventually consumed her body – my mother had called to tell me she was in a coma and not expected to live another day. I had no family close by to gather with, so I called my friend, Jamie, who said, “Jack, I’m coming over right now – we’ll hike out to Point Reyes.”  And as we walked along trails flanked by the blackened remains of a grand forest, and as we talked and I grieved, I looked down at the burned branches of once-magnificent trees and saw the bright green shoots of life bursting up through charcoal stumps. 

I don't know when the green shoots of life began to rise up through the terror that became Munich in the 1930’s, but I know I have wondered, on many an occasion, why we have to go through this fiery experience we call war. As a child I meandered across a field where King Harold was supposedly felled in 1066 - our teachers let us know how bloody a battle that was - and many years later I stood in exactly the place where Great War poet Siegfried Sassoon lingered to watch the opening salvos of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.  I have peered into the achingly clear waters of Pearl Harbor and seen the ghost of tragedy that lingers just beneath the surface, and I have had a drink or two in the pub where Battle of Britain pilots raised a glass to those who hadn’t made it home.  I have listened to the stories of veterans, and in my time I have hoped someone I loved would come home from war, and somewhere along the line I have come to believe that peace is the most precious jewel we humans can possibly have in our grasp.

Peace, the gift and all it encompasses – freedom from fear, freedom of expression, freedom to love and commit to whoever we want to be with in this life, and freedom to worship any deity – or not to worship at all.  Seems to me that peace and freedom go hand in hand, and surely peace is a freedom in and of itself.

When I think about all the places in the world that have seen a terrible tyranny – and have come through it as if it were a sickness, a feverish epidemic of killing and inhumanity – I start to wonder why it happened in the first place, and I have come to the conclusion that it all starts when someone thinks they’re better than someone else, when some sort of elitism plays a part in the conversation, and that a sense of being right and being better gives an out of control belief in an outrageous level of singular or collective power – and that power can be rooted in money, in education, cultural background, skin color, a mode of speech or any number of elements. It happens when one person thinks they’re a notch or two above their neighor, or there is cause to put another person down.  It is the result of intolerance and a hunger to be really important – and many men and woman have put that into words far more eloquent than I could ever compose.

So, I wonder where the next killing fields will be – and in the fullness of time, the next regeneration.  Will there be tentative green shoots of peace in Libya, in Syria, or in places closer to home where we're afraid to acknowledge discord as something akin to war?  I wonder where the fire will consume everything in its path, and when the winds will change.  And I wonder where the music will be played loud at the site of terror, in time, and where the children will dance instead of running for cover. 

I walked back across Marienplatz, stopped to place some coins in the woman’s Starbucks cup, and made my way to my hotel.  I had so much to accomplish when I set out this morning, I'd not had a bite to eat all day – but been given plenty of food for thought.


Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. 
Shovel them under and let me work— 
                                          I am the grass; I cover all. 

And pile them high at Gettysburg 
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. 
Shovel them under and let me work. 
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor: 
                                          What place is this? 
                                          Where are we now? 

                                          I am the grass. 
                                          Let me work.

And sorry about the different fonts - I don't know why this happens when I post, really I don't!

Have a great weekend ....


  1. James O. Born2/20/2015 7:59 AM

    Very eloquent post, Jackie. I often wonder the same things. Germany will be one of our next big trips. Although my wife says she will not visit any of the concentration camps.

  2. from Jacqueline: The thing about Dachau is that it is quite "sanitized" - and you would expect it to be - however, it has am excellent visitor center, tours and films to watch which can all give you a sense of what it was like as you walk around - and it was the first concentration camp, opened initially to house dissenters, communists, publishers, and people like us - writers. But you have to hand it to the German people - they have brought their dirty linen into the open so that, hopefully, we can all learn from the terror that was Nazi Germany, and the series of events that led to Hitler gaining power. I don't know another nation that has endeavored to atone for its slide into the unimaginable in quite the same way. There is no charge to visit the camps or any other site relevant to the history of the Third Reich. There are numerous very moving memorials to the victims of the Nazi regime in German cities, and there are whole streets where the names of local victims - who were dragged from their homes on those streets and sent to the camps - are embedded in the sidewalks on brass plaques, so anyone leaving their house or walking that street will see that name and know what came to pass. I don't know of another nation that has done such a thing. Does America honor the name of every dead native American killed? Or of every slave who died in chains? Britain, as far as I know, does not commemorate those who died in the first concentration camps - women and children in the South African wars. Adolf Hilter's concentration camps were a terrible, terrible stain on our human race, but I think we have to see those camps if we have the opportunity - for whoever we are, we do not come from a country that is blameless, and it could so easily have happened somewhere else. The tipping point for Hitler's ultimate power was an act of terrorism (a series of fires arguably started by a schizophrenic communist), and with that he was accorded unbelievable powers that took away freedoms - because he maintained the people would be kept safe. It's an argument that has a familiar ring to it.

  3. Sorry about the above. I was having difficulties posting on this website.

    Very eloquent about the meaning of war. I think Maisie made an excellent point in Among the Mad ( if I recall the right title) about why there is war.

    1. from Jacqueline: Thank you so much "Bionic" - and for your comment about "Among The Mad." Love your name, by the way!!!

  4. What happened to my comment???!!! Sheesh! One of my favorite poems from a 1918 book of war poetry:

    "Between the hedges of the centuries
    A thousand phantom armies go and come,
    While Reason whispers as each marches past,
    "This is the last of wars—this is the last!"

    —Lieutenant Gilbert Waterhouse

    1. from Jacqueline: Patty, I think the posting gremlins are in the system! Seems you weren't the only one who had a problem. Thank you for that verse - how very apt it is.

  5. jackie, i've read your post over and over again and i am touched deeply. thank you for all those wonderful, eye-opening thoughts. there were times when i found it hard to live with this legacy and i think only our children and the generations after that will be able to shake off the sins of our fathers and hopefully won't repeat them! again, i'm so sorry i couldn't make it to munich, but i see you had a lot to do and see any way.

    1. from Jacqueline: I am so glad you liked the post, Sybille. It would have been lovely to see you in Munich, but as you know it was a really short trip, as I couldn't spend too much time away from visiting my mother, who is awaiting a hip replacement. I think the German people have done much to atone for the past in so many ways - see my comment above. When I was a child, I remember the schools set up "pen friends" with German schoolchildren - all part of an initiative to put the past behind us. But history has a way of repeating itself, in another place at another time, and like fashions, it comes around in a slightly different way. I think we could all point to places on the map where we can see the signs of a similar regime weaving its ugly web. I guess this is one of the reasons why I think the study of history is so vital - it makes a difference in how we view the future.

    2. well, sometimes even history may 'run out of fashion'. let's pray for that day!!!
      good luck for your mum with her operation! my mother had it done in her late 70s after putting it off for years. she couldn't believe what difference it made and how silly she was for waiting so long!

    3. oh yes... there seems to always be a problem with posting!
      sorry, forgot to sign the above.

  6. Love your posts! I taught high school English for 33 years & "Grass" was a poem students never had any trouble understanding. Thank you for reviving that memory.