Last week, I was buzzing along Ulm, Berchtesgaden and Hamburg streets – at home with the people and places we explored. In each city, I noticed small stone-shaped plaques among the cobbles. Each plate began “Hier wohnte…” or “Here lived…” followed by a name, and dates of deportations and death. Since I have been gone, German communities have invested in these stones of remembrance which mark where people who had been arrested and most often put to death by Nazi’s and their sympathizers once lived.
They were everywhere. And in their stoic beauty, they were heartbreaking.
Once in Ulm, the place that seems most like home to me, I stopped to take a photo of the plaques among the cobbles and I was very aggressively nudged and then glared at by another human. This was one of those days when I seemed to blend in with the Germans so I don’t think it was a response to my Americaness. I think the aggression and the glare came from a misplaced shame or maybe anger incited by my interest in the plaque representing something so vile and destroying as a holocaust fueled by fear and nationalism. I wasn’t judging the person…until the nudge and glare.
Shame – misplaced shame – projects and fuels all sorts of pain, fear, judgment and more of what destroys.
The plaques seem to be part of the healing process – the revealing of truths however painful so that healing can begin.
In these places that I love among a people I still love very much, are stones of remembrance of actions, inactions and loss. I believe these cobbles exist so that hate and fear-fueled devastation has less opportunity to recur.
Much like the work in South Africa among communities and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a court-like restorative justice body assembled in South Africa after the end of apartheid. Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_and_Reconciliation_Commission_(South_Africa))
Much like the work most of us do each day to repair and rebuild relationships in our homes, communities and nation.
Will we, as a nation, learn from our history of slavery and all sorts of oppression and from the histories of our global community of holocaust, social cleansing and fear-fueled hate? Do we still have it in us to grow toward one another rather than divide into a more hate-filled us versus them feudal state?
I think so.
I hope so.
When people of honor can disagree and still find points of connection, hope builds. And hope needs to build.
We are not above or beyond the reckless foolishness of history. We are not so advanced or intelligent or privileged to avoid the worst of human behavior.
We still have time.
We still have time to face ourselves and the people who also call themselves “American” – even people who’s proclamations anger, nauseate or bewilder us.
I will risk naivete if it means hope. I will take a long hard look in the mirror, cop to my weaknesses, move toward my strengths and learn to love myself, us, you and folks as is.
Even as I write this, I know I must qualify something: loving the purveyors of hate and lies and destruction is damn near impossible for me. But I am not dead yet and I can at least love the humanity in them – sometimes only by imagining them as infants not yet indoctrinated into a “me first” mentality or one where shame demands a rewriting of truth and history.
And in loving them with eyes wide open to our frailties, perhaps we can move toward building new stones of remembrance; stones that speak of life, peace, community, hope and even the miraculous.
We are America.
We are not flawless, but we don’t need to fail.
What are your thoughts? How do you see the way forward?
Do you have hope that we can repair the breaches in our fabric and acknowledge the differences in who we are with who we thought we were?
How would you proceed? What do you suggest?