My FB friend Leslie Schneider Boen just returned from taking her son to Germany. Please read.
Two warnings: First, this is a long post. More like a blog post...but I have yet to start a blog, so there's that. :)
Second, I was an English major in college, so I was trained to look for -- and find -- meaning in the most seemingly innocuous things. Please forgive me if it gets to be a bit much at times - I do hope if you read all the way to the end you will get something out of this.
Writing it has actually helped me a lot.
As many of you know, Sean and I returned from Germany and Austria just last week. It was an unforgettable journey, and not because my son got to play on Bayern-Munich practice fields, see the Audi Cup live and in person, or tour the bowels of Allianz Arena. For me, it was squarely because of the other things we did and experienced.
Visiting a concentration camp, for one, changes you, right down to the DNA. Being in the presence of evil, feeling those echoes, across time, right down to your bone marrow, is chilling and indescribable. I saw the waiting room for the "showers." The actual gas chamber. The incinerators. The smaller crematorium that had to be replaced midway through Dachau's infamous twelve-year run -- because they were, um, outstripping capacity.
Unbelievable. But it happened.
Words do not adequately convey the feeling that comes over you in the shadow of that kind of depravity. It's almost fugue-like. But the imagery was not and will not ever be lost on me.
Fast forward one week, and I am back at home - after visiting a country that has taken great pains to preserve and acknowledge the darkest parts of its history, so that we might all learn from it and not repeat it. And I am once again confronted with the same awful visuals, with all of their sinister and violent connotations. But not as an echo, shadow, or history lesson. This time I am watching it unfold in front of my eyes, in 2017, in my own country -- in, frankly, one of my favorite places on Earth. (Because this time, the neofascist revolution WILL be televised.)
Call me melodramatic, but - once again - the imagery is not lost on me.
I am going to be honest. I am feeling a lot of despair today.
I want to fight, to stand up for what is right, to never give up on my country. But I have to wonder if the game is already over. If the fix is in. If the bad guys have rigged it all so thoroughly and permanently that there is no turning back.
I'd like to believe in my own power to change things, but what if the original sin of slavery is too great, too powerful, too horrific and too evil for us to ever overcome?
If we are still litigating (and yes, fighting) the Civil War 150 years on...if we have completely and collectively forgotten what our grandparents fought to obliterate a short 75 years ago...what makes me think that there is really anything that I can do to make America actually live up to its advertising for once?
All of this calls to mind another moment from the trip that I will never forget. A much more traditionally enjoyable one, certainly - but one that left quite an impression and packed quite a punch nonetheless.
When I visited Salzburg two Fridays ago, I took a "The Sound of Music" bus tour. Cheesy and touristy, for sure. But after Dachau, it was something I really needed. And the trip did not disappoint. I saw the Von Trapp house, the trees where the children climbed, played, swung, and got to act like kids for the first time, and the lake where they all fell overboard dressed in the Von Trapp bedroom curtains. I saw the gardens where they filmed Do-Re-Mi. The hill where Julie Andrews opened the film's title sequence. Liesel and Rolf's gazebo. The church where they filmed the Captain and Maria's wedding. It was fantastic. 1930s wedding dresses
As we drove along from one place to another, from Salzburg to the lakes and mountains region and then back again, the tour guides decided a great way to pass the time would be to pipe in the soundtrack and have us sing along. Do-Re-Mi was fun, especially when the lead guide got up and did an interpretative tea-cup dance in the front of the bus. Truly unforgettable, in a good, humorous, and light-hearted way.
But then we got to "Edelweiss."
And a sobering feeling came over me, all over again.
The lead guide set the scene by telling a very interesting background story about the flower itself. Apparently young Austrian men used to make a regular practice of attempting to pick these flowers -- in a show of undying love and devotion -- for their sweethearts. Problem is, edelweiss only grow on the steepest hillsides (which can be pretty damn steep in the Austrian Alps), so many of these young lovers lost their lives in the process.
And then, after hearing that cheeful little factoid, the music began to play.
Singing along, I could not help but thinking about my own country, and the parallels between Europe under Hitler in the 1930s and America in 2017. I began to wonder what might happen to me if I remained in a fascist USA. Would I end up like one of those ill-fated Austrian teenagers picking edelweiss?
Like Heather Heyer, whose name only became known to me yesterday?
Or would it come to a point for me when I am forced to digest that all is lost and accept the unacceptable -- that it's time to leave? Just like in that pivotal moment in the film, when Christopher Plummer's voice cracked as he performed "Edelweiss" for the final time, during the festival.
Will either of these things happen? Could they? Time will tell. But after yesterday, both have become more frighteningly real possibilities.