How well do you know the ripples of your life? Have you paid any attention to them? How curious are you about the tides that continue to flow and ripple? The ripples that have gently, and at times not so gently, come your way and influenced the trajectory of your life, your day, this moment, as well as the ones you have radiated out with your actions this moment, this day, this life. Whatever action pebbles we drop, sometimes oh so carelessly, into the gathered pools of our lives, are driven by choice and intention in this moment, whether we are aware of these or not. We can send out ripples of love, courage, and compassion or ripples of fear, resentment, and anger. Each moment holds the kernel of potential to treat ourselves and all beings with kindness, compassion, and understanding, or not.
Many this day will be fasting in remembrance and atonement. This I remember well as a child, not as part of the Jewish community but through being raised Catholic. Regularly, from the age of eight, going to confession, confessing my wrong doing, and trying to make amends. I was rarely sure then if I was a penitent and truly felt remorse for simple, childish, often unintentionally harmful actions, or if the ritual was more important to those who seemingly sat in judgment. Over the years I have come to know intimately that many of the actions of others I have judged foolishly, with little compassion, are ones that have become a part of my own unfolding horizons. That the judging comes often out of ignorance in that moment of the relentless rippling of life and how we struggle to find our way through all its complexities.
I am drawn this day to the memory of an unfolding historical story of multiple ripples. A multiple of stories that intersect History, largely written, with history intimately experienced. Stories that remain largely untold. Stories that bring memories of pain, of suffering, of courage and resilience, and also perhaps of shame. This is a story of family. My family. A family straddling borders, values, political believes, and in the telling helps me understand my own straddling borders and frontier nature.
My German grandfather was known to be an outspoken man. In the spring of 1941 Rudolph Hess, second to Hermann Göring in line of succession to Adolf Hitler, flew solo to the UK with his supposed proposal for peace. This was not accepted, and he subsequently became a prisoner of war. Soon after this event, probably on the day it was announced on the radio, my grandfather declared in public, in the village: “Now that one of these criminals and dictators has left the country we should kick all of the others out too!” Someone from the village reported this to the police who reported it to the Gestapo. The following day the family was harvesting corn in the fields when the police showed up with two plain clothed men. The local police officer pointed to my grandfather and said: “that’s him.” They read from a report stating the words that my grandfather had made the day before about “the criminals and dictators”, and asked him if he had indeed said this. He replied, “Yes. I said that and I still hold to it.” These two men then fell upon him, knocking him to the ground, dragged him back up, and proceeded to pull him with them, giving no explanation to my grandmother or to those helping in the fields. My own father, a boy of 12 at the time, being one of them and witnessed this assault. My grandfather’s eldest brother, as life would have it, was Director of the Mining Companies and had all the relevant contacts. He was able to find out that my grandfather was imprisoned in a small concentration camp on the Saar River. He promised my grandmother to do all he could to have him freed before he could be transferred to a major concentration camp further afield within Germany. After two weeks my grandfather came back home. His face and body bruised and swollen from being beaten many times. For my dad, still at a very impressionable age, this experience left him with a changed understanding as to the brutality and lack of humanity of the political system that ruled the day. He experienced the depth of strength, courage and just nature of his father, even as he realised the boldness and foolishness of it all.
That same year, in Paris, another family, whose father suffered a different fate that left four young children, unlike my dad and his three siblings, without a father. This father was arrested for being a section leader in the French Communist Party at the time, was imprisoned, and in December killed by firing squad by the occupying German forces. Years later one of these young boys would marry my mother’s sister and the great continually unfolding complexities of history, life, compassion, and community atonement would continue to ripple on.
As I sit today with thoughts of these ripples, connected lives and more, my wish for myself and each one of us is to be a little kinder, a little less judging, lest we find ourselves treading similar paths as those we judge. I am often unsure of how forgiveness plays out in our lives. How one can be forgiven for or even forgive great pain. I do know that compassion and kindness has an unending rippling role to play in this. I also know that we do not salve our pain through humiliation, abandonment, or retribution. That even as we may struggle to forgive, we can always be kind. Kind to ourselves through our own pain, and kind to others we may be judging, who are struggling with pain of their own. We are all bound together, however unknowingly, in this human condition called life.
My friend now in Australia, with deep struggle roots in this country, who will be fasting this day, said it best. “Wishing you all a meaningful day with renewed commitment to community building, to being the best you can be, and to the most honourable life you can live. For me I reaffirm my mantra of living without resentment, or regret. And I am sure there will be other lessons I learn in this time of contemplation.”