When I went running today, I meant to start reading Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. I tried. I really did. I peeled open this lovely new book, cracked the spine so that the book would stay open while I plodded on the treadmill, and I fixed my eyes on the page. I read the opening, the introduction by Morrison in which she described her father and the sacrifices he made.
And then I just couldn’t read anymore. It’s not that I was suddenly struck blind or became mentally paralyzed. I just didn’t want to read anymore. My desire to focus on the novel as a distraction to the circles my legs were going in was gone. I wanted to run. I needed to run. I needed to feel that sense of escape even if I was on a treadmill that was going many miles to nowhere. I was under a fan spinning on high. I had a cold air on my back, music in my ears, a novel in front of me. I was set.
Instead, I closed the book, wrapped my hands around the treadmill’s control panel, closed my eyes, and ran for three and a half miles with my eyes shut. It was just me, the music, and the darkness behind my eyelids as I just ran and ran and ran without thinking.
I was completely folded into myself.
“One” by U2 played. Another song by U2, “These are the hands that built America” (that is the chorus…not certain if it’s the title), streamed through my dulled consciousness. I was feet and legs and knees and hands and music and breathing. I was everything and I was nothing. I was fully aware of where I was thanks to my hands on the control panel keeping me centered on the spinning belt.
Occasionally, I opened my eyes, focused on my distance, and without thought, my eyes closed themselves and I once more was in a darkened world in which no intrusion could penetrate.
For about forty minutes, I was replete with myself. I was in my skin and outside of my skin and completely separate from everything that has been happening.
I know that this sounds like I’m in terrible distress. I am suffering from no terrible, personal situation or issue. My life is incredibly beautiful, for which I am powerfully thankful. I have no reason to complain.
Last night, I was close to completing A Lucky Child. This morning, I accidentally left that book in my bedroom while Pat slept so I tried to finish reading Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (I rarely read just one book at a time. I have no idea how many books I am actively reading and those whose pages I’ve started turning but haven’t picked up in a while but might still be counted as in the process of being read).
Last night, Buergenthal wrote about being re-united with his mother after several months traveling with a Polish Army unit and then nearly eighteen months in a Polish orphanage for Jewish children. When he realized that his mother was alive, he was sent to live with her in Göttingen, Germany. Only a short period of time has elapsed since the end of the war, since the liberation of the surviving Jews from different camps. Daily, Buergenthal is confronted with the concept of forgiveness because he is in Germany, surrounded by Aryan citizens who may or may not look like those who incarcerated him behind the electric-lined-walls of Auschwitz.
For a while, Buergenthal dreamed of mounting a machine gun on the corner of his balcony so that he could give the Germans a glimpse of his daily life and his daily fears. He wrote about how “I would observe [the Germans] from our balcony with envy and hatred. here were fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, walking with their children and grandchildren–people who, for all I knew, had killed my father and grandparents! As I contemplated these scenes of happy Germans enjoying their lives as if nothing had happened in the recent past, I longed to have a machine gun mounted on the balcony so I could do to them what they had done to my family. It took me a long time to get over these sentiments and to recognize that such indiscriminate acts of vengeance would not bring my father or grandparents back to life. It too me much longer to realize that one cannot hope to protect mankind from crimes such as those that were visited upon us unless one struggles to break the cycle of hatred and violence that invariably leads to ever more suffering by innocent human beings.”
There it is, my friends. There it is. I am not certain that what Buergenthal was doing here was the same as “forgiveness.” However, he found a way to reconcile himself to the actions that were done to him against the backdrop of the people who surrounded him who may or may not have been complicit in crimes against humanity.
And then, this morning, in Siddhartha, the main character….Siddhartha, realizes that his son does not respect the lessons being taught to him by his father. No matter how hard Siddhartha tries to teach his son using love and compassion, his son does not respond with anything but anger, hatred, and animosity. Earlier in the novel, Siddhartha shunned anything related to the human experience, wanting, instead, to find a richer, fuller experience in life. However, to do so, he also shunned love. Now, as a father, though, he realized that “He was madly in love, a fool because of love. Now he also experienced belatedly, for once in his life, the strongest and strangest passion; he suffered tremendously through it and yet was uplifted, in some way renewed and richer.”
“He felt indeed that this love, this blind love for his son, was a very human passion, that it was Samsara, a troubled spring of deep water.r At the same time he felt that it was not worthless, that it was necessary, that it came from his own nature. This emotion, this pain, these follies also had to be experienced.”
I think what I’m trying to muddle my way through here is that love can and will conquer the prickles and thorns related to hatred and anger and animosity. I’m not trying to sound hippy-dippy here, as though I am invoking cliches that may or may not have any real meaning. Because I do believe in the healing power of love. I have experienced this as I turn my life over to Christ and beg for the redemption that I can only find through His sacrificial love.
In love, I have found that forgiveness is feasible and, at times, easy. Pat and I have hurt one another time and again. We have been together for two decades; hurting one another is an inevitable part of our lives. However, I am thankful that we no longer keep a perfect record of our differences and the sadnesses that we have given to each other. As I write this, I recall some of those points where he caused me grief. At the same time, it is also just as easy (and definitely more preferable) to invoke the memories of joy. The warm pressure of a good-bye kiss. The warmth of his arm across my stomach when he pulls me close to him at night. The way he looks at me when he is laughing to see that I am laughing with him. The way he will flicker his fingers against mine when we hold hands.
Yeah….I think I’ll hold onto those memories. Because after twenty years, they hold more fruit, more nourishment than any point of sadness that we have experienced together. I have grown from those trials.
But I have also had to come to points where I forgave him for hurting me. And I have asked his forgiveness which, I assume, he has given.
I would that we, as a community of people, could find forgiveness so that we could move forward. Holding on to these hurts that we are causing one another does not create a hospitable environment. Instead, I feel that we are finding new ways to judge one another.
No one society will ever be perfect. But we must work to attain the respect and justice and humanity, not retribution for crimes committed by a few individuals. My friend, Andrew, who lived through 9/11, who walked through the World Trade Center plaza and literally had to dodge the falling people has learned how to let go of the petty differences that are nothing more than hangnail situations. My dear Big Daddy forgave the people who spat upon him, who punched him for doing nothing more than wearing the uniform of the Armed Services because he dedicated his life to service. My parents forgave those who vandalized their car.
These are smaller instances in comparison to murder. However, I keep on looking at the picture of cheerful child, the young Thomas Buergenthal. I see the brilliant corners of his smile and see the shadows of the on-coming Holocaust that will consume his father who stands behind him and smiles in joy at his happy son.
And he has found his own way to move forward.
Let me follow your footsteps, sir. I’m stuck in this swamp, but I want to find the embankment and stand with you on the other side. Just reach out your hand. I’m on my way….