Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On loan from Hell's library

I awoke screaming at 4 am.  My abdomen was clearly being torn apart.  My dream-brain hopped around for answers.  Labor?  Not pregnant.  Microwaved and about to shoot out boiled intestines?  Time will tell.  Cyst? Possibly.  Bad gas?  Considering the morning that followed, likely.  At any rate, Huck hauled a five gallon bucket of Ibuprofen up to me.  And in an hour, I was feeling merely odd sensations and none of them breath-takingly painful.

It was good and I'm not even being sarcastic.  This is because at the moment I awoke, I was dreaming that I was one of the last survivors of Hiroshima.  I was wandering around a scalded prairie of bones and charred humans, black alligators, crawling and begging for water.  I was skipping between that and attending a potluck for people trying to prevent any further nuclear detonations on earth.  Unfortunately, the potluck was held at a ramshackle house and I kept trying to reassure the remodeling owners that they'd "get there... some day."  And "You never know what kind of treasures and views you'll stumble upon as you remodel," I was saying.  Even though I didn't really believe it.  Between utter devastation and awkward social situations, I was glad to awake in my safe home with clean drinking water, five gallons of ibuprofen, my husband ready to help, and my healthy children sleeping in the next room.  It wasn't so bad.

I'd put myself in the library queue for the new book The Last Train from Hiroshima.  Two weeks ago, my name came up and it was my turn to speed read that thing in two weeks.  I took the challenge.  Yes, I did.  But in the mean time, one of the other books I'm reading is called Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  That's not a new book    I didn't have to read it right then.  But I was.  I was wandering around the library as I usually do on Wednesdays while Blue's in piano lessons and it caught my eye.  I recognized the title but had no idea what it was about.  Now I know: a psychologist survives Auschwitz and takes notes.

After an evening reading of the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, before going to bed I do a chaser of Auschwitz.  Not that Auschwitz was much better, just a slower version of the same. But there were several differences.  Frankl searches for meaning in all that suffering.  And the first 2/3rds of the Hiroshima book does not even strive for meaning but rather creates a mosaic of unimaginable suffering. 

In addition, I've read plenty about the holocaust, been to the museum in DC, seen the films, etc, and have built up some sort of psychological mechanism to deal with it.  It's still barf-inducing terrifying, but I've coped before, starting in 7th grade with the reading assignment of Corrie Tin Boom.  But the horrors of the atomic bombs were all new.  All new to me.  I was not ready.   No one could be.

And the third way in which they differ is not that I sympathize with one group of victims over the other, it's that my nationality is implicated in one case as well as my humanity.  Way over in Germany, Hitler (a nice point person for blame) spoke German, and only my humanity is implicated and no more so than all humans in general. 

Obviously, I wasn't alive in either case and cannot shoulder the blame at all.  But the words ordering the drops in Japan, for better or worse, wrong or wronger, whatever the political situation, those words were uttered in English and those bombs were made in the USA.  I don't know a lot about the political situation at the time, and can't say one way or the other what was right and what was wrong.  The more I learn, the more complicated it all seems. But the point is the those bombs came from my country.

Between the two books, it's been a cheery time up here in my head.  And imagine this lucky stroke: my nightmares are things I wake up from, and sometimes I even get a voice in them that tells me everything will be okay and that I'm dreaming.  I mean, at least I got a break from Hiroshima to go to a potluck, even a hopeless one.  My nightmares are better than their reality.  In Auschwitz, they stopped waking people from thrashing nightmares because even those were better.


On the one hand, I'm staring the worst of humanity in the eyes, sort of, as much as one can through books and I suppose I should just love everything that's not bombs and death camps and 12 year old Kamikaze's.  On the other hand, both books allow for everyday pains and hurts; they honor them.  Even my stomach ache, I felt assured last night, would be met with compassion from Frankl and Dr. Nagai both.  And in this recognition that all pain is the same, all of it fills our space when we experience it... this has given me peace about my own hurts.  Not a comparative peace, an at-least-I'm-not-on-a-train-to-Auschwitz kind of peace, but permission-to-feel peace.  And this makes my already beautiful life feel even more beautiful.  Yes, it is allowed, yes it is human, yes it is right that although my garden grows, although the cows give good milk and my chickens lay, even though my children are healthy and happy, even as my husband is such a loving stud-muffin, even so... I feel the slings and arrows of life and that is okay, that is the human experience and although it sits in perspective, there is nothing trivial about it.

I never was able to finish Country of My Skull (South African Truth and Reconciliation book)  and was told I probably should have as it ends with some hope and meaning which was an end point not foreseeable from the middle. 

All three books should be required reading for all of humanity, although perhaps not concurrently.  Let's hope the worst is behind us, and it could be, if we collectively want it to be. Although, even as we speak, genocides and atrocities continue.  Dr. Nagai (a double bomb survivor) concluded that unless we love one another, the whole world will one day look like Nagasaki. 

And I'm so thrilled those books are due tomorrow!  May humanity as a whole return these stories to the shelves forever.  Let them collect an eternity of dust.  It's kind of a ramshackle dream.  Maybe we'll get there.  Maybe.  You never know what's coming down the pike of history that could make it more likely.

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