Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Never Forget - A Brigid Guest Post

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good man do nothing.
- Edmund Burke

My friends and comrades here had some excellent posts this week on the recognition of the Holocaust.  So I decided to wait a couple of days to post this.  But these words needed to be said. - Brigid


I'm constantly amazed at the ignorance of man, not just in those situations which can get one killed, through acts of mental complacency generally fueled by alcohol or gasoline, but the seemingly willful ignorance of events that are occurring around them. I know people who have never left their hometown, but what is more incomprehensible to me, is people who have never thought outside their hometown.  I've heard as I keep tabs on the world on my days off, "Why do you CARE what's going on in the China Sea, in Iran?  The new Twilight movie is out!

I've come to the conclusion that there are simply some people who won't grasp the truth of the world until they see the truth of themselves.  Knowing yourself is a lifelong and sometimes acutely painful process, with your biggest lessons often emerging from your biggest mistakes. The truth about the nature of man and the world isn't always pleasant, some things we don't want to know  - what's really in a hot dog, how many calories there are in a piece of pie, and anything at all about anyone named Kardashian. Some things we cannot bear to know. But that knowledge of some things, no matter how hurtful to ones' spirit, is absolutely essential to our well-being, for only with truth do we have the resilience, the capacity to continue on, alive in the moment, unbound by regret and willing to fight.

In a disaster, in threat, to us as individuals, to us as a nation, the nature of truth, and how we face it, asserts itself.

Those who take charge do, those who choose to hide from things do, be it a disaster, heartbreak, the economy, crime or a terrorist attack. After 9-11, I had one acquaintance who refused to watch the news, heading out on a planned vacation and pretending it never happened. Another watched sitcom TV nonstop, staying home from work with a bowl of popcorn. Both of these individuals were in denial, afraid to accept the truth.

Some friends of mine who are first responders at the federal level were, within the last year, in my city, staying at my house while they attended some training.  They could have stayed at a hotel but they choose to stay with their blog "little sis". I looked at the house as my friends packed up to leave. It looked as if a testosterone bomb had gone off in here, guns, ammo, knives squirrel gear and more than one badge.  It was loud and it's messy, and sometimes it's bloody, but I wouldn't have traded my life, my duty, and my bond with these people for anything. We shared the fidelity with people we were bound to protect, even if we didn't particularly like them. We've slept on the bare ground and we know the sound of a bullet as it comes at us, not next to us at some sunny gun range, that sound that breaks the barrier that most people live behind. We've discovered things that are not so much "shiny" as unearthing a grave with bare hands and sticks, revealing more than just the comprehension of bereavement and irreparable finality, but that which is visible only to each other.

I was going to hate the sound the garage door made as it came down as they drove away,  I would pretend the tears were allergies.  My husband would hug me and understand.

On the shelf, packed from the trip to my Dad's, is a stone, full of fossilized seashells.  When I was home just before he died, my big brother told me about it.  It came from the quarry we did our target shooting at as kids. He squirreled it away when it was unearthed, knowing what a find it was, so many miles from the sea.  He told me he wanted me to have it.  He then quietly took me to Dad's garage and opened a drawer where he had hidden it as a child, picked it up carefully and gave it to me.  We've both seen a lot in our careers, that we can't discuss, even with one another. We don't discuss it now, we won't discuss it after we retire, we won't write a book about it.  There's an oath we took and we honor that. The rock was his way of acknowledging that what I do is important, that no matter how many years pass, he is still there.

It sits now in my office.

On another shelf, behind a desk, is another stone, one that many don't look it, it's just another rock to be collected to most observers,  displayed along with other artifacts of memory.

The last weeks have been long, with time on the road, and fitful sleep. This is not quite the life I expected when I hung up my wings for another four years of education on top of two previous degrees and a return to service. But it's the life that fits what strengths I have. I've come home with brain matter on my shoes. I've come home with images a person should never see, playing in my head like a bad film, until sleep comes fitfully. Yet I come home with purpose. With resolution.  I've collected those moments of lives, of loved ones, in the minutes before they leave us. I collect what is left, carefully, gently and with reverence, cataloging the bare bones of all that is truly important, so that we can learn from it so that it doesn't happen again. Then I usually go back to an empty room.

After 9/11 while flags waved on cars, and taps played,  I thought, now people have to see, finally see that truth is fierce and unrelenting. But soon, most forgot. Truth  We cannot ignore it or change it, but we can change the way we live with it. The truth of 9-11 is that the world IS a dangerous place and being politically correct to the point of ignoring the facts of who hates us and who is quietly amassing nuclear readiness while we make nice and look good for the cameras, isn't going to end well.

I finished at the Academy in 2001 and September 11 occurred when I was still wet behind the ears, assigned some mundane tasks until "something happened".  It did. Looking at the images on TV of Ground Zero, we sat, stunned, waiting for travel orders while I tried to not let it out that I had a brother who worked at the Pentagon, his office there smoking on TV. There was no talk, just a breathing that bordered on keening, looking at one another, our team leader, with an alert, profound justice as though we had already seen through the flames to where we would be, the shape of the disaster of which we could not speak. That day was trial by fire.

When I look at that stone behind the desk, I can't help but connected to the event from which it came, vowing never to forget.  There is something about a physical remnant of such places, those hallowed spots in which the innocent died, that bears with it the same quality of perspective as those who stood in its shadow, as though the object itself is speaking to us. It speaks to us in silent and profound significance, whispering its own truths.

When I'm out in the field I remember as well.  Around me, there is only musing sound, as shadows hang aloft as if from invisible wire, hovering above what remains for eyes to see. A place severed from the living, spectral shadow among that place of circumscribed desolation, filled with the voice of wasted lives and murmuring regret. There, only those left here, who remember history, who will gather what remains, cataloging it for infinity.

As I turn off the lights, the last to leave tonight, I take one last look at a chunk of stone.

It sits in a mundane office, on a flat surface in bitten shadow. It sits near a place where work is done to keep many safe. Most don't see it. It simply sits, in dense stillness, filling the room, the dawn, the dusk, with silent voices. I don't hear the voices but I know they exist. Each morning to start the day in its shadow, warm and safe, we remember that no matter what heartache comes our way, it is nothing compared to what this piece of stone bears witness to.

Those that see it don't look at it closely. But it speaks of so much that our generation, and most of our leaders, will never, ever fathom - the quiet of a shadowed facility where honor stands watch and oaths are kept, a small stone weeps.

Never, ever forget.

- Brigid


burt said...

(I apologize for the length of this response.)


My father served in the Army during WWII. Being of Polish descent, he and the rest of his family (4 brothers, 1 sister) all spoke fluent Polish. He lost contact with his extended family in Poland - and thus my ancestral family - and that contact has never been reestablished.

He was in Germany, in the 3rd Army, when he received orders to report to another group assigned to free one of "the camps" (he never said which one - more on that later). The reason they needed him was because he spoke fluent Polish and would be one of the few who could speak with the prisoners.

That experience left its mark on him.

As a child in the 1950s, I wasn't aware of this part of my father's life. He kept it hidden. Never spoke about it. But I always knew that something was wrong. Most fathers talk about their past. Mine never did.

Years later, after his death, I was rummaging through my mother's office when I came across a small box. Opening it, I was confronted with war memorabilia: pictures, patches, a couple of medals, and some letters and documentation. When I showed it to my mother, she told me what she knew - which was precious little.

He was accompanied to the camp by other soldiers, medical personnel, and a few others who spoke fluent Polish and other languages. She told me that he never quite recovered from the shock of seeing men, women, and children like that. And apparently he had nightmares about it for years.

He never spoke about it to me or my two brothers. I'm sure I know why, and it's the same as you and your father's stone: there are some things you just can't explain to others.

In my travels in the Navy, I visited ports around the world. In each new port, my method was to take a translation book, a couple of bottles of Coke, a camera, and a map - and explore. The things I have seen have been both beautiful and sad (I have pictures - of everything). The stories I have heard - via my poor ability to understand a foreign tongue and an occasional someone who would translate after seeing that I earnestly wanted to learn - have been both joyous and (in one particular situation) horrifying. Nightmare horrifying.

My father was deeply traumatized by what he saw. I won't trivialize it with the typical cliches, only to say that there is evil in this world and he saw its result. And he knew that, when he "returned to the world" (as military folks sometimes say) that (a) nobody would believe him and (b) nobody wanted to hear about it anyway.

People ask me what ships I was on in the Navy. I tell them, and I tell them where the ships were stationed.

Beyond that... nothing. They don't ask and I don't volunteer. They wouldn't understand anyway.

You have your father's stone to keep you anchored. I have some memorabilia I've gathered from around the world during my travels. One piece in particular - a hand-made knife from Ethopia - is on a shelf behind some other things. I've been tempted to put it away because every time I look at it... but it sits on the shelf still.

With my mother's permission many years ago, I gave most of his box of memorabilia to a regional museum for their Holocaust display. I visited the museum sometime later - anonymously - and saw his belongings in a display case next to a piece of information about the camp he helped free (which shall remain nameless). They knew more about my father than I did.

Other papers were sent to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. They accepted one particular document into their permanent display. My mother received a letter from the museum acknowledging the gift. It is in a box with the rest of my mother's important papers.

I wish I could talk to my father today and ask him to tell me his story. I know that, as a child, he didn't think I'd ever understand. Until Ethiopa, I probably couldn't. But now, I think I can.

And all of this because you mentioned your father's stone...

Skip said...

Another good one, Doc.
The number of people who refuse to see is sad.

Suz said...

Never, Ever Forget!

Not the Holocaust, Not Pearl Harbor, Not 9/11!

There is evil in the world. And all of us, military and civilians are in this war. War is the only word for it.

Your stone is only one in the wall we need to keep our country and our freedom safe.

LindaG said...

God bless you, Brigid, and all who serve like you do, in whatever capacity, to keep people like me; and the... people unlike me, who refuse to see what is happening in the world, and right here in America.

It is very scary.

The Old Man said...

Thanks for speaking up for those of us who can't or won't, for ne reason or another. Scars are only concealed and never removed. God bless you, sister-from-another-mister.

Mead Chick said...

Thank you so much Brigid. Truly.