The ghost of tragedy past — 031811

Mom seems to vacillate between wanting to know what’s going on in the world and not wanting to know.  I’ve found that, generally, she does know what she should.  Mom is specifically interested in current events in Japan because Nick is there, and she knows that Lisa is concerned about him.  Mom wants to be supportive in every way.

There was a moment in our conversation yesterday when Mom seemed to say that she didn’t want to be in touch with the Japanese tragedy; it brought back too many memories of her own experiences during World War II.

...a thousand words. Photo credit: AP/Asahi Shimbun, Toshiyuki Tsunenari

I didn’t show this picture (above) to her; I didn’t need to…she lived it.  And there were times back then when the expression on Mom’s face mirrored that of this young lady’s face.  (It’s worth enlarging this picture.  Her’s is an agony that will never be forgotten.)

Mom is nothing if not empathetic.  While Germany doesn’t have earthquakes and tsunamis, bombardments had the same effect on buildings and areas of land.  She was about ten years old, then.  Mom describes taking haven in the basements of three-story buildings, feeling the impact of the bombs (“as if earthquakes”) and emerging later to find only smoldering rubble.

What happens in the mind of a young person who sees destruction repeatedly; and who escapes harm by a whisker repeatedly?  I’d need a Ph.D in psychology to begin to know.  What I can say is that Mom came out of the war with an elevated appreciation for life; with arms open wide to render comfort to all.


Not far from here is a small-town Diner.  It put up signs in several languages indicating that ‘if you don’t speak English, you won’t get service.’  Every effort has been made to explain that “the message is about the inability to take your order so that we can serve you what you want.”

Right or wrong, there was a firestorm of protest claiming racism as the motivation.  Threats were made.  The signs have since come down.

In an effort to inform herself about events in Japan, Mom saw this story on TV.  She mentioned it to me and shook her head vigorously.  “I’m amazed, amazed, by what I’ve seen in Greensboro over the last thirty-eight years.”  I asked, “do you mean discrimination?”  She nodded; but she didn’t say whether it had improved or not.

Mom is, in every way, inclusive.  One of my earliest memories is of seeing a crippled man on a sidewalk in the Bronx.  I pointed at him and said, loudly, “Mommy, look at that man.  He’s broken!”  Mom replied: “That man deserves to be treated every bit as well as you and me.”  It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten and have always appreciated.


Mom visited Michael and Joy in Berlin during the summer of 1986.  At some point, she visited the Berlin Wall.  She went up to the graffiti-stained wall and touched it.  Mom says that she felt the wall move, and imagined that it would one day crumble.  She delivered that report to Michael and Joy who didn’t necessarily agree, but apparently didn’t say much, as Mom recalls.

One year later, June 1987, President Ronald Reagan made his now-infamous speech at the Brandenburg Gate during which he said: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”  Official response from the Soviet news agency Tass was that Reagan had delivered an “openly provocative, war-mongering speech.”   But the message got through to Mikhail Gorbachev, nonetheless.  The Gate opened in November 1989, and the wall was dismantled beginning in December.

The Wall came to symbolize the collapse of communism in the eastern bloc and, eventually, of the Soviet Union itself.

The significance of this bit of history is not lost on Mom; she foretold it.


About FredMarx

Old enough to have wisdom; young enough to learn.
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One Response to The ghost of tragedy past — 031811

  1. Arlene says:

    Some people are against anyone who isn’t just like them, others can see themselves in others and empathize.

    I’m a fan of Victorian literature and it is full of prejudice–against the Jews, the Irish, eastern Europeans, the Portuguese, etc. Prejudice is often presented as the normal feelings of good people.

    And, anyone who has read Charles Darwin’s “Voyage of the Beagle” will note that this intelligent (and liberal thinker for the times) seemed to view the natives he saw in South America as not quite human.

    Possibly, a fear of those who are ‘not us’ may have been an important evolutionary trait. Education helps mitigate the problem.

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