Sunday Morning ~ Remembering
Kudya n’kudyabe, kumbuka uko unacoka. ~ You are eating, keep eating but remember where you came from.
~ Chewa proverb
May 28, 2023
When my daughter was in elementary school, one of her assignments was to interview a relative who’d lived during World War II. When my husband’s aunt was visiting for a holiday my daughter took the opportunity to get her homework done. We were all sitting around a fire in the living room while Rachael got herself set up with notebook and pencil looking like an adorable junior reporter. She had prepared a set of questions, the first being “What did you think of the war when you were growing up?” Her great aunt replied without hesitation, “I thought it was marvelous!” The entire family stopped what they were doing and gasped! I was expecting a somber answer of praying for loved ones to return safely, or enduring the privations war imposes, but she laughed and repeated, “I did! I thought it was wonderful!” Hoping for some context and not wanting my ten year old to write in her report that war was wonderful, I said, “Gee, Audrey, would you like to say more about that? It’s not the answer I was expecting.” Her response surprised me. She said, “You have to remember, I was a young girl growing up in Boston. What I knew of the war was that we were winning! Our soldiers were the heroes, and the atmosphere was one of victory. It all seemed like a triumph. I knew nothing of what war was really like.” The men in her family all came back alive and victorious. She was being honest about her girlhood memories not cluttering family dysfunction with war-inflicted trauma. She said it was much later in life she learned the realities of that war.
My oldest brother survived active combat in Vietnam. Understanding nothing of what made him so, he was our family hero. Was it just that he came home alive? To this day my happiest family memory is picking him up at Logan airport, uniformed, physically intact, smiling, and alive. My parents were so happy. I had no understanding of their worry, fear, and relief. None. I was just happy that everyone was happy. At age twelve, the nightly news reports had been wallpaper to me. I don’t know if it was denial or oblivion, but there was never any question in my mind he’d come back alive. It was years later I learned what horror that war was.
I’m in Santa Fe having had a beautiful train ride from Albany, appreciating how vast, varied, and spectacular our country is. I sat in the observation car imagining the landscape through the ages. I thought of the varied peoples inhabiting the land, the wars over control and resources, the pain and trauma inflicted, and how none of this was visible as we passed by. All I could see was the magnificence. If I knew nothing of our history, I’d look out the windows at the bison and elk in the foreground, the mountains behind, the wildflowers in bloom, and think everything had been done right.
My godson’s wedding was this weekend and my grandchildren were flower girl and ring bearer. They were the only kids there, and after adorably playing their part in the ceremony, they went with a babysitter back to the hotel to enjoy their time eating fun food and swimming in the rooftop pool. When I asked Amelia how she liked the babysitter, she said, “She was good. She is a college student and has her license, which is good in case a dangerous person came into the hotel and we needed to leave quickly. Which, probably wouldn’t happen, but in case it did, I felt better knowing she could drive us away if we needed to leave quickly. Sometimes in an emergency there wouldn’t be enough time to call my parents.” Oh my God, what child should have to think like this? She is nine years old and spoke so maturely. Clearly this had been discussed in school and I could imagine the challenge teachers have in preparing kids for a shooting without terrifying them. My sweet grandchild felt the need to prepare for escape and protection at a luxury hotel in downtown Santa Fe. She is carrying more fear in her young life than any child should. I shudder to think of what survivors of shootings and wars are going through. I wonder what memories she’ll share when her grandchildren ask her how it was to live through a time when shooters came into schools and randomly murdered people. What was it like to live in a country where those who had the power, chose money over your life? Will the victims be considered war dead on Memorial Day seventy years from now?
Love to all,