“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
― Carl Sagan,
I’m writing this evening when my brain feels as scattered as stardust, blown about about the cosmic wind. My focus is lost; I think there’s a thousand things I should be doing with myself to oppose the insanity that has taken this country. Where to best put my energy? I come up with a plan, a theory, and the next event, the next encounter, changes my mind. I want to write about how sorry I am that you have had this terrible loss, this friend that is gone from your life, like the loss I suffered nine years ago..nine years! It’s so hard to believe she’s been gone that long. See how my mind races, I am irritable, and I feel that I’m no good to anyone.
Quite by accident I found myself this afternoon, with my boyfriend,standing in front of a Holocaust memorial. We had gone to Forest Park in Portland for a hike, and I needed one, as I felt the anxious energy building and building. I have gone to the Vietnam memorial in Portland several times but I must admit, regretfully, that I never even knew where the city’s Holocaust memorial was. We went a direction in the park I’ve never taken, and there it was, hidden in the enormous pine trees, a black wall, with some tiny memorial statues, not of people, but rather a broken suitcase, a teddy bear, a pair of eyeglasses, all in a place where one could trip over them, solid metal renderings of personal possessions. We took the time to read the entire history of Hitler’s destruction of Jewish people, disabled people, Roma people, and anyone else he decided to hate, but especially the Jews. The engraving told of early history of the Holocaust, beginning with banning Jews from immigrating, then from stores and businesses, then from schools, and registering them, forcing them to designate themselves with a middle name of Sarah or Israel, mocking these honorable names.
Sound hideously familiar? I know it does to you.
My mind is still racing. Only in the past few years did I really understand that my father’s history is Jewish. His family seems to have arrived a long time before the Holocaust in Europe, maybe a hundred years. Names appeared in the more easily accessible records now available online..a great grandmother named Rachel, a great grandfather named Isaac. If they hadn’t moved to Illinois in the nineteen century, it’s likely I wouldn’t be here. Not that that’s so very important…it’s just likely.
Thirty three years ago I stood with my college classmates in Auschwitz, Poland, reading in our second language, German, the ugly orders that exterminated thousands or tens of thousands of people in “relocation” camps. Behind us was a plexiglass wall where tangled eyeglasses, the actual eyeglasses, kept by the Nazis, were piled up on display. Another room, behind more plexiglass, was a ceiling high mound of human hair. We walked on silently to and through the gas chambers where the fingernail scratches of the dying, the marks of frantic scraping at the walls, were still easy to see.
The bus ride back to Krakow was silent. I remember staring out at the bleak landscape and crying.
I will never forget that experience. I doubt any of my classmates have forgotten.
Now, at this moment, we live in a country that is banning immigration to a group of people based on their country of origin and their religion. I see comments online that chastise the educated for believing their liberal professors and accuse me and other deeply worried citizens of “whining” and “not understanding national security”. Now I feel angry, even enraged. I think, I’d be happy to introduce these fools to the descendants of victims of their ancestors’ great sin, the destruction of Native Americans. Perhaps they worry that they will be treated the way their immigrant ancestors treated the actual North Americans when they arrived. Failure to comprehend after this experience would then result in me ripping their lungs out.
That would not be very productive, I think.
It’s amazing how rage is catching, like a virus that spreads everywhere, infecting, infecting.
Anger and rage, part of grief. I feel such sorry for my country, and I don’t want to sound trite, but I do love America, I do. I wept when those towers came down, and I was both proud and humbled when, during my recent travels, a French couple told me no matter who the President, Americans are always welcome in France…This ongoing welcome, I knew, because of World War II, when we opposed Hitler’s evil, although we were late, so late to the defense, but this couple, this pair, forgives America for that and for the current travesty, and welcomes me, and you, and America, even though most of us had nothing to do with that war, we were not even born.
I wonder, are you angry? Are you angry that your friend was taken from you when he was not very old? I was, so so angry, I had plans for my lost friend too, nine years ago, upcoming plans at the time, and I loved her. He can’t contribute his talent anymore, we can’t look forward to any of his works, and you will miss his friendship, probably more than any of his writing. I know I miss her, so deeply. I am not as angry as I was at first.
At the time of my friend’s death, she was working on a draft statement by psychologists, a position paper against psychologists contributing, by assessing or evaluating, prisoners who may be tortured. Guantanamo was a big concern and it seemed misguided professionals had somehow lost their way and gotten involved. The ugly possibility of torture has arisen again…the dangerous fool leading us has stated his support, and his uneducated! dare I say it! minions sell the American public on its “effectiveness”.
For some reason, and please recall I am scattered today, Carl Sagan floated into my mind. There was a part in the original Cosmos series where he reminded his audience…we are all part of the stars…we are all made of stardust. The Jewish dead, the exterminated Indians, your friend, my friend, you and me, we are all stardust. Today you and I hold a certain form that the stardust takes, a human form. I hope the universe sends me a sign as to what to do. Maybe I can combine the stardust that is mine, and the stardust that may have been part of others, and find the right thing to do, and I will be less strewn about, less angry and confused.