More than 30 years ago now, I was traveling through Europe with a friend and we visited the concentration camps at Dachau. To say it was a profound experience is, of course, an understatement. To see the words”Those who forget the past are destined to repeat it.” still rings in my ears. To walk those paved pathways that had carried such hate, such despair, such evil put into perspective for this usually upbeat person, the sheer cruelty and terror we humans can visit on others. I can still feel the power of it if I allow myself.
But the image that probably made an impression on me most were the sweet, cottages that lined the streets just outside the gates to that place of terror. Houses, like a gingerbread village, lined the street in their neat, precise German way. The lace curtains had different patterns but created a fluid wave of sweetness and simplicity. Outside each window, boxes of geraniums bloomed their color into the grayness that seemed to linger still over this place. I remember thinking,”How could these people live so close and not know what was going on?” This was the naive thinking of a twenty-something.
For some reason, I woke this day with the images of those window boxes in my mind. Our geraniums are still blooming outside our kitchen window, a sign of a summer that has overstayed its welcome. I thought of the lens I have on the world and how that lens has perhaps not allowed me to see a wider world that has existed outside my own vision. A world that has allowed hate, sexism, racism, xenophobia, and a myriad other phobias and isms to fester and boil. It feels as if I woke up in a completely different country which, of course, is not true. It is simply a world that now has revealed a darker, more frightening face than I had the ability to see from my lace-curtained windows.
It is too early to know what I will do about it, how I will be in it. For now I have to rest in the grief and sadness. My daily calendar wisdom had this to offer from mystic Meister Eckhart: “God is at home. We are in the far country.” Today I need to know that God is indeed at home and that I can find my way back to that cottage that perhaps has always sat just outside the walls of despair and destruction. I need to believe that as a country we can find our way back to a home that is filled with a goodness and hope that transcends time and situation.
How can I possibly know what was going on behind the doors of those houses that existed so close to the gates of evil? How do I not know that those who lived there were not doing all manner of things to help those being led to their death? Can I imagine that those people in the gingerbread houses planted those flowers so one of the last things the lines of people saw was beauty? Perhaps they were doing all manner of good.
Those are some of the questions I hold that connect with the image that floated up this morning from some deep memory. There are so many other questions to hold that will lead me… and many others…into this day, this week, this year and the next four. May we have the courage and faith to hold them wisely and with compassion remembering that….God is home…it is we who have walked far, far away.