Remembering

On the 1. September 1939,  seventy-eight years ago, WW II began. I remember the day like yesterday. There was nobody in my family then as old as I am now. Had there been such a person, this person would have been born in 1857; a number that was as ancient to me then as must now be the year 1939 to the present generation of children and teenagers.

The Nazi Government of Germany started the whole thing and it turned out to be a disaster for the world, and the Germans were on the wrong side of history.

Even a neutral observer today can see that it was wrong to start that war. It was a war of aggression and as such reprehensible. The people are never asked whether they want such a war.

When my wife and I demonstrated against the Iraqi War at a peaceful rally in Sydney the participants were called ‘the mob’ by our warmongering Prime Minister. Nobody behaved like ‘The Mob’ there. As far as I could see they were all respectable human beings. They were just sick of the rhetoric of the Western leaders.

Today’s generation knows nothing about WW II and not much about the Iraqi War. It was started by US President George W Bush and it became the cause of the terrorism we are battling today. There was never a Nuremberg War Tribunal for Bush, Blair and Howard. Come to think of it, Nuremberg would be the right place for a permanent War Criminal Tribunal.

Now I am an old man. Recollections of my life are floating in and out of my memory. So many people are now dead who I once knew. There must have been hundreds. Those people were once real to me like the people that are part of my life now. My maternal grandparents were the first to pass away. Where did they go?  Children would go straight to heaven if they died, I was told. But where did the older people go when they died? Apparently, they went to the cemetery which we visited regularly. Later, on such a visit to the cemetery, we children discovered a children’s grave adorned by an angel figurine. Another illusion was destroyed.

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My maternal grandparents in 1922 on the occasion of my parent’s engagement

The day my Opa died I looked up to the sky for a sign that he had arrived in heaven. But it all looked too ordinary; puffs of white clouds moved across the blue sky. Perhaps the air was clearer than usual. Was that the sign I was looking for? Granddad was actually my first body I was allowed to see. All was so quiet as his body lay on a bed. The adults were whispering as if they were afraid he could hear them.

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We lived in the ground floor apartment (right in the corner) and my grandparents above us on the first floor. The boy in the picture is our Great-Grandson Lucas during our visit to Berlin in 2016. Lucas is standing in the same spot my Grandfather walked over five generations before.

During the war, I saw enough bodies to fill half a cemetery. They did not look as peaceful as I remember my Granddad. Some bodies looked grotesque and would not have wished their mothers to have seen them in their final agony.

One of the most memorable experiences in this regard was the death of a seven-year-old girl who was run over by a tram. I knew her from my way to school and I wrote a partly fictional account of the day of that tragic event. I only saw her tiny legs sticking out from underneath a blanket a kindly person had thrown over her.

I  think, I wanted to write something differently when I started this post but it seems my memories took me on an unexpected path. That is one of the characteristics of remembering, one can drift, dreamlike, from one memory to another.

Despite everything, I sort of like my memories. I always tell myself there was nothing traumatic because nobody made a fuss about it. We always got on with it. Memories have shaped and formed us into the persons we are today. But we will take them to our graves and this seems to be a pity. Why can’t we end up sitting on a cloud and remembering things? We would have a lot of time doing it.

Three years ago we went to the theatre in Sydney and saw Maxim Gorki’s “Children of the Sun“. I had completely forgotten about it and can’t even remember it after FaceBook reminded me of it. Apparently, we had a nice day in Sydney and my wife even published a post on her blog about it. Regrettably, she did not write anything about the play.

I know what the play is all about and realise we are all “Children of the Sun” in Western societies. We are all blind to the realities that surround us. When Gorki wrote his play in prison, he had enough foreboding of the time ahead; just waiting around the corner was the WW I.  I have now the same foreboding of the future that awaits my grand- and great-grandchildren.

Similarly, written a few years earlier, was H.G. Wells “The Time Machine”. He even looked further ahead. Today,  we live “Eloi” like and could not care much for the wage-slaves in China, Bangladesh or Indonesia. Our beliefs in a technologically advanced future, in which “AI” will help us to survive, will only create our own “Morlocks” in our own image.

Today arrived the news as to how the political and financial elite is cheating on their tax liabilities. It is so disgusting as they are treating us all like mugs. They are mocking the multitude and their laughter of derision can be heard as they count their ill-gotten billions. The late Australian billionaire Frank Packer was ridiculing and challenging the questioners at a parliamentary inquiry by stating he would be a mug paying any more tax than he needs to. Indeed, the logic cannot be challenged but the tax laws could be changed. This proves tax laws are made to favour the rich and to disfavour the rest of us.

But is has been like this all through the centuries. The contemporary, political elite has learnt the lesson and they know now how to delay, but unable to avert,  the day of the reckoning for a while yet. But the revolution will come and it will be as horrible as any revolution before. We are literally dancing on a volcano and the climate change is making sure it is getting even hotter.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said in a conflict between reason and will, “will” will always win.  So, the prospect that mankind can solve its conflicts and problems in a “reasonable” manner, is pretty slim. We are stumbling from crisis to crisis and keep dancing until we fall flat on our faces.

I wish I could be more optimistic but the experience of my life does not allow this. There are good and reasonable people among us but they are not running the show. Barack Obama is such a person but when he entered the Oval Office to start his presidency and said, “Yes, I can!”,  all his advisors shouted in unison, “No, you can’t!” He had high hopes and expressed it in this way,

“Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”

I wish I could share his optimism.

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This baby vine leaf is full of hope. It does not, and will never, know that it is only part of a process.

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Our Identities in the 21st Century

We all have heard of the famous pronouncement Samuel Johnson was supposed to have made, that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

What then is the meaning of the statement President Trump made in the front of the Capitol when he made his inaugural speech?

“It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget that                              whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”

Apparently, he wanted to remind his fellow Americans that they were all patriots and they should put America first.

The same is happening here in Australia. Our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked new citizens if they seek, “to join our Australian family to join us as Australian Patriots – committed to the values that define us, committed to the values that unite us.”

So, is Trump now one of Samuel Johnson’s scoundrels? Or is he just pulling America back from its international role to its traditional isolationist position?

Being a patriot and “our values” in all their forms has a lot to do with our identity. Where does that identity come from?  Our identity more likely comes from our culture and language. This identity is formed by the things that surround us, our family, our neighbourhood, our landscape, the country that is formed by the borders that define the nation, religion, climate etc.

Along come the politicians and ask us to be patriots and defend those national borders. There is no doubt our identity gives us at times comfort and security. At other times it gives us anxiety and we cringe when we are asked, in the name of patriotism, to defend something that does not feel right.

If our language is the framework for our identity then what if we are bilingual and have learnt to love another culture other than the culture of our upbringing? Scientists say our brain is rewired by a second language. Are we then less patriotic? Or can we ask the other way around, are we tied to the circumstance of our upbringing?

Towards the end of the 20th century Europeans, for instance, have grown less nationalistic and have embraced a common European cultural upbringing. Shock horror then when the English people living in other EU countries felt horrified about the negative Brexit vote. They felt more European than British and thousands want to apply for German citizenship as soon as they can. A European identity seems to take over from the old national identities. Suddenly those Britons feel the old border was being re-erected where there wasn’t any anymore. Suddenly the drawbridge is pulled back in and the English Channel becomes a moat again.

For a couple of generations, borders seemed to disappear or at least they became meaningless. Does that mean we were all losing our identities? I have the feeling national borders, often artificial constructs anyway, are not necessarily the cause of our identity.

As the population mix here in Australia changes due to immigration there is a discussion whether we belong to the West or whether we are Asian now. Asian countries become suspicious of us as we are not sufficiently Asian. They are asking whether the old colonial powers have left a Trojan Horse in their backyard. Clearly, their identity tells them we are of a different identity of which they have to be wary.

I’m sure, over the years we will, here in Australia,  develop a new identity. Most of the values our Prime Minister speaks about are universal ones anyway and they are easy to understand.

Who am I then? German or Australian? A bit of both? Or am I already forming a new identity? My two languages give me the opportunity to roam the literature of two cultures, albeit they are not too different. It is said that thinking in two languages is like having two souls. It can be very stressful to have “two souls in one’s breast”! Especially when one’s loyalties are being tested one way or another.

In my opinion questioning the policies of our government is not disloyalty at all. It is the opposite! It shows commitment to a better society. They like to speak about fairness but their policies are anything but. My Australian identity is sufficiently challenged by policies that favour the rich and discriminate against the poor.

Is my anger the reflection of some sort of identity? And if our identities are changing over time who will we be in this and the next century? And if ever there is a threat from outer space, will we discover that we have a universal identity here on Earth? It seems an identity is only apparent with an opposing identity.

I think we should ditch all those different identities and declare that we belong to the same humanity in a borderless, global society where we are all siblings of the same family under the natural guidance of Mother Earth.

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Pauses

 

 

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The backyard of Ruby’s Restaurant at Mount Kembla, NSW

 

Life can be pretty hectic. From the time we are born to the moment we die, life can be full of activities that don’t leave much time for reflections. If we stumble from event to event we could miss the important moments when we could realise, that life is not only a string of events.

If we don’t stop from time to time we are just driftwood in the great ocean of events. The events in the Universe appear to be chaotic. We have been given our five senses to make some sense out of this chaos. By doing this our intellect is only creating an image of reality, according to Deepak Chopra. But do we stop to correct that false image?

I know our sensory experience is an illusion, but nevertheless, I, and we all,  need it as a guidance in our daily life.

Sometimes a pause is forced upon us, like when we miss a train or a thunderstorm compels us to take shelter. The chain of events in which we were drifting is broken and we pause.

Some of us are creative in pausing.  A photographer might be looking at something with his inner eye and discovers that, that has always been there but would be unnoticed by people who hastened to their next event.

A poet is in pause-motion when he writes his poem. He reflects on his feelings and the circumstances that caused those feelings.  And we, the readers, pause again when we try to absorb those very feelings. This could be over a large span of time and distance proving that time too is an artificial construct of our intellect.

And what about music? Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” are such reflections on life as a child and how our childhood shapes us. But do we stop and pause to reflect on it? Children are still daydreaming – pausing in fact – even if they stare onto their iPads. We used to stare out of the windows in the classroom; daydreaming of the world outside that window. Modern children look at the iPad and expect to see beyond to what the screen has to offer.

 

I think pauses make us into proper human beings because they interrupt our constant reactions to the events that shape our lives. In those pauses, we might discover who we really are and our relationship with the world around us. It is worthwhile to reflect on the fact that we are just a temporary collection of atomic particles.

Hanukkah and Christmas are upon us. And when we light the candles it is time to look into the light and let it shine on our inner knowledge.  The holiday period at the end of the year is the big pause when we have the opportunity to recognise that we are all brothers and sisters, made from the same stardust.

 

I wish all my followers a “Happy Hanukkah, a Merry Christmas or just plain Season’s Greetings”. Let the light brighten your consciousness to a better understanding of yourself and the world around you.

 

 

 

 

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The old mining village of Mount Kembla, NSW