Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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A season of renewal and hope

Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau: Top of the Johannisstrasse, 1908

Author and friend Reiner Lomb once shared a story about how surprising – and kind – the human heart can be.

Toward the end of World War 2, on Good Friday, some of his ancestors were expecting their tiny village to be overrun at any moment by U.S. soldiers. The German troops were retreating, and my friend’s family members, six adults and two children, were trying to decide whether they should stay put or hide in hills above the village.

In a previous war, their village had been wiped out in a similar situation, with every single person killed, so they were quite fearful.

They also had a family member who was a prisoner of war overseas, one with whom they would later be reunited, and who would become my friend’s father.

All they wanted to do was to be able to live their simple life in terrible times, during a war they’d just as soon had never happened.

They decided to stay in their home, and within hours, several vehicles pulled into their farmyard and U.S. soldiers climbed out and ordered them upstairs while the soldiers took over the lower floor of the house.

Photo: Nelson Ashberger

What my friend’s aunt, who was among those present, most remembers is how young these soldiers looked to her at the time. As she and her sister peeked down from upstairs, she saw that the soldiers were having trouble figuring out how to light the cook stove, and so, to her family’s horror, she bounded down to help them. (Her sister would later tease her that the only reason she’d done this was because those soldiers were so handsome.)

That weekend, they all eventually feasted together on the farm’s fresh eggs and the soldiers’ rations in a shared meal around that kitchen table. On Easter Sunday morning, the family came downstairs to find the soldiers gone, along with a basket of hard-boiled eggs that the family had colored earlier that week. In the basket’s place was a huge stash of chocolate.

“My family hadn’t seen chocolate for years,” my friend says, “and this, combined with how carefully the soldiers had left everything in its place when my family had expected them to ransack the house, gave everyone great heart, and the possibility of believing that maybe things would be all right after all.”

The miracle of his father’s return a short while later was the very best evidence of that, of course, and soon spring bulbs were blooming in the yard and, despite the ravages of the war, his family knew that they’d see green fields again.

It’s no coincidence that the essence of Easter – resurrection — is about restoration and renewal.

Whatever our faith, or lack of it, spring brings that glorious reminder that, no matter what has happened, no matter how long our personal winters may have been, the spiritual pulse of springtime always offers us a new beginning.

 

Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details:

https://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0


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Too precious for anything but gratitude and joy

Spitzerturm

I’ve been retracing a path of family history, following portions of the route that brought my parents together in England during World War II and eventually resulted in my speaking German (well, a kindergartner’s “German”) almost as early as I spoke my mother tongue.

During the U.S. occupation of Europe after the war, my military family spent two tours in Germany, the last of which holds my oldest memories. In the winter of 1960, we sailed across the Atlantic to a very new life. As military housing was at a premium, we lived “on the economy,” first in a hotel that I still visit, then in a tiny village 45 minutes from Frankfurt. A family named Geis welcomed us into the ground floor of their home while they squeezed upstairs to make room for us.

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Photo: D. Kirkup Designs

Contrary to popular belief about German-American relations at the time, they were unfailingly kind and astonishingly generous, especially since they had very little after the war. While they no doubt welcomed the money they received for sharing that clean, accommodating space with us, they always felt more like grandparents than landlords to me.

What I remember most is how cheerful and happy they always were. I later learned that Herr Geis, like my family, was a recent arrival in Germany. Before that, his wife and children had waited 15 long years while he was a prisoner of war in a Russian prison camp, wondering whether they’d ever see him again. I understand now that after he came home, they saw every day as a new beginning and treated it like something too precious to waste on anything but gratitude and joy.

Hotel Schwan-2It was during Easter week that this couple and I shared one of my earliest intercultural exchanges. One day my parents had some appointments and errands and the Geises offered to watch me while they were away. My four-year-old self delighted in the day’s pursuits, which actually involved little more than following along behind the couple as they did their chores, preparing the field behind their home for planting, and helping me discover some stray potatoes they’d missed at harvest time.

After we’d eaten those at the mid-day meal, together with eggs we’d collected from their hens, they introduced me to my first Easter eggs.

We were coloring them when my parents appeared at their kitchen door, bearing some traditional American fare — Hershey bars and a big bowl of popcorn — that they’d brought as an Easter gift and thank-you.Werthlight1794520_10152227789087641_458337041_n

Most Germans had never seen popcorn, since corn was grown only for animal feed in Europe in those days. That bowl lasted for hours as the Geises removed a piece at a time, holding it up and marveling as they named the creature or object that its shape approximated. Eventually, we all began to do the same amid lots of laughter, and a pretty good vocabulary lesson on both sides of our collective language barrier.

This event stands out in my memory because it signals such a perceptible shift in my family’s bond with the Geises, the kind that meant they’d become regular guests at our military-base quarters on-base quarters long after we’d moved from our temporary shelter in their house.

I didn’t know of any other American families who shared this kind of friendship, and after my mother’s horrific experiences during the Blitz in Britain, most anyone would have forgiven her if she’d been hesitant to embrace Germans.

As I travel through Germany on Easter all these decades later, I feel eternally thankful for parents who were always able to see the humanity in any situation, above and beyond past history or politics. I realize today what a vital part of peace-building this is.

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Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details –

http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=leaofthetre-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=1931847673″