Sunday, January 8, 2012

Building From What Remains

Nuremberg before WWII. Photo from Nuremberg_Scrapbooks collection of Boston Public Library and edited by Pirkheimer via Wikipedia
The last few months, as I've considered my future, and what I desire to do with it, I've been thinking a lot about my stint in the Army.  I was stationed for 2 years in F├╝rth, just outside Nuremberg, Germany.  On my days off I'd take a cab to the city, then get out and walk to explore all it had to offer.  The city and it's history fascinated me.  I'd never been to a place outside the U.S. except for a quick jaunt into Mexico when I was 18, and I certainly had never lived, for any extended period of time, outside my own culture.  As I became familiar with the city and it's people, my favorite places to haunt ended up being one of the cathedrals, the railway station, and a small pub I discovered, tucked in a little hidey hole located not far from my favorite cathedral.

As I walked the city, I noticed many of the buildings had patterns of small holes in them, all of them around shoulder height.  In fact, the scars were so prevalent that my curiosity finally got the better of me, and I had to ask someone what the story was behind them.  The answer to that question ( bullet holes ) began opening a door in my mind to understanding a culture and a people whom I grew to greatly admire and respect for their resilience, perseverance, and spirit of renewal.  I'd read a bit about Germany's history, of course, in high school; dry, distant, factual accounts, mainly surrounding the subject of WWII.  But it's quite a different experience living there, immersed in their culture, having conversations with folks who bring with them the living memories of devastation, and the ability to find within themselves what it takes to rebuild again from what remains. 

Photo from
Only 40 years had gone by since the city and it's people had been bombed continuously by the Americans, brought low, to nothing more than rubble, with the skeletons of some buildings remaining.  The hostility I felt at times, coming from the people, began to make sense to me.  In some, the memory of it was still fresh, they'd lived it, and seeing American soldiers still occupying their land and city was an insult that asked too much of them to be able to forgive.  My main haunts became my favorite places because that is where I found people who willingly shared their stories.  I had 100's of conversations with young and old alike, each carrying a different perspective, bringing a unique view, yet each affected by the history and occupation of Germany.  The majority of them played no part in the war, yet were nevertheless caught up in the effects of it.  Like children standing helplessly between two arguing parents, they were the ones who were the most deeply impacted. 

I've never been much of a victim.  That is, to say, I've never thought of myself as a victim.  I actually considered, at one time, that there was no such thing.  I was wrong.  Yes, I've had horrible things happen to me that were beyond my control, and while I desired to pretend I wasn't affected, I discovered there is no way I could not have been impacted from the choices made by others.  Choices that changed the picture of my life in such a way to at least feel like the difference depicted in those two pictures above of a city before and after those choices were enacted. 

The past few years I have been impacted by choices made by others, caught up in a wind of change that brought it's own kind of devastation to my life, and to those I love.  We've all felt, from one degree to another, the effects from choices made in the past, creating the state of economy in this society as it stands right now.  Nothing just suddenly happens.  It is created over time, oftentimes mindlessly, without thought or care to who it will impact, or it's far reaching effects.  And those of us who remain in the wake of the choices made by those who created it, are left having to decide what to do with the rubble and skeletons left standing.  Starting all over is never easy, and I know I have been tempted to seek someone to blame, and to point my finger at them, as if that would change one thing as it stands right now.  As if that would make it all not so.  As if finding the culprit, the evil doer, would act like some sort of magic button to take it all back. 

There is no taking it back.  What was done, is done.  What was made, is made.  I stand in the results of it.  We are all standing in the effects...impacted.

So, I've been thinking a lot about my time in Germany.  Looking at, and considering what the folks who lived in Nuremberg did.  How did it feel looking out over the rubble of their once great, beautiful city.  Or looking at what once was their lives, and their livelihood.  I'm sure many felt like giving up, too tired and weary to go on, after too many years of coping with the horrors of war.  It's the shock, I think, more than anything else, that can be our undoing.  Or a series of shocks, brought on slowly, one after the other, to finally fray our nerve endings to the point we no longer feel anything like wonder, or the blessings of the sun on our face.  For some, living in the memories of what used to be feels safer than finding acceptance in what stands before them now. 

Photo by Manfred Braun via Wikipedia
Yet the people of Nuremberg somehow found within themselves a way to shake off the debilitating shock and grief, or at least the ability to stand and walk through it, and saw something of value still remained in the rubble.  They saw foundations of buildings that once stood tall, and began to build again from them.  They didn't graze the ground to start over from scratch, nor leave to start all over somewhere else.  They didn't fold up and die in the rubble, to become skeletons themselves.  They didn't allow ruin to stand in remembrance, other than the scars left in evidence from harder times.  Instead, they took stock of what they had, of what remained, and used it to build again. The people who live there now are also affected, and greatly benefited, by those who made the choice to rebuild.  It works both ways, the choices we make.  We have the power to create or destroy, leaving in our wake the effects to be felt by those who come after us. 

The past few months, after finally finding a measure of peace in my heart, and in my life once again, slowly awakening to the fact that the tides have finally changed again, the bombs have stopped falling, I've been taking stock of what remains in my life, and as I've sorted through the rubble, I've discovered a different kind of foundation still stands.  I can honestly say I was never consciously aware of it before, never having experiences that brought it to the fore.  Or so I thought.  We take ourselves for granted, I think, as much as we do each other, never fully knowing what we are made of until we are up against the winds of such drastic change.  I was just as weary and tired of battle as those folks in Nuremberg must have felt after their city was left in ruins.  But the choice to rebuild came from somewhere deep within them.  I'm sure many, at the time, discovered a love for their city, for their people, their culture, that they never knew existed within them, and with the discovery, they brought forth what was good, and rebuilt from there, instead of allowing a few to destroy it.  They did it for themselves and generations to come.  From that place bloomed vision once again, and from there they found the courage to rebuild...brick by brick.  That spirit, from the love in their hearts for good, was their foundation, and is the only way they could have even seen and valued the foundations that remained before them.  The enemy, the warmongers, didn't destroy everything. 

And I have found the same in me.  After all the bombs, after all the devastation, after all the grief, and shock, from being knocked sideways again and again...not everything was destroyed, or even can be...for it is within me.  A foundation set long ago, by a family of men and women who didn't give up, who wouldn't quit, who kept moving, who kept going until they found what they were looking for, their focus pinned on it, unwavering, holding on to a vision of good.  If I fold, if I quit, if I give up, I leave a legacy of hopelessness that has already taken too many.  I won't leave that legacy with my daughter, or my grandson, or anyone who I eventually leave behind.  I'll hold on to what is good...and build from there.

In my mind and heart I've been building again.  A vision slowly takes shape of what I'd like to do, and merely awaits my fulfillment of it, to set it into form by moving on it.  Nothing is rebuilt without first having a vision of what we are building.  What remains is good, and creative, and may look similar to what stood before, with scars leftover from harder times, but no one knows what it really takes, to have it all, then have it go to rubble, then rebuild it all over again.  That takes grit.  And apparently, I'm made of much more of the stuff than I thought I had in me. 

With my eyes pinned on the horizons of a future yet to be, I've started building again, brick by brick, from what remains, choosing to create, having found the creator in me, rather than destroy, with my choices.  And hopefully, what I leave in my wake, will come to benefit those who follow. 


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