Good morning. It’s one of these:
Despite this, I hope you’re doing reasonably well so far. If it’s any consolation, think of this: schoolchildren all over Ireland are returning to classes today after their two-week Easter break. The sound of them being ripped out of their beds and flung out their front doors, wailing about how everything in the universe is unfair, is filling the air all around. You’d almost feel sorry for them.
Today’s post, I fear, may be slightly on the depressing side. I just wanted to warn you in case you’d prefer to go off and make a cup of tea, or have your breakfast, or whatever it is you might be doing. I want to talk about history, and the value of learning the lessons history has to teach us, and ask questions like ‘why do we hurt one another over things that aren’t, on balance, worth hurting one another over?’ As with most of my profound moments, this one was born out of my television viewing, so you can blame the BBC for what follows.
As we are wont, last night The Husband and I sat down to watch our regular antiques programme after a busy, and lovely, day spent with friends. Sometimes, watching this hour of TV is a mistake from my point of view. I tend to get very emotional at times when objects with huge personal and/or historical significance are being described, or when a person is talking about something that is deeply meaningful to the history of their family. Last night, of course, was no exception. A woman was interviewed about her family treasure – a collection of letters and documents relating to her father, who was an active member of the Norwegian resistance during World War Two – and I found it profoundly moving. She had kept the shoes he’d worn when he escaped from an internment camp, where he’d been placed after he was caught spying on a German military facility and which he’d worn as he trekked to freedom. She showed a photograph of him demonstrating a technique he and his brothers (one of whom was tortured to death by the Nazis) had developed as children in Norway for getting around in snowy weather – she called it ‘tree-hopping’. It basically involved using the supple trees as pole-vaults, and launching yourself from one tree to the next instead of walking through the snow. He’d used this technique to escape from his captors – not only did it give him speed, but it also helped him to leave no tracks. It was amazing to think that a game he’d played as a young man would one day save his life.
Then, before we went to bed, we switched on the news and learned about the troubles currently besieging Cairo. As of last night, the rioting around a Christian church in that city, which has so far claimed the lives of five people, was being blamed on a piece of graffiti that had been misinterpreted.
A piece of graffiti that had been misinterpreted. I still can’t quite believe it.
Someone had daubed a swastika on a wall, and someone else had interpreted it as a cross – the symbol of Christianity. The wall upon which the daubing had been done happened to be that of an Islamic centre. Because of that – because the symbol was misconstrued as a cross, and not because it was a swastika – rioting began, and five people have so far been killed. My husband even made the point that the swastika symbol may have been the ancient version, the one still held sacred in the religions of the East, instead of the one we in the West would be more familiar with – the one used by the Nazi regime. Either way, and no matter what was intended by the use of the symbol, the frightening thing is that ignorance of what it meant, and a misunderstanding of the intention behind it, has led to horrifying violence and a standoff which is still happening.
The contrast between these two pieces of television, one in which the messages and lessons of the past were clearly in evidence, and one in which the consequences of forgetting about the past, or not learning from the horrors that humanity has already put behind itself, was stark. I was disgusted that people had been killed out of something as simple as a misunderstanding, and a misunderstanding born out of a lack of knowledge, and it underlined my conviction that learning from the mistakes made by our forebears is a hugely important thing – perhaps the most important thing – that we, as a culture, are given charge of.
Why is human life seen to be so cheap sometimes? We were at a Christening yesterday, and nothing would give you more of an appreciation for how precious and beautiful life is than to watch babies being celebrated by their families in this way. There were four babies being christened yesterday, and every one of them was a treasure. The church was full of children – the families, siblings, cousins and so on of the babies being christened – and the place was bedlam with noise, crying, laughter, and the other small cacophanies that tend to follow little people around. How do we go from treasuring our tiniest people to murdering one another over a splodge of red paint on a wall?
Anyway. Happy Monday. Let’s hope that things get better from here.
I hear you. Just last Friday I interviewed Holocaust Philip Riteman, who told a story of such power that at times I, too, was moved to tears. How lives, so precious to us, can be seen to others as meaningless…there are no words, are there?
Exactly. It terrifies me sometimes how the world seems to have its priorities back to front, and how we just don’t seem to learn.
Thanks for commenting – and thanks for understanding what I’m trying to say. 🙂