THE SPACE BETWEEN US
May I find myself in nearness to your stories, and be changed by your memory
When your very life is an affront on those who do not want you to exist
As best you can
This is no time for fatalism
Share your bread
Wash your face
Fall in love
This is the anthem of hope
That sings out into the future
Into anyones ears who might be tuning in
For wavelengths that sound of testimony to life
As smoke continues to rise
And death at the hands of another is still incomprehensible
But happens now and now and now.
Remember these words: Survive and make the world better.
This whole thing will one day be over and we will all be free.
I am sitting adjacent to you and your story, proximal to your memory, so I form my own, behind my camera, with photographs, with facts, with a tour guide who is pleased to find an artifact in the archive that you had signed, with your grandson who is the age you were at liberation, with my own understanding of freedom, with rocks placed on the stump of the Goethe oak. I imagine you saw it burn, the tree. Its smoke an indication that the end might be near. Its smoke a loss of a singular shady refuge. Its smoke tangled with the smoke of so many other burning things. I wonder how you did it, stay alive, beat the odds, walk away, find life again. We sit here now, holding each other, me with your memory, you with my future. As we meet here in this moment, we seek to find the tendrils that stretch in both directions.
I am taking it in, the mossy color of this land
Fertilized by ash
From death comes life, one might say, but i won’t
Many Aprils have passed since he was here
Down behind the kinderblock
Hidden in a garbage canister, under leaves and branches
Holding on to the idea of freedom
For just one day more
I wonder if they recognize you,
The beech trees and dandelions and ghosts all around us,
In your gait, your awe, your concern for the world
A daughter made possible only by hope
Whose life is creation
A grandson made possible only by joy
Whose life is healing
And me, here, to witness, to relay, to connect this memory to the unconnected rest
We came here to celebrate surviving life meant only for death
We brought your favorite brandy and bread and chocolate to sit in ceremony
With what and who you loved, sitting where you could only stand
To reincarnate this place as it revealed itself to us
To sit in the shadow of grief, and claim life instead
On the stone with the flowers breaking fertile ground
At block 22, with what was left
of where you were captive
With a circle of men, many who you came to love
Who kept you alive, whose lives kept life possible
A toast to them, to you, to the sun breaking through and the wind slowing down
But we were told to put it all away
By a faceless guard who had been watching us
From the towers
From the perimeter
From the control room
We were breaking the rules
A new hole in my chest grew
As I realized that remembering, honoring, commemorating might look different
for all of us
I struggle to find words without them being gaudy or translucent. Without pretending to have answers or succumbing to knowing nothing. So I listen for four hours, and wonder what you’d think of the world today.
What comes after postmemory? A degree removed from atrocities of the past, a degree closer to the atrocities of now. This is the moment of connection, where we sit adjacent but not touching. Where we look backward and forward together and decide what actions we might take right now, to practice active remembering and to promise to let those memories guide us. I am not lost in direction, but lost for words. This is too big. Too hard. Too necessary and complicated to over simplify, but you distill it for me:
Lead With Compassion. Always Remember. Stay Vigilant. Never again for anyone.
And get close enough to be changed by something that may not touch us skin to skin, but heart to heart, or conscience to conscience.
So easy is it to turn away when we are far enough to do so
When we get lost between what we witness and where we stand
But not now. Now we see.
We look we listen we remember and are changed.
We do not speak of god
or the people we've lost
But we sing, and speak lovingly about the theater and our favorite books and museums, and the meals our mothers made with sugar and decorations
Our intellectual and cultural lives are untouchable
Stowed away in the gullies of our memory
Where life is still sweet and green
And this is how we survive. Together.
What lasts in a memory
When the infrastructure of change can’t bear the weight of forgetting
But the details are tattered and voices are fading
A new vision comes together
As we talk and write and go through photographs which inform but do not recite
With hints of what is alive in us now
With space for what is lost to remain here
May the certainty of these artifacts echo in the canyons of your heart
So that your blood memory flushes through your body and mind, oxygenated and red
So that these images are not of battlefields but of revelations.
So that we might find our way again
In loving memory of Kurt Baum, who always found a reason to sing