Friday, February 5, 2010

The Heart of Man

Even though it's difficult to admit, I'm a poor judge of character. I'd like to think it's more a matter of giving people the benefit of the doubt and then finding out maybe I gave them too much credit. But over and over again, I've found people have disappointed me. And it has changed the way I view new relationships and has spilled into the life of my children. Case in point, Adam's preschool experience. There was a little girl in Adam's class for two years who was his best friend. They were inseparable out of school. On a weekly basis, our kids would have a play date, while we moms hung out too. I felt the relationship I had with her mom equaled the friendship Adam had with Becca. However, with the end of the preschool year, both relationships flat-lined. And it wasn't from a lack of trying. Her mom stopped taking my calls or returning them. Nothing. No explanation, no qualification. Did I offend her or is it in her experience of having older kids she knew that unless they were moving into kindergarten together the relationship would fade? I guess I'll never know.  In my own innocence I felt that the relationship could be maintained with effort. Sadly, Elise's preschool experience is marred because of it. While I am certainly cordial and nice to the other parents, I don't seek out their companionship or encourage play dates between our kids. I figure it's a moot point. Instead, I encourage friendships within our subdivision and with the younger siblings of Adam's classmates. These will be the same kids she attends elementary school with and with whom she will likely develop sustaining relationships. Maybe this is sad or maybe it is wise. I guess it depends on your perspective. Sadly, the list is long of people who have hurt and disappointed me. Some intentional, and some only situational, but the end result of hurt feelings is the same.

The Bible tells us that man has an inherently wicked, sinful and selfish nature. When Adam and Eve sinned against God we no longer lived in a world where we could commune with God and bask in his presence. God atoned for sins by giving us Jesus, and if we accept his death and resurrection as that atonement, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we can once again be in fellowship with God. The way to the Father is through his Son. Ask that your sins be forgiven and they will be.

But what about the hurtful, wicked and depraved people have made their mark on our world?  From Adolph Hitler to Marshall Tito, and more recently, Osama Bin Laden -- there is a laundry list of truly evil people who have lived among us.Their desire to annihilate people based solely on their ethnicity is evil beyond what most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. When I read eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust or of other genocides, I wonder about the people who work under the direction of these leaders. Are they as evil as their leaders? Do they delight in the torture and shedding of innocent blood? I suppose it's in my nature to want to believe the best in people that I'd like to think some of them were victims as well. Let me explain.

In an undated newspaper article, my grandmother gave eyewitness account of a partisan, half German, half Serbian, who guarded the border and had to kill 12 persons to get a leave to go home. One saw a woman walking toward him at a distance and filled his quota by shooting the mother he was going home to see. Another looked into the face of his father after he had fired into the truck full of persons. The father told him he had killed the rest of his family when he fired into that truck. The partisan killed himself."(Written as quoted in the newspaper article)

It is unfathomable to me that able bodied men were under duress to become a guard in order to escape their own imprisonment, I imagine. Murdering in the interest of gaining freedom. Those guards were living their own nightmare. Not imprisoned within the confines of walls or borders, but living a nightmare much harder to escape from.  How many of them yielded their weapons while despising the position they were given?

Certainly there were the guards who enjoyed the power and found it exhilarating to kill. My mom recalled a story of hearing shots in the night, the capture of two young mothers in the village trying to go outside the confines of their borders to find food for their starving children.  That next morning a guard ordered that the two dead bodies, bloodied and beaten and finally executed, be lowered by stretcher in front of their children (about 8 total), and in the presence of the other villagers to say goodbye. In reflecting back, my mom wasn't sure if that was an act of callousness in nature, or for more a sympathetic cause to allow the children to truly say goodbye. Horrific to witness nonetheless.  No one was safe and consequences were severe. The guards had never made it clearer.

Starvation is what my mother remembers the most. That never-ending desire for food. Parents and grandparents were desperate to provide for their little ones. Hunger was constant and unrelenting. One day my mom was playing Ring Around the Rosie with a group of children while a guard stood nearby. In his hand was a chunk of bread. She found herself mesmerized by the man as he ate. She was hungry, so hungry.  She had stopped playing, just watching the man as he ate. Finally their eyes met and he broke off a piece and gave it to her.

That is the story I remember the most.  It is the one story, the only story, that brought my mom to tears while interviewed for SHOAH. I've wondered about the guard. Does he realize the simple act of kindness was a lifeline to my mom? The one story of humanity and compassion of a stranger mixed into stories of pure evil. Man is evil. No doubt. But even if the worst of times, man can be good if given the chance to shine.


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