I haven’t written here in a little bit. Truth be told, I’ve been a little numbed by the events that took place in the US over the last week or so.
Trying to understand what comes next. For America; for the world.
Trying to rationalize if the fear I feel for the vulnerable is warranted, and how to protect those that are so far away, both in miles and in hope.
Thinking of the hate, and anger, and vitriol, and loathing.
Thinking of the fear, the isolation, the end of belief in good.
And it breaks me.
It breaks me that people in power can wash their hands of the chaos they’ve created.
It breaks me that even despite all the evidence in front of us, people are willing to put it down to an overreaction.
That the hate has always been there, on both sides, and we’re just exaggerating that it’s worse now than it’s ever been (or at least as equally as bad as the worst days from the past).
And it breaks me that no matter where I look, all I see are the raw emotions of the helpless falling under the unrelenting voices and actions of hate.
I look at my children and wonder what legacy we’re leaving them.
I look at the children of my friends, and the parents of these children, and their place in today’s history as families of various ethnicity, religion, and culture, and wonder if they’ll even have a legacy to leave.
Because I really don’t know.
I wish I did. I wish I could see into the future, and know one way or another how this all plays out. For everyone.
But I can’t. So, in the meantime, I’ll remember the story my grandfather told me a long time ago.
The Humanity of Truth
My grandfather’s brother James fought in the Second World War and was stationed in Burma. During his service, he was captured by Japanese forces and moved to one of their infamous death camps.
Tortured, beaten and humiliated daily, James was severely malnourished and perhaps a few months (or weeks) away from death himself when he found himself befriended by a guard.
The guard had visited the UK many years before as a young man and had been worried about how he’d be accepted.
He’d heard stories – justifiable stories – of how people from the East had been looked upon (remember, this wasn’t long after the British Empire had ruled Asia).
However, instead of the universal hate he’d expected, he was met with warmth and genuine friendliness. Yes, there were some examples of racism and jingoism, but for the most part, he was just another person.
Now, many years later, here he was guarding the very people that were meant to hate him but didn’t. As he said to my grandfather’s brother,
I thought I hated you. But I don’t – I was just told I did.
Man and guard looked at each other, and smiled the smile of acceptance.
My grandfather’s brother spoke often with his guard over the coming weeks and they learned of what they had been before the war, and what their dreams were for when it ended.
Sadly, James never got to see those dreams come true. Like thousands of others, he died while working on the Burma-Thailand bridge that was made famous in the movie “Bridge on the River Kwai”.
Before he died, however, he asked his guard to take a letter he had written and to try and get it to his family should he not survive the war.
When the war finished, the guard kept his promise and mailed the letter to my grandfather’s mother. Together, they sat down and read the words of how two enemies had found hope and understanding.
My grandfather’s mother couldn’t accept it and blamed the guard and “all his kind” for the death of her son. She went to her grave with that hate.
At her funeral, my grandfather read the sermon, and shared the story of the two men from different cultures and backgrounds and how much of what we knew about each other had been built on lies.
He closed the sermon with this thought:
My mother never recovered from the death of her eldest son. Instead, she died full of hate for the people that took his life. But hate isn’t the answer; hate didn’t kill my brother. Belief did. Belief that we hated those my brother fought, and that they hated us. But a simple guard showed my brother he didn’t hate him; he was just told he did.
While he may not have realized it at the time, my grandfather was shaping the views of those that were to follow his legacy.
Believe the Heart, Not Words
My grandfather passed when I was relatively young, but he remains to this day the greatest influence in my life and how it’s been shaped.
He was a good man. A stern man who didn’t suffer fools gladly, but also a kind man. There was no grey area for him – it was either good or bad, right or wrong.
And the words that his brother wrote were to shape his own beliefs moving forward. Words that are so true, so pertinent today, when hate leads to,
- Schoolkids telling other schoolkids they’re going to be deported.
- Neighbours turning on other neighbours and telling them to get back to the country they came from.
- Hateful graffiti scrawled onto places of worship.
- Strangers attacking each other because of the world view they’ve been presented with.
All of this and more, we let happen because we believe something that isn’t true but fits a certain agenda. We hate; they hate; and the world goes to shit.
But do “they” really hate? Do we really hate? Or is it because we’ve been told to hate?
What does your heart say, truly? If you look deep within and ask why you hate someone, is there an answer that can’t be countered? Or are you at a loss to validate a reason for your hate?
Believe your heart, not words.
And if you really need to believe words over your heart, consider the ones of the guard who befriended my grandfather’s brother.
He didn’t hate; he was just told he did.
If enemies in a war can come to that realization, surely we can too…