Pursuing Life's Daring Adventure

Monday, May 24, 2010

Memorial: Three Thoughts on Terezin

Last Friday, I journeyed with two European friends to Terezin Concentration Camp an hour north of Prague. We spent the day there, in the post-Nazi ghost-town that remains. After a few days of processing the visit, I am sure it is a day I will never forget.

a window in the Ghetto

The facts:

Terezín Nazi Concentration Camp:
140,000 imprisoned from 1941-45
88,000 were deported to Auschwitz
34,000 died in Terezin.

the prison in the small fort at Terezin

I knew little more than Auschwitz, before I went to Terezin. But the Nazis set up concentration camps, and smaller feeder camps all through central Europe. The more notorious camps, like Auschwitz in Poland, became known because of their "effective elimination" programs like the gas chambers. Before the gas chambers came to be, the Nazis used all sorts of methods, including exhaust chambers, where a truck exhaust was funneled into an enclosed chamber packed with humans. It is horrific.

"Arbeit Macht Frei": Work makes you free.

Most sobering is what the Nazis did for appearances' sake. This is what makes Terezin unlike all the other camps. There, at Terezin, the Nazis turned a fort built in the 1700's into a large cage for the Jews. But the ghetto in Terezin became known for "humane" treatment--the Nazis allowed sporting games, musical concerts, medicine and food to be provided. For SHOW. As a front for what they really were doing at Terezin and the rest of the major concentration camps, the Nazis invited the outside world to see what a nice job they were doing caring for the Jews in the Terezin ghetto. The Red Cross arrived to inspect Terezin in 1944. The Nazis "passed".

fierce conditions

We watched the Nazi Propoganda video at our visit. And then stood utterly speechless as we saw the truth unfold from beneath the deception. Terezin, at the time of the visit, even underwent construction for gas chambers, underground.

cells 28, 29, and 30 in the Prison Camp

Beneath the surface, if the humans at Terezin survived the starvation, the cold, the cramped conditions (1.5 m3 of space), and the labor, they were shipped to other "extermination" camps like Auschwitz within months. Worst--what they did to the kids. An entire population of children stayed at Terezin for months, put up the show for the Red Cross, and the day of Yom Kippur, were shipped to Auschwitz. The model "family camp" put on for the Red Cross visit disappeared days after they were forced to write post-dated postcards to key outside world destinations. Chilling.

a torture corner

The stories I learned from Terezin linger in my mind. But three thoughts have dominated the others in my mind:

1. Story: I love to write; I am fascinated with the difference between what seems to be and what actually is, what looks nice on the surface, and what truth boils underneath. This is why I write: life holds stories that need to be told, especially ones with difficult truths buried under a decent façade. 

2. Art: A few brave souls at Terezin dared to express themselves in art--paintings, writings, sketches--and hid them for others to find later. Many of these artists survived, against incredible odds. Art brings hope.

3. God: Despite the inexplicable horror hovering in a place like Terezin, God is evident. He is there in the art left behind, and the stories that have survived, and even in the tremendous loss and despair. God was there, even as today He is here--and He is not silent.

Thank you for sharing in my visit to Terezin, even though the horrors of a Nazi camp are difficult to swallow. More than anything, we need to remember.

On this Memorial Week, I want to say thank you to all who have gone before us, whose bravery has paved a way to a brighter future for us. Here is to above all remembering history's difficult lessons and using them to learn and never repeat again. In Memoriam.

Starting the Conversation: What heros and events do you take time to remember? In memory of those who have gone on before ...

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Colors of Art and Writing

“I found I could say things with color and shapes
that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.”
-Georgia O'Keeffe (American Painter, 1887-1986)

the back border, from our former backyard gardens I planted from scratch

I've always been a color girl. In second grade, I remember wearing kelly green pants with my daffodil yellow shirt, because blue jeans just didn't match. :0) Artistically speaking, I find my preference remains the same--I love color, especially when color creates drama and interest and beauty.

Several years ago, I spent many weeks painting with a renowned artist in our area. I learned so many things about art, light and dark, painting with oils, and canvas. But one of the things that has stuck with me since is my understanding and use of the Color Wheel.
The primary colors are easy--blue, yellow, red. From mixing the primaries in different combinations, we get the rest of the colors, shades, tints, and all the beauties in between. It's magical, really.

What interests me most is the contrast, how different colors attract the eye and please it, and how we experience the dissonance in the contrast. The crocus, below, shows Nature's keen eye for complements, two colors on opposing sides of the color wheel. (The orange and purple and green make a complementary triad-- a pleasing combination.)  

In fiction, the color contrast theory also remains the same as in visual arts. Where two characters from opposite sides of the wheel come together in story, the clash between the two characters of opposing colors creates interest. Placed together in a story, the contrast between the two characters can create lasting resonance and art through story. 

Character 1 + Character 2 = Clash = Interest

 pink peony

Art is unquestionably one of the purest and highest elements in human happiness. It trains the mind through the eye, and the eye through the mind. As the sun colors flowers, so does art color life.”

-John Lubbock

 tangerine azaleas

A few garden flowers to touch along the color wheel. Yes, art colors life. 

 sunny daffodils

green-striped tulips 

striking blue delphinium 

Purple bearded Iris
Starting the conversation: 
How does art color your life? Look around you, in your home, on your walls, in your closet ... what colors does your life favor? And what color contrast do you enjoy?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Inspiration: Croatian Sunset

“Happiness is a Swedish sunset; it is there for all,
but most of us look the other way and lose it." -Mark Twain

Last month, our family spent a week on the breathtaking Lapad peninsula jutting into the Adriatic Sea beside Dubrovnik, Croatia. I had never imagined such a place on earth existed: steep mountains colliding with a clear azure Sea, age-old fortresses perched along bleached cliffs, and three lighthouses blinking from humpback islands dotting the coast. One night, the sunset confirmed my thoughts-- this spot was pure inspiration.

 Happiness is a Croatian sunset ...

For many months, I have enjoyed working hard on writing a novel. And now, as I continue with the work of rewrites, I find myself tapping into art, images, and music for inspiration. The following image lingers in my mind, unforgettable, as pure inspiration. I return to it again and again. (I hope you enjoy it, too...)

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” -Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was right--the best, most enduring works come to be because of hard, hard work. When a piece of life--art, image, music, video--connects deeply, it can be the perfect fuel for a great work, the one percent needed to make the end product beyond excellent. It's worth shooting for, and soaking in art, to help inspire us beyond our limitations, toward creating something great.

Starting the Conversation: Today, what inspires you?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dandelions Can Be People, too

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” –John Fitzgerald Kennedy

It’s dandelion season here in Prague. Yesterday, with the help of a long metal weed-puller, I dug hundreds of the yellow, thick-rooted weeds from a tiny area of our Prague backyard. (Good therapy, sometimes.) But, when I finished, hardly any grass remained. The section had been all weeds.

I feel like I’ve been digging weeds in other areas of my life, too. Sometimes Dandelions sneak into my life and take much more than they share or give, and I find myself feeling overwhelmed and off-balance.

I think people whose focus is on what they get and believe they deserve are like the Dandelions. Dandelions may look pretty from a distance for a time. But soon, the pretty yellow flower turns into fuzz. And under the surface, their roots sap the nutrients and water from other nearby desirable plants, and are almost impossible to pull. They live to take. Like the physical weeds in the yard, some people harbor deep feelings of entitlement—that they deserve much more than they are getting, and that what they have is never enough.

Dandelions feel cheated. Often.

Surely, we all feel like dandelions sometimes—like we aren’t getting what we need or deserve. And then we begin to take. People might tolerate the taking for a short time, while the weed is small. But no one really wants a dandelion around for long.

Instead, focusing on producing something beautiful, like a grateful and kind spirit—more like the elegant Tulip, this time of year—will help our dandelion tendencies to turn around. From Taker to Giver.

Weeds take. Flowers give.

I can’t think of a more noble cause today—to give and refresh another in this already-difficult journey of life. To discover gratitude instead of resentment, and to spread joy instead of frustration. To be a flower to someone we love.

Starting the conversation: Do you often feel cheated? Do you have ways you turn a frustration into a heart-felt gratitude, and are able to live it out? Find ways this week to show gratitude...