November 18, 2004

A Ramble: Evil Times

Are you a chatter? Do you tend to chat with strangers? Invite, from time to time, conversation with people you don't otherwise know but with whom you are sharing some common experience, be it waiting for a late train or stuck on line at the bank? I am mostly that kind of person. My wife is not, probably. I think she is little bit shy while I am not. This may explain why I have a blog and she does not. I think that this is a trait shared by most bloggers.

Yesterday, I had a chat with another lawyer. He wanted an extension of time, his second, so that he could move to dismiss my complaint against his client. I was basically agreeable to extending his time but insisted, to his great surprise, that he take a longer time than he had asked for. I explained that his date would inevitably involve him working over Thanksgiving weekend and that this particular fight, just being about money, is not worth it. I insisted he take a later date. After that, we got to chatting and I learned that both of his parents had been at Aushwitz. Both. Parents. His mother and his father were concentration camp survivors.

I was floored. I have met camp survivors before, but not many of them. I have been on a tour of a concentration camp before, a topic, if anyone is interested, for another post. You see these people, these survivors and you know you are in the presense of something extraordinary. These people did not survive some stupid television show. They survived evil.

Parenthetical: Evil is a concept that has fallen out of favor since, for the multiculturalists and relativists, it requires taking a firm comparative stand and making a value judgment. I am comfortable doing that and saying that certain cultural practices are not just different, they are flat out evil or wrong. Clipping off a baby girl's clitoris is just flat out wrong. Exterminating the Jews of Europe or engaging in genocide in Rawanda is evil. Stalin? Evil. These are not hard judgement calls to make. Don't shirk from making them just because others say you cannot sit in judgment on other people and their specific cultural practices. You are a human being and thus, you can. Endof Paranthetical.

These survivors looked evil in the face and, by luck or grace of God or pure strengh of will, or a combination of all of the foregoing, walked away. This attorney's parents walked away, found love, and made a family. They left the camps and made two sons, one a lawyer and one a diplomat. They made a success in this country. I am awed by people like this. I don't know, and hope never, ever, to have to find out, if I have the inner fortitude that these people had to survive.

His parents bear tattoos of their death camp numbers on their arms. They can never forget. So long as they live, we can never forget.

Evil still walks the earth. It paused in Beslan, a name I do not have to look up to check the spelling on. It lingers in Israel with the death of every Jewish child shot while hiding under the beds by brave Islamic terrorists who regard each death as a brave act, worthy of great celebration in the streets of Palestine. Can you doubt, really, that this is evil? I cannot. And I despair. I despair as the world press lionizes the life of Arafat, the world's oldest terrorist, without taking note of his crimes against humanity. I worry that it has become safe to hate Jews. Again. This is an ever present thought in my mind. It lingers in the background. It comes to the fore sometimes when I look at my children and wonder, did I do them any favors by converting them to Judaism? Have I just painted targets on their backs? This is an intensely and deeply held fear. I don't have an answer to this question and I hope I never do.

This was a major ramble today and I would never have gone down this path if I had not stopped to chat with this other attorney. I would never have learned about his parents if I was not a chatter and I would have missed the opportunity to reflect on it. I'm glad I took a moment to chat with him. You never know what comes out of a random chat.

Disclaimer: As with all of my rambles, this is stream of consciousness and I have not and will not re-read to edit. You take it as it comes with these. Also, this does not constitute an offer to buy or sell securities. Finally, smoking is probably bad for you.

Posted by Random Penseur at November 18, 2004 11:07 AM

Not that this is the most important thing to take out of your post but your throwaway at the end tickled me. We recently had visitors from The Netherlands and their cigarette packs had warnings far more straightforward than the ones we have. One was "Smoking will kill you" another was "If you smoke you will die". Very straight-forward and to the point.

Posted by: Jim at November 18, 2004 11:33 AM

Just thought of something with that second cig warning. Aren't you going to die regardless of your smoking habits? I mean they're saying that if you don't smoke you will be immortal, right?

Okay, my sidebar is finished. Great post, RP!

Posted by: Jim at November 18, 2004 11:35 AM

Wonderful post, Random. As usual.

I visited Dachau in the '80s. Walking through there gave me a sense of absolute tragedy. When you see firsthand the accomodations, the chambers, the ovens...nothing I've ever experienced has moved me as much. You realize then that no matter how much you read about it, how many movies you see, there is no way of imagining what an awesomely atrocious existence was had there.
It's disheartening to see that genocide is still alive and well. Humans are infamous for neglecting to learn the lessons our history strives to teach us.
I hope kinder, saner minds prevail. The world has much at stake in the outcome.
My hat goes off and my heart goes out to all concentration camp survivors, as well as to those that did not make it. No person should have to suffer such an awful fate.

Posted by: Mick at November 18, 2004 12:32 PM

That was a lovely and thoughtful comment, Mick, as usual.

Jim, I'm glad that the humorous aspects of my disclaimer tickled you.

Posted by: rp at November 18, 2004 12:37 PM

I've seen the movies about the concentration camps, and every time I had a hard time watching them, the sheer horror of every moment that was lived once they were arrested. I usually broke down if watching by myself, very similarly I broke down when watching the footage after the initial attacks on Baghdad watching Fahrenheit 911. "Lest we forget" is the motto for Canada's Rememberance Day on Nov. 11. Unfortunately a large portion of the world HAS forgotten, or chosen to ignore the lessons learned by the World wars. Evil is alive and thriving in our greedy societies and will continue as long as we view the worth of human life as less than the wealth we accumulate.

I used to write songs when I was in high school, mostly just lyrics. Here are some that seem apt:
"You've been given the gold, but can you keep it?
Will your bones never wither away?
All the things you acquire and the money you gain
will never be enough to open the gate."
Ok, so it was grade 11, I wasn't a wordsmith :)

Posted by: Oorgo at November 18, 2004 01:09 PM

When Dan and I first got together, we had many discussions about "evil". Dan believes in evil, but I did not. I argued that anything "evil" can be explained as sick, twisted choices made by human beings who become flawed in their thinking, not because somehow "evil" got inside them. But Dan argued that there *is* evil. That people can tap into evil the same way we can tap into good. For strength. For inspiration. He says it's a choice.

Still, calling something "evil" seems to me to be acknowledging that Evil is a force unto itself. As is Good. And I don't know if I buy that. On the other hand, there are many forces in the world I can't see or point at. Love, for instance. It exists, but I can't offer you proof. So...dunno. Thoughtful post, though, Random!

And isn't that just like you to have been so thoughtful about the other lawyer traveling over Thanksgiving? :-) *beams at Random*

Posted by: Amber at November 18, 2004 01:38 PM

a very moving, and personal post. thank you for sharing it.

i didn't think you needed the disclaimer

and for the statement
So long as they live, we can never forget.

we can never forget...rp...never.

Posted by: standing naked at November 18, 2004 07:07 PM

Re: chattiness as a trait shared by most bloggers - not true in my case. In my marriage, my wife is the one most likely to chat up total strangers, but she doesn't blog. I'm more shy and awkward with people I don't know but I blog.

Nice comments on evil. I have much more to say on the topic, but need to get my thoughts and words better organized.

Posted by: JohnL at November 18, 2004 11:25 PM

I am not a chatter. And I too once toured a concentration camp-Terezin, in the Czech Republic.

Going to places like that makes you hate God and rage at the world.

As a side to Jim-all the cigarette packets in Europe say that, in bold letters, across one whole side of the ciggies. It amuses me, and doesn't seem to work.

Posted by: Helen at November 19, 2004 02:13 AM

My 1.65 cents-worth (adjusted for inflation):

I'm a chatter. My mother said I would talk to a telephone pole. *eyeroll* People are INNNN-terestin'.

*guilelessly* You give good dictation. I know this by the PARENTHETICAL/ENDPARENTHETICAL.

Maybe, instead of painting a target on their back, you've given them a heritage of strength and fortitude, courage and bravery. (Yeah, I'm pretty much a "glass half-full" type, why do you ask?)

It's not so much the smoke as it is the resultant fire that is really deadly. I smoke. And I wish I didn't. But what I wish MORE, is that "interested bystanders" would STFU and let me enjoy my damned cigarette. As I told one particularly pushy gentleman who informed me "Smoking those will kill you": "Yeah, but my NOT smoking right now MIGHT kill YOU."

Keep on with the random posts. I love your musings.

As always,

Posted by: Margi at November 19, 2004 04:25 AM

Nice one, RP.

For the record, I am a chatterer's chatterer. I'll talk to almost anybody, anywhere, anytime.

Posted by: Howard at November 19, 2004 10:39 AM

Well, this post certainly received some very interesting and thoughtful comments and I appreciated them all.

I don't really know where to start addressing them. So, I will merely address one remark: Helen, you and I visited the same camp, the Children's Camp, it was called. If that isn't enough to make someone want to cry, that children were removed from their parents and sent off to another camp entirely, then I just don't know what to say. It is proof positive of Evil.

Posted by: RP at November 19, 2004 03:19 PM

I did tour the children's camp. I also toured the political prisoner adult's camp.

It was the children's camp that gutted me and tortured my dreams for ages.

Posted by: Helen at November 20, 2004 03:27 AM

Wonderful post.
I too am a compulsive chatterer with strangers. I love finding the common and not so common groud.

And you are right about evil. It doesn't help to equivocate. It does help to point it out and demand its end. Evil begets evil. We do the world no favor when we conflate understanding the cause so to prevent it in the future, with forgiving and allowing its existence.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at November 20, 2004 03:39 PM

Helen, you know exactly where I am coming from.

Thank you, Rachel Ann. You and I are on the exact same page and probaly at the same sentence on that page.

Posted by: RP at November 21, 2004 10:52 AM

*cough* (non-smoker cough) A little late here, but that is a great post, especially the aside about evil.

Posted by: Simon at November 22, 2004 03:32 AM
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