‘Ο ήλιος σκάει μέσα μας κι εμείς κρατάμε την παλάμη στο στόμα έντρομοι’ Οδυσσέας Ελύτης
‘Για να πατάς στέρεα στη γη, πρέπει το ένα πόδι σου να είναι έξω από τη γη’ Οδυσσέας Ελύτης
‘Kiss the Earth with your feet’ Thich Nhat Hanh
Αs I was walking by the sea my attention was caught by the orange-crimson sun that was setting and the shifts of colour and clouds in the sky for a while, and then I drifted into thoughts about what to make for dinner and if I needed to get anything from the market. Then I pondered on the memoir I had just finished by Ariana Neumann*. It’s a Holocaust related story of her ten year quest to know more about her father, his family and early life in Europe. She writes ‘My father left the world of which he seldom spoke as a riddle for me to unlock…… The boxes held a jigsaw puzzle for me to reconstruct, with pieces just large enough to allow a sense of the theme. But there were also missing parts, fragments that I had to find to complete the picture.’
The book traces her journey from her own childhood in Latin America, where her father had built a prosperous life as an immigrant to her father’s death and the beginning of her journey back in time and in history to reclaim her father’s past, and ultimately, parts of herself and extended family unknown to her. She covers the period prior to the deportation of her grandparents and other relatives to camps and talks about the culmination of events and aggression as a constructed political strategy. She writes: ‘The first tier had been to exclude the Jews from society, the second to concentrate them as a segregated temporary work force in places like Terezín, and then, finally, to deport them to extermination camps further east.’ In the book we witness how throughout the thirties people were gradually deprived of legal rights and subjected to systematic public humiliation and intimidation. They were made, for example, to scrub the streets with their toothbrushes or consume grass like animals. They lost their right to vote and were banned from state-sector jobs in government, law, farming, publishing, journalism and the arts. And even before the official decree that banned Jews from schools and universities her uncle had received a letter informing him that he must leave college.
Today in our democracies and societies we talk about social exclusion as the process in which people are blocked from or denied full access to rights, opportunities and resources that are normally available to members of another group, and which are fundamental to social integration. Even though laws protect many of these rights, deprivation and alienation resulting from social exclusion connected to social class, skin color, sexual orientation, appearance or age, religion or non religion, gender, ethnic origin, educational status, childhood relationships, political opinions or a combination of the above, take place. However, we tend to forget that many terrible things are hatched over a long stretch of time, and this is true both at a collective level and at an individual. And then maybe a global health crisis arises and we are shaken out of our trance and reminded of our deep interdependence, and that our own health and safety are inherently dependent on others’ well being and the health of our planet.
Meanwhile, as I was lost in all this thinking the road got busier and I realised that I wasn’t paying much attention to life around me. Walking is usually a habituated action that requires little concentration and it is easy to slip into a semi conscious state of walking. So, I left my political musings for later and turned to being mindfully aware of each step, my breath and bodily sensations, as well, as the magnificent sky, the sounds of nature and vehicles, and those around me.
Below is the poem, A Walk, by Rainer Maria Rilke that came to my mind as I was writing this today
My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far beyond the road I have begun,
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has an inner light, even from a distance-
and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.
* Ariana Neumann, 2020, When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains