At a meeting of the Canadian Authors Association a few years ago, two guests spoke about their writing projects. Dr. David Makow, a Polish Jew, shared stories from his book Dangerous Luck: Memories of a Hunted Life, and Peter Hessel, a former member of the junior branch of the Hitler Youth, spoke about The Mystery of Frankenberg’s Canadian Airman.
From Dr. Makow we heard how a hunted teenager survived the Holocaust through dangerous luck. From Mr. Hessel we heard how the eyes of a German youth opened to the horrors that the Nazis inflicted. First, we heard about the pain of the loss of homeland and family, and then about the pain of disillusionment with homeland. The two men had grown up in the same Europe, but very different Europes.
At the end of the evening, in a spontaneous and unrehearsed moment, the two men looked each other in the eye and shook hands. Forgiveness met enlightenment and shook hands.
There was a pause, a moment of stillness. A bristling energy passed through the room making the hair on our arms stand up. Tears filled our eyes. Then there was boisterous applause.
Forgiveness meets enlightenment
On Sunday, two men stood at the front of a church sanctuary, one to the left of the aisle and the other to the right. Each held a cup. The people gathered there with them lined up and filed forward. One by one, each person in line took a piece of bread. As they dipped their bread into the cup, these two men looked them in the eye and said, “The cup of hope.” Once all the crowd had filed through, the men then took an offered piece of the bread of life, dipped it into the cup and shared in Worldwide Communion Sunday.
One of these men was Jewish, the other Muslim.
I sat in the sanctuary watching this unfold. The hair on my arms stood up and my eyes filled with tears. I savoured the warm feeling of inclusion, the joy of shared humanity. I felt a renewed glimmer of hope for our world.
I’m not naïve.
I don’t have a vision of a utopian world where we float around in flowing white robes in a permanent state of ecstatic bliss. I have two teenagers—sometimes family peace is too much to hope for, let alone world peace. I don’t expect a world without conflict. The world operates through the dance of opposites. This website is all about the dance of opposites. But I do hope for a world where conflicts resolve without murder, and disagreements dissolve without death. I do hope for a world where administration doesn’t need duress or torture. I do hope for a world that celebrates differences, emphasizes commonalities and negotiates solutions.
If forgiveness supplants resentment, if new insights supersede outdated notions and if inclusion replaces exclusion, we plant seeds that grow into a world where conflict resolution involves handshakes, not weapons.
It is possible.
A handshake between a Polish Holocaust survivor and a former member of the Jungvolk showed me that it is possible. Two cups of hope held by a Jewish man and a Muslim man in a Christian church showed me that it is possible.
What is possible on a small scale is possible on a grand scale. Let’s raise the cups of hope. Let’s multiply them.