Monday, August 9, 2010

Unassuming Opportunities

Recently I had the opportunity to experience several very powerful and possibly even life changing historic landmarks. Both landmarks are worthy of at least one visit in a persons lifetime.

I’m sure some of you would argue other locations as life changing and powerful. Locations such as Ground Zero in New York, or Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. And you’d be right, but the locations that I’m referring to are coupled with displays of broader appeal and significance. So these companion landmarks can be easily overlooked because of their unassuming nature.

Nestled on the south side of the National Mall in downtown Washington DC is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Google it for pictures). A powerful and life changing display of the horror inflicted by the Nazi regime and the untold losses Jews and others suffered.

After three plus hours of a self-guided tour you come to the lower level of the museum (ground level). By this time your heart and soul are bruised and bleeding with compassion and rage. The designers of this particular museum experience intentionally bring you to this point, and that’s good. We must never forget and we must do all we can to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again (unfortunately they are still occurring).

But here’s the part that troubled me and set me thinking. At the end of the tour is the Hall of Remembrance (I think that’s what it’s called – no photographs were allowed). It was a large round room with a domed glass ceiling. All around the perimeter were rows of votive candles that visitors could light. As the candles burned down and out, new ones were put in their place.

There was a gas-lit flame at the front of the room, with an interment of soil from the concentration camps and mass graves where so many died at the hands of their captors. There were several scripture verses from the Old Testament engraved on the walls surrounding the upper perimeter of the room. Several steps allowed you to move down to the center of the room.

The room center was vast and almost intimidating to go out into. Few people did. As a matter of fact that is my point. Few people did.

In this most sacred spot at this beautiful and horrifying museum, few lingered. And worse yet, about one third of the candles were unlit. And visitors were encouraged to light a candle, so it wasn’t like they didn’t want you messing around with the candles. On the contrary, they wanted you to take a moment of reflection and remember and NEVER FORGET. Maybe even say a prayer. I did. As a matter of fact, I was overwhelmed with emotion and had to fight back the tears.

This room was almost empty of visitors. Candles were unlit and little care seemed to be taken by the patrons to even stop for a moment. Most of them seemed ready to leave or head to the gift shop.

I was overwhelmed with grief and frustration. Grief because of the struggle and loss the Jews and others experienced, and all these years later, few still grieve. I was frustrated because we are a culture that does not know how to open our hearts and experience the richer and more important things in life.

Oh we talk about life and death, but more often we talk about the stuff we want within the context of life and rarely if ever embrace the full featured relationship each of us has with death. We treat death like an unwanted step child.

Here’s my complaint. Most people walked right past the Hall of Remembrance. Why? Maybe it’s because they don’t believe it happened. Maybe it’s because most people are freaked out about death, I mean the real thing, not just some CSI TV version of death, but the real deal. You know the kind of death that smells and is cold and is final; not just something that happens on a Thursday night TV show.

So I was troubled by the lack of reverence and grief that was expressed at the end of the tour. God forgive us for our calloused hearts.

The second landmark that went without notice was over on the southwest side of the DC downtown. Tucked safely on the lower west side of Arlington National Cemetery is the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Now granted, there are dozens of smaller memorials, monuments and even trees planted for the brave and honored fallen, but this particular memorial was huge.

Most people go to the cemetery to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, President Kennedy’s burial sight, General Lee’s House and the Iwo Jima memorial. But few seemed to stop at the beautiful and well kept (air-conditioned) memorial for service women.

Again I was saddened and even grieved that this awesome and powerful tribute to women who have served in our armed forces was clearly overlooked by most of the visiting public. Maybe it wasn’t marked well enough, I don’t know. But what I know is that the women who have served and many have died while serving in our military tend to be at the bottom of the “must see” list.

I don’t think it’s intentional, but it’s a travesty nonetheless. Thousands of brave women are currently serving and have served their country, so that I might sit here and blog without the fear of governmental reprisal or death.

My POINT: women and Jews still get little honor or remembrance for the tyranny they’ve experienced at the hands of mankind.

We would do ourselves a great favor if we actually honored and remembered those who’ve suffered and died for their convictions; especially women and Jews (Galatians 3:28).

Well I’d better sign off for now before I get started on another soap-box.