Saturday, December 28, 2013
I recently returned from a trip to Eastern Europe with my friend Jake Lorfing. We traveled to Prague and Poland to start laying the groundwork for a possible contemplative arts retreat focusing on the Holocaust. We spent time in the old Jewish quarters of Prague and Krakow, visited the former ghetto / concentration camp of Terezin in the Czech Republic, and spent three days at Auschwitz, where we stayed at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer.
For me, it was also something of a roots journey, as my Jewish side of the family came from Poland, the Ukraine, Lithuania, and Austria, but I had never visited these places before. To be honest, in some way I viewed this part of the world as the heart of darkness, the place from which my Jewish ancestors fled. And certainly it was, for a time. But it is also a place like any other, full of good people living their lives, with a complex and tragic history, with a rich culture, and a living present...We spent a lot of time walking the camps and contemplating the enormity of what happened there. It's impossible to put it into words, of course, but I did take a lot of photos, and found myself scribbling out this poem high above the Atlantic during the long flight home:
Riding the edge of twilight
Chasing the setting sun
Above the clouds, below the sky
Five hundred miles an hour
An arctic haze of pink and blue
Is this limbo, or just another never-ending transatlantic afternoon?
Your kiss still lingers
Even as it fades.
In fits of sleep,
I dream another universe
But awaken to my breath,
The beating of my heart.
I saw grace etched in stone
In the epic streets of Prague
And despair rendered mute
In Birkenau's rusted barbs.
Only the trees, those elegant trees,
Bear witness now.
How to return and not to forget?
To honor these few borrowed breaths
With a resounding yes
That trumps all instances of no
A love that suffuses darkness and light,
As the soft overcomes the hard,
Melting into night.
-- Melinda Rothouse
Click here to view more photos from the journey.