Yad Vashem

Something has ruminated inside me since my return from Washington DC. It has been hard to capture into words. Thinking back over the many patriotic places I visited during that week, my memories have been accompanied by a faint sense of discomfort and unease. I think I finally understand why.

Our nation's capitol is a place of memorials and museums. From Lincoln's marble seat to Washington's towering obelisk and from the Unknowns' tomb to the eternal flame of the Kennedys, every step you take is steeped in history and patriotism. You ponder heavily the weight of that ultimate sacrifice and wonder what it truly means to be a hero.

With these sentiments, it's easy to leave Washington bathed in the solemn glow of nationalistic pride, but if you are paying attention, you are also confronted with the fallibility of our patriots. Take President Washington as an example: though is said to have abhorred slavery, it was only after his death and in the execution of his will that they were set free. Perhaps this does little to dim the star of a man who tirelessly and selflessly served a fledgling nation, but it does remind us that our heroes are human.

Beyond the disquieting revelations of individual flaws, there are times when the monuments as a whole seem strangely hollow. Though each exists to honor sacrifice, they also serve as an indictment and quiet rebuke of our collective inability to realize the dreams of the fallen. In no place is this indictment more powerful than the United States Holocaust Memorial.

The holocaust memorial, in contrast to the other memorials, exists because of what was not done. The museum exists because we failed -- all of humanity failed -- the Jews, the gypsies, the Poles, the infirm, and countless others under the Nazi regime. It was an atrocity of unspeakable magnitude; so terrible, in fact, that some might even deny it's occurrence. Eisenhower, then leader of the US liberating forces, said:

"The things I saw beggar description...the visual evidence and the verbal tes
timony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda."

Similiar to Eisenhower sentiments, I found it hard to walk through the holocaust museum, but you feel like you must, that you owe it to the victims to remember. And with that remembering, to prevent it from ever happening again.

Through four stark floors of history and artifacts, you watch the retelling of the rise of the Nazis to power and the implementation of Hitler's Final Solution. There were hundreds of us in that exhibit, and never have I seen such a large and diverse group of people act so reverently. Doubtless, most of us were shocked, horrified, and deeply saddened. I wondered, how could we have failed so egregiously at protecting our fellow man? For me, this feeling reached its silent crescendo in the "shoe room" -- which contains nothing but an enormous, ghostly pile of empty shoes. There are hundred and hundreds of them -- each worn by a victim of the holocaust. Here, the gravity of the atrocity reaches full force, leaving you with nothing but somber solemnity.

And yet, just when you are so heavily burdened by the darkness, yearning for even the tiniest bit of redemption for humankind, you come to Yad Vashem, a glimmer of hope in a memorial of suffering and sadness. Yad Vashem is the remembrance authority dedicated not only to the many victims of the Shoah, but also to the few who risked standing up to the Nazi regime and saved a life. They are called the "Righteous Among the Nations" -- those people that helped to save a Jew (many saved hundreds) from the holocaust. Their names are inscribed on a white wall, some 5 feet tall and 15 feet long. These names serve as flicker of humanity; proof that even in the darkest of circumstance and risking the harshest of penalties, some people will do the right thing.

The names are organized by country. I wondered if my family name might be on that wall; my grandparents had survived the Nazi occupation of Holland. So, I traced along the wall, passing Belgium, Britain, Denmark ... and kept looking, looking, looking, seeing names but no country marker. I walked around the back of the wall to see more names but no country. Confused, I walked back around and realized that I wasn't finding the country marker because ALL the names in that section were from the Netherlands. Hundreds and hundreds of names -- names that saved someone's shoes from that heart wrenching collection.

And though still heavy from the ghostly images of liberated concentration camps, emaciated bodies and burned corpses, my heart lifted to see that so many people, from this one very tiny nation, had tried and risked so much to make a difference. And though their contribution might have been small compared to the whole that was lost, I've no doubt that it made all the difference to those that were saved.

And yes, the family name is on the wall. Perhaps we're relatives. Even if we're not, I hope that I would have taken the same risks and made the same sacrifice. The message of the holocaust museum should always resonate with people everywhere. Never Again.


Don't Worry About a Thing...

What do you listen to when you're feeling down?

Here's my list:
  • Bob Marley - Three Little Birds
  • Billy Joel - You're Only Human (Second Wind)
  • Billy Joel - And So It Goes
  • Iz - Somewhere Over the Rainbow
  • Yo Yo Ma - Bach's Suite 1, Prelude
  • Coldplay - Yellow
  • Dashboard Confessional - Hand's Down
  • The Used - Blue and Yellow
  • Eric Clapton - Layla (unplugged)
  • Green Day - Good Riddance
  • Jack Johnson - Flake
  • Legiao Urbana - Eduardo e Monica
  • Pearl Jam - Yellow Ledbedder
  • Red Hot Chili Pepper - Under the Bridge
  • Staind - So Far Away
  • Sublime - Santeria
You'll notice that they're not really bubbly upbeat dongs. Those never work for me. They just seem to trivialize the reality of life. Instead, I think you have to let yourself go a little and accept the sadness/loneliness/melancholy/whatever for what it really is. And somehow, once you've let yourself feel bad for a moment or two, you realize that it really wasn't as bad as you thought after all, and you'll be okay.


The Right Stuff

I've always been fascinated by aviation. There's something about the combination of technology, science, and extreme velocity that is enamoring. Take, for example, the SR-71 in the picture below. Built more than 40 years ago, it was designed to fly in excess of Mach 3 (that's three times the speed of sound) and more than 15 miles up (twice that of your average passenger jet.) There were more than 4000 recorded attempts to shoot this aircraft down, and what did the pilot do to avoid the missile? He simply pushed the throttle all the way forward to outrun it. This plane earned a speed record by flying from Los Angeles to New York in 68 minutes. How is that not unbelievable cool??

Last week, I saw the actual SR-71 that set the record. It's at the Air and Space Museum near Dulles in Washinton DC. I was there with the family, and I'm sure I was boring them to death with all the minute details that I find so fascinating. (Like the fact that the aircraft leaked fuel while on the ground...)

What's even more amazing about the SR-71 and every modern aircraft is that it has been only about 100 years since the Wright brothers made their first flights. Since then, every single challenge to flight has been summarily conquered through persistence and innovation. We now fly faster, farther, and higher than people ever thought possible. The amazing growth of flight is a towering testament to the power of unbridled human ingenuity.

When you contrast this, the storied history of flight, with the current state of commercial aviation, the mediocrity of the airline travel becomes readily apparent. I had a lot of time to think about it as I waited and waited and waited in Reagan National airport yesterday. I also thought about it as I literally ran through the cavernous Minneapolis airport so as to not miss my connection to SLC.

What's the deal? We can put men on the moon and fly across the globe in hours, but we can't get a single 757 to the airport on time. Nor can we make coach seats wide enough so that I don't have to touch knees and elbows with the guy next to me. And why, oh why, can't I have a WHOLE can of soda? And who thought of the "hub?" What a terrible idea. It may work for buses and packages, but not for people traveling cross country. Buses are a lot cheaper than planes, so you can have a lot of them to compensate for schedule problems, and well, people are not packages, people actually complain when they are left overnight in some intermediate location.

And I could go on, as could most traveler. I know I'm not the first to complain about air travel, nor will I be the last. It just makes me sad that something as miraculous and majestic as flight has been reduced to ferrying grumpy people around the country. It's no wonder that the smaller innovative airlines are the only ones really doing well in this market. The big guys seem to be circling the wagons, trying to merge and cut costs and pack more people into planes, but every cost cutting and money saving initiative seems to only further ruin the experience.

Frankly, I'm to the point were I'm willing to choose a marginally more expensive flight if I know that the service is going to be better. And, if there are others like me, then the major airlines better be quaking in their boots. Until they wake up, I'm going to keep dreaming of flying cross country in my SR-71.


Learned from the 7th Row

Things learned from the 7th row:
  • My life would be unbelievably awesome if I had two blonde backup singers.
  • If you have so much back fat that it hits my knees when you sit down in the row in front of me, you could have what some might consider to be a "weight problem."
  • NASA should investigate the super-cohesive properties of beer in plastic cups. I don't understand how clearly inebriated people can carry overfilled glasses to their seats without spilling a drop.
  • No one looks good in a tube top. There are no exceptions to this rule. Anyone you think might be attractive in a tube top will instantly become a skank upon it's application.
  • I don't see a problem with you taking your teenage daughter to a concert; in fact, it could be a good way to connect. However, you should definitely NOT try to out-dress her.
  • No, the blue-ish glow from your cell phone is not as cool as an actual lighter.
  • I love it when a band refrains from using the tired old lines : "You guys are the best crowd all tour" and that "We love coming to [wherever]" We know that touring is hard, and we're thrilled you stopped by.
  • It's awesome when band-mates are clearly enjoying their own show. It's a great to see the grins, laughing, and joking around on stage. Everyone should enjoy their work.



The more I grow and learn, the more difficulty I have in escaping the notion that we are little more than a human wrapper over a largely animal interior. Try as hard as we might to escape our base selves, that animal core is inevitably expressed at the most inopportune times. The example that has plagued my mind this week is in our attempts at relationships and the communication that they require.

I arrived at this thought after a friend made the exasperated comment about a semi-relationship: "Why can't we just tell it like it is.?" My canned (and hilarious, I thought) response was, "That's the rule. You can't tell it like it is. That would make it too easy."

Thought patently fatalistic, my trite response made me think genuinely about why it is that we're so fixedly self-destructive in relationships and communication sometimes. The most basic answer, I think, is that the animal in us avoiding pain. Sometimes its our own, and sometimes it is to avoid causing pain to others, which would in turn result in our own pain (called guilt.)

Pain avoidance is an important survival mechanism. Fearing physical pain is both healthy and natural. It is largely this fear that has kept me alive through 5 years of snowboarding, since heaving a body like mine into the air inevitable results in pain. The question though, is: how does fear of pain apply to our emotional lives? In this, is it counterproductive?

We remain in unhealthy relationships until we can no longer stand it. We close ourselves off to avoid having trust violated. We steer clear of making the first move to avoid rejection. We shun talking about our relationships to avoid unearthing grievances. We tolerate unrequited love and ambiguous friendships to avoid validating our fears that our would-be significant other does not, in fact, feel the same way we do.

In general, we somehow we convince ourselves that not being straightforward is better, that it softens the blow, lessens the shock, and that people can't handle the truth. We're programmed to avoid pain, to avoid causing pain to others, and to fear pain in general, and so this fear colors our relationships and attempts at communication. We think it's better that way, but only in hindsight do we realize that we were wrong; that we've either prolonged the inevitable or missed an opportunity.

The truth is that avoiding pain now only makes it deeper and more potent later. So why do we consistently trade some pain now for more pain later? I think it's the animal in us being blastedly shortsighted. To an animal, all pain is equally bad, regardless of source or duration. But being human teaches us that (1) some pain is worse than others, (2) all pain fades eventually, and (3) emotional pain doesn't have to leave scars like physical pain might.

If we could remember these things the next time we feel relationship anxiety swell within our chest, how much healthy and whole would we be? ... Here's a toast to being human.