Firing up my soul force

You know how festive days such as mother’s day and valentine’s day always get responses along the lines of “What’s the point of being nice to your mother / lover once a year? It should be done each and every day or not at all.”?

All though a tad cynical, these people are right, in a way. So are the people that say that emphasizing or reinforcing their love on this given day is an important reminder to not take such a beautiful thing for granted.

A national holiday we have in the Netherlands and that I write a blog about almost every year (see here and here) is our World War II remembrance day (4th of May), followed by Liberation Day (5th of May).

All though I have always payed my respects (two minutes of silence at 8PM) and always did my best to celebrate my freedom consciously, I must admit that lately, I feel like the previously mentioned cynics when it comes to remembrance day…

Every year I make an effort to ask my friends and co-workers what they will do when the clock hits 8 PM on the 4th of May. I always try to remind them that it is not just 2 minutes of “having to be quiet” but that these 2 minutes can be used to explore our own thoughts on the current state of the world and honor those who have died for the freedom we now so easily take for granted.

quote wars Enoch Powell

I always feel fired up and ready to act after liberation day. And then… NOTHING. Maybe I write a blog about my white privilege and dive into a couple of Facebook discussions and call my friends out on their inherent racism… But that’s it.

I feel icky just admitting that. I feel useless and I feel hypocritical. If only the world wasn’t collapsing under the weight of all the racism, bigotry and hate mongering, then I could act as if my help wasn’t needed.

But it is, and so is yours.

It seems the Dutch committee for 4th and 5th of May celebrations agrees that we all need a kick up the ass, and therefore decided the theme of this year’s WWII remembrance should be RESISTANCE. Even more, it has been decided it should be the theme of the whole 2018 calendar year…

Museums are adapting their exhibitions to this year’s theme and special education series are being compiled at schools, where WWII veterans and war heroes are stopping by to tell their stories.

I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence, but the Dutch year of resistance happens to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. The exact date of his murder was the 4th of April and on this day last week I watched the movie Selma.

The general story line and historical context were not new to me, as I hope it isn’t for anyone else. The film did however contribute to a better understanding on my side about what resistance entails.

It requires courage. It requires perseverance. It requires not taking “no” (or “wait” or “I can’t” or “It’s too hard”) for an answer. It requires caring more about the cause than your own well being.

As Dr King said in his legendary “I have a dream”-speech (which does not feature in the film, btw):

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

So yes; SOUL FORCE!! And now that I come to think about it, I actually wrote a blog about it just last week, only in the version of super woman Valarie Kaur. She didn’t call it Soul Force though. She called it revolutionary love.

And then former American president Jimmy Carter showed up at Stephen Colbert’s late show. Such a sweet and wise man; I had no idea! He reminded me of the willpower it takes to love those that seem undeserving of that love but the importance of doing it anyhow.

It seems my generation’s greatest purpose in life is to achieve inner peace or “zen” or a perpetual state of “Netflix & chill”. These are actually all thing I excel at, but I suddenly realize that being relaxed is making me complacent and -oh the horror-, indifferent.

I need to refuel my inner rage and channel it into something productive and less egocentrical.

Pff… I think I’ve even written about this before… What do I do to get out of this cycle?

I need to start planning some field trips.

Goals for the month of May:

  • Visit at least one exhibition, museum or lecture that fits the “resistance” theme.
  • Make a grumpy looking stranger smile.
  • Think of a good present for my bf’s birthday.
  • Bake a cake and eat it too, but with friends (especially the undeserving ones?). Or maybe it should be humble pie.

To be continued!

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Museum to make the world awesomer

Today was the official opening of the Engelandvaarders museum in an old bunker, once part of the Nazi’s Atlantic wall.  Our jolly king did not let the weather bring his spirits down and had no trouble putting himself second to give the amazing volunteers and veterans that made this museum possible a moment to shine.

Eng vaarders museum Willem opening

All though I might need some more time to come up with a decent blog on this topic, I did want to post this today, also in response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Generation XYZ.”

You see, this new museum in Noordwijk is both a tribute to those who gathered up all their courage and decided to risk their lives to make freedom possible for themselves and the rest of their countrymen and -women during WWII as it is a reminder to younger generations that every single person can play a role, take a stand and make a change!

As German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

And as far as I’m concerned it’s not any deity that you are accuontable to, it’s all of us. It’s society. The world. Mankind. Give it whatever name you want. Show you know right from wrong, by speaking up against injustice or malice. You’ll see you’re not alone. Be inspired and inspire others. We can do better than this.

Quoting Kid President: What will you create that will make the world awesome?

Ugly

What a bizarre day Friday was… I came back from a normal day at work, looking forward to the weekend when a friend asked me if I had heard about the decapitation in France. I hadn’t. I swiped my way through the news and took it all in. Because it wasn’t only France. It was also Tunisia and Kuwait and Somalia, all though the latter hardly made the news. And I caught myself answering my friend that I wasn’t surprised (I even predicted it would happen)… It was ramadan after all and a Friday, so the fanatics were extra pumped after being spoken to by their clerics of choice.

Coexist-cartoon2

After having a quick bite at home, I went to the gym. While I was plodding away on the treadmill I looked at the lady next to me, making her miles without going anywhere. I have seen her many times and we always exchange smiles and friendly greetings in the dressing room. She is old enough to be my mother but she is lean and strong and would probably outrun me any day of the week.

keep-calm-and-turn-a-blind-eye-2She was looking at the TV screen in front of her while working through her routine. It was a news channel. Men with flags. Large guns. Flashing lights from police cars and ambulances. Blood. Moving images of anger and fear, but no sound. Just the pounding of our machines and the encouraging beats of some dance song. I saw her turn the screen in front of her off and continue on in a sort of “Keep calm and carry on” sort of way.

RAF knoopI must admit I consciously chose not to watch the news that evening, even though it was on my mind. On Saturday I woke up and realized it was Veteran’s day in the Netherlands. I had made a point of remembering it this year as I had received a very special gift from an amazing man and second world war veteran the year before. It was a button from his uniform and I had promised I would wear it this day to honor him.

I turned on the TV and saw the preparations for the national parade and the stories of veterans pass by. They were from different generations and had served in different conflicts but they all shared a sense of pride in what they stood for. But there was also guilt, because it was never enough. And recurring pain, physical or mental (or both) because a war leaves scars that never heal.

And I then realized my gym companion didn’t turn the TV off because she was uninterested but because at that particular moment she couldn’t deal with it and had to switch it off. Violence does something to us, as humans. It’s not just a physical wound, it kills something inside us, doesn’t it?

I suspect this is also why people around me seem to be more vocal about the destruction of the ancient buildings and sculptures in Palmyra than about the trail of torture and death IS left on its way there. It’s so difficult to process what is happening there and it’s nearly impossible to find the words to say anything meaningful about it.

Realizing that there are people that can get past that point of repulsion and not only condone these violent acts but become active participants boggles my mind and I hate that it is becoming “just another killing” on the news.

It’s hard because on the one side I want to crawl away into my happy space of denial and just ignore this nasty business. I am helpless in the face of this aggressive cancer. There is no room for reasoning. It’s just ugly.

But to quote the Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Remembering and celebrating 70 years of freedom

It will be exactly seventy years ago this week that the second world war officially ended in the Netherlands.

The 4th of May is Herdenkingsdag, or Remembrance Day. On this day we all do a conscious effort to commemorate the cruel history of war, to realize once again what men are capable of when exposed to hateful doctrines and to honor the people who did not survive. Poems, speeches and solemn music help us get in a contemplative mood that suits this day of mourning.

At 8PM, we are all silent for 2 minutes. Cars stop by the side of the road, all TV and radio channels adjust their programming, cities go quiet, children study the faces of their parents and try to understand the sudden change of atmosphere… And then the national anthem is played, smiles reappear and life slowly picks up again.

I always wonder what other people think about in these two minutes. There are no real rules about this (luckily!) all though I always ask people around me what they will focus on during the moments of silence. You can steer your thoughts in all directions during those quiet moments but I’m quite sure most of us try to keep our thoughts relevant. That is to say, we think about the second world war; about the destruction of Rotterdam, about the underground resistance, about the concentration camps and the millions that died. But we also think about more recent wars and conflicts where military force was used and soldiers met their deaths, – our soldiers, their soldiers, guerrillas, civilians.

A few years ago there was some controversy because the annual poem that was chosen to be read aloud  (always written by a child) was dedicated to the boy’s grandfather, who had joined the SS and was therefore, as we call it in the Netherlands “fout”, which translates to “wrong”. The poem was about making choices and how these choices can echo on in future generations. The poem is a sort of reminder that in times of war things can get confused and one must not judge too quickly.

This caused so much upheaval that in the end, the Committee decided to pull the poem out of the program. The wounds are still too fresh to forgive. There is no room to grieve for the men that stood on the wrong side of the line, at least not on this day. I do understand this sentiment even though I think it is valuable to stay open for the fact that there is always another side to the story.

The sad realization is that in the end it makes no difference. No battles are prevented or stopped by the strength of our quiet thoughts and next year we will do it again and we will have more death to think about…

…but to not end on this somber note I will also tell you about the 5th of May, which is Bevrijdingsdag or Liberation Day. On this day we celebrate our freedom by dancing in the streets, as the people must have done in 1945 when the Nazi occupation was officially over.

bevrijdingsdag bevrijdingsfestivalbevr festival

What will you do on the 5th of May?

Finding my bearings

overtocht team

My story is not spectacular. My story is not heroic. My story is actually not even my story but at the same time it really absolutely is! This story forms part of a greater whole and I am so proud that I am a part of it! It deserves to be told and I want to be the one to do it. So there.

I ended my previous blog on a bit of a cliffhanger. I wrote about the voyage of my grandparents in 1943 and may have briefly mentioned that I retook this voyage, as an ode to them and all others who attempted to cross the North Sea to England during WWII. But enough about them (but no seriously, they were awesome!), allow me to tell you about my part in all of this!

So, I think I’ll start at the end and work back from there. You see, when we returned from our fourtysomething hour long journey, we came ashore with cameras pointing at our faces (waiting for us to break down?). We were applauded, photographed, filmed and interviewed. We were asked to pose, to talk about how we felt, to smile and to wave this way and that. I tried to be original every time I was asked about the voyage and to treat every question as if it was asked to me for the first time.

The most frequent asked questions were the following:

1)      What drove you to take part in this venture? (sometimes asked in the form of: why in the blazes did you say yes?)

2)      What went through your mind while you were at sea?

3)      What does it mean for you to step in the footsteps of your grandparents?

4)      Would you do it again?

The questions sound simple enough, but I had the hardest possible time coming up with the right answers. I think whoever asked me them, was pretty satisfied with whatever I came up with but I always felt I hadn’t quite covered it. I kept thinking they actually wanted to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and I felt I was never really giving them all that. Sure, it was always true but I always had to feed it to them in ready to eat soundbites and therefore my answers always sounded incomplete to me. It missed the “on the one side blablabla, but on the other side blablabla” crap we academics love to get lost in.radertjes

That’s why I thought writing this blog would be easy. I would just jot it all down, from left to write, and equip my formulated thoughts with tons of footnotes and sidethoughts between parentheses, which is what I reckon most of my daydreams must look like as well… but I degress…

Let’s answer these questions… Numero uno, why in the blazes did I say yes?! Ahhh, but my answer needs an introduction… because my perceptive readers must have noticed that this question implies the involvement of another party, being the one that is asking me to come along. That would be Epco and Teije, who came up with the idea for this undertaking during the new year’s reception of the newspaper they both work for.

Eddie Jonker jongThey found out about a little boat that lay in a museum in Overloon, named after one of the original passengers, Yvette Bartlema. And during their first brainstorm sessions about how this project could take form, they came into contact with living legend, Eddie Jonker. This 90 year old war veteran was also the chairman of a Stichting Engelandvaardermuseum, raising funds for the resurrection of a museum to commemorate all those who travelled to England during the second world war and joined the allied forces and the resistance. He joined the RAF himself and contributed greatly to the cause and remains an amazingly sharp witted man today with a strong will and a warm hart. The foundation was working on a project to build a replica of the Yvette for in the museum’s collection, which turned out to be the final boost Epco and Teije needed for their idea to really set sail.

All they needed now were 3 other people to come along on this odyssey, which (long story short) brought them to me. And I said yes because… well, honestly because I thought it sounded like an adventure. The first time I tried to explain this to my friends and family, I described it as the reaction a child would have hearing his / her favorite attraction park had just opened a new ride. But of course there was more to it… I was getting the chance to learn about these mysterious people in the black and white pictures. I read their words from fading letters that had been kept safe (but nearly forgotten!) in boxes and cupboards by family members. I learned things about my own history and about history in general that I didn’t even know I missed.

I also said yes because from the very start, the organizers emphasized that safety was very high on their list of priorities. That made me feel like I could permit myself to be brazen. It was an opportunity to go on an adventure, with a big chance of discomfort a slight chance of getting hurt, but with a panic button in case things (or people) would go overboard. That my grandparents did not have this luxury, was a realization that was often in our minds and humbled us during our get-togethers.

And I guess that brings us to the second question. In all honesty, what I thought about during my time at sea wasn’t all that interesting… I wish I could tell you I philosophized about the meaning of life and my part in it. I wish I could tell you I solved some crazy riddle or perhaps made up one, but I’m afraid it would be untrue.

My thoughts were more along the lines of “Man, this North Sea puddle sure is BIG!” and “ Didn’t I see a wave just like that one, an hour ago?!” and most of all “ bleeeuh, my tummy feels funny… but luckily not as bad as THAT guy…”. That guy was one of my fellow passengers and grandson of one of the original crewmembers, Coen. His nausea started somewhere during the first night and never really stopped. He came out of his greenish-greyish cloud of misery for a couple of minutes every time he ate something. It would give him enough energy to make a couple of jokes and then fall back into his zombie-state after hanging over the side to give whatever he had just eaten back to nature…Foto+van+de+Dag+vaarkrant

There were a couple of moments during the voyage that we spoke about what we were doing and what it all meant. We talked about the original passengers and about their role in the bigger picture. We talked about the other veterans we had met and what they represented for the younger generations. We talked about boat refugees in current times and the way we view them. My grandparents were heroes, boat refugees arriving in Southern Europe from Africa are a plague. Is it really that different?

After this last conversation I had Manu Chao’s song, Clandestino, on my mind and tried to remember all the lyrics. All I kept coming back to was “Soy una raya en el mar”, or “ I’m a line in the sea”, which is pretty much how I felt. Another song that stuck with me is Papeles mojados, by Chambao. I encourage you to listen to both songs and look up their translated lyrics if you don’t speak Spanish.

And how it feels to step in the footsteps of my grandparents…? In truth, I don’t think I have. I made a trip in a boat and I am proud of myself for doing it, but I have in no way done anything matching the heroism of the original passengers, as the boat trip itself was merely the beginning of their voyage. I guess that is also why it was so hard to write this blog. I just felt so small in the light of their story and almost unworthy to be putting the spotlight on myself for something so meaningless.

I did feel the need to describe this feeling of gratitude and admiration I feel for the people that fought for our freedom. Not just my grandparents but all the men and women that contributed to the resistance and stood up against the hate and injustice that was swallowing the continent. The last question is therefore an insignificant one. Retaking the boattrip does nothing for the true meaning of their mission. To truly honor their valor I must actively participate in the world and make an effort to make a difference. I can either sit by the sidelines and point at all the things I see going wrong, or I can find ways to truly make a difference.

In current times, things have been getting so confused. People are being called fascists left and right. Politics are filled with fear mongering rhetorics, which is creating an atmosphere that is truly worrying. Fear is the best bed to plant the seed of hate in and it is happening all around me. I will not go into this much further in this blog (but I will try to in a future one) but will leave you with this video that recently aired before the European elections.

We must never forget our past, and that is the true moral of this story and the only true way to honor the original passengers of the Yvette! yvette vlet in GB