Sunday, September 26, 2010

Current Interest: World War II Stories

So I am currently being caught up in 1940s culture and World War II stories. It all started after reading the novel Dream When You’re Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg this summer. Then this fall I was handed a copy of one veteran hero’s self-published booklet revealing his wartime memories in Germany. My curiosity kept thirsting for more and led me to the library to pick up The Greatest Generation, a touching book of so many people’s stories and written by TV anchor Tom Brokaw. I only read the first chapter so far, but it looks like it will be an unforgettable read.

So what’s the big deal? Everything! Here are just some bits and pieces of what I find most intriguing about the culture of the 1940s and the generation that survived the Great Depression, fought earnestly and won World War II, and taught America what it means to go where duty calls and honor beckons, to sacrifice, to be patriotic, and to love.

I admire the unity between the soldiers fighting abroad and the families on the home front, united in the war cause and equally sacrificing their lives so that we could win the war. I admire the willingness to make sacrifices for a common cause and for their loved ones. Marriages stayed together. Families were large, close-knit, and they stayed together (this was the era when kids actually slept two or three in a room – gasp!) And the country stood together. I really believe this was because they were eager to make sacrifices for each other. I’m touched by the power of handwritten letters from girlfriends, parents, little siblings, and strangers to keep up the morale of our soldiers. I admire the girlish fashion of the 1940s - so classy. In fact, what wasn’t classy about the ‘40s? I admire the men and am inspired by the women. Even with women entering the workforce (to support the war and their men), there was respect for masculine and feminine roles. Most of all, I admire our grandparents who are men and women of this generation. We have not respected and honored them enough. We have a lot to learn from them.

So, my readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories. Do you have any good book recommendations or favorite World War II films?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What I've Learned from Ballroom Dancing

Writer that I am, I cannot help but observe and record the intricacies of ballroom dancing and what happens when you are out on the dance floor. Characters in masquerade circle and swoop around the dance floor, more characters are unveiled in their true, carefree, playful light, and memories are filled with fragrance and the sound of music. So, while dancing Friday night, I took to heart the timeless lessons I’ve learned over the years from ballroom dancing…

  1. Live in the moment. You could be looking over his shoulder, imagining yourself with someone else, or thinking of other things…OR you can feel the gentle push of his lead, listen and let your body follow, and express yourself in the music now.
  2. Manners still exist today. Really! There is a place where men are gents and women are ladies, where “May I have this dance?” is still in order, where men escort the lady on and off the floor, and where etiquette is expected.
  3. Be present. Every dance is its own singular moment to impact another human person in a close and personal way and for him or her to influence you. If you are not present with that person, you will miss what the dance is all about.
  4. Make a connection. All good leading and following comes from your connection or your frame. Your ability to communicate comes from this connection. Know where he is; know where you are; and stay connected!
  5. The most powerful communication is unspoken. Through your body movements and eye contact, you are speaking volumes of a universal, human language that is capable of uniting people of every ethnic background and culture. I have met dancers from China, South Africa, Austria, Asia and England – and whether you can speak each other’s language doesn’t matter so much as if you know how to dance!
  6. In ballroom dancing, we are like children in adult clothes, playful and carefree, beautiful and dashing. You are being “man” to woman. She is being “woman” to man.
  7. Look at your partner’s eyes–this sums up everything: it helps you be present to each other and establish a connection. You know more in a glance than words can say. Looking at each other’s eyes is how you appreciate each other.
  8. Fine-tune your social skills. Get out of your comfort zone, improve communication with the opposite sex, meet new people, and even do some speed dating!
  9. Three words to define a man: leader, guide, support. Three words to define a lady: beauty, grace, integrity. (She is the flower in his frame. She makes the picture whole.)
  10. Dance through the pain. Yes, even on calluses and aching feet, you dance through the pain because the dance is too beautiful to miss.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Man in the Beaver Hat

“Better than robbing a bank!” said the man in the beaver hat, half-kidding, half-serious, standing over the stranger he was talking to in the second floor of the library. He gave the stranger sitting down an over-friendly jab on the shoulder and continued, “I go by the Bible’s principles. If a man can’t trust another man, then what good is all this,” he waved his hand at the law books the man was reading. “Then how are we going to ever get out of Iraq and end this war.”

I was in the library, working on my writing assignments, but now the beaver man attracted all my curiosity. He had found sanctuary, like me, in the literature section with the likes of Stephen King, Faulkner, Hemingway, Twain and O’Conner – the American literary greats. The beaver man wore tennis shoes, blue jeans, and a rough cotton shirt. His eyes were hollowed out in the valleys of his face. He arrived at my table with a square black case, a large overstuffed white envelope, and his calculator, ready to fulfill his duty to the government and fill out his tax forms. I subtly observed him.

Before he opened up his case, I noticed a black and white sticker and on it “9-11” and “war.” He wore a pin on his shirt with the reverse colors, black letters that spelled “Committ” on a white background, a slogan or word I had never heard before. It seemed like some kind of rallying statement. How long had he had it? How long had he been wearing pins and stickers, carrying signs and preaching peace?

What ensued were grunts and sighs. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he blurted out loud. After a while, he rose up suddenly and walked to the window, his eyes searching beyond the confines of politics and money boxes. I related with his yearning to find deeper meaning – is this all there is? Then he disappeared around the aisles of American fiction, only to suddenly reappear later, like some figure of the past who was still searching to find his place in the story, or his piece in the peace. Where was the peace he had been rallying for all his life?

One look at his papers sprawled out all over the table put him at unrest again. Taxes had no appeal to him now. That is why he turned to the man at the next table over, the white bearded man in a grey shirt and black sock hat. The man in the beaver hat drew curiously over, the beaver tail hanging behind his head. “If you don’t mind me asking,” he began, “Are you studying government? You’re not a lawyer, are you?”

The man answered no and murmured that he was studying to complete some kind of suit or law cases. From the tidbits I gathered he was studying for a degree in a new job. The more they chatted, the more amiable the man in the beaver hat became. Finally, he gave the stranger a friendly pat in admiration and wished him luck. “Better than robbing a bank!” he said and advised, “Don’t expect to make anything the first six months.”

I sat there and mused, my mind turning completely different matters than before. Where is the answer for peace? Is it in robbing the bank so we have financial “security”? Is it in our power-hungry careers? Is it in bigger government that provides for us after we have given our freedoms away? Is it in robbery or well-earned corporate successes, progressivism, consumerism or market increases? If so, then why are there growing divisions, rivalry, putting your fellow man down, national insecurities, and global wars? Yes, the more we reach for, the less we have. The more our arms grab and cling to, the less freedom we possess. The man in the beaver hat was right, “If a man can’t trust another man, then what good is all of this?”

I recalled his height, but how he slouched over at the shoulders, as if carrying the weight of a generation of fighters: Vietnam protesters, revolutionaries, tree-huggers and hippies. How many causes had he joined? Were they won or lost? And did it matter? Does any of it matter?

When all of this fades away and we are left, stripped of everything…a trumpet will thunder …“man and woman he created them…” and we will remember it all begins and ends with him and her and God. This is how it began and this is how it will end: ourselves accountable before the God who created us.

The greatest interior peace comes from doing the will of God in our lives. As Dante so famously penned in Paradiso, “In His will is our peace.”

Trust within loving relationships will yield peace. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, said “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” To belong to each other is to depend on one another, to hold ourselves responsible for each other’s well being, to be faithful in our promises, to be trustworthy. The family is the most basic cultivating ground for peace. Peace between couples equals peace in families, equals peace between neighbors, equals peace within cities, equals peace between states, countries, and nations. Mother Teresa, in calling us to cultivate peace in the world begins from home base, “I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?”

To all who read this, and to the man in the beaver hat, I hope that you may find and know the peace that you seek.