Rest In Peace Uncle

Some say that there is no such thing as closure when a loved one passes on.  I think it depends on the circumstances surrounding that passing.  In my family’s case, it took sixty-seven years for the truth about my uncle’s passing to reach his family.

This photo of Gerardus Petrus Zegers, my uncle, lives on a bookshelf in my mother’s bedroom.  My mother told me that in this photo he is about sixteen.  The scarf he’s wearing was knit by my grandmother.  She also told me that every time she looks at it she wonders what happened to her brother.

According to my mother, in 1943, in Driebergen-Rijsenburg, the Nazis began rounding up able-bodied boys and men to work in their camps.  Two of my mother’s brothers were taken.  My uncle Henk managed to escape and was hidden by a german family.  Gerardus was not so lucky.  He ended up in a camp called Mittelbau-Dora which was a satelite camp of Buchenwald, in Nordhausen, Germany.  While researching I scoured the available photos, on the internet, of arriving prisoners for the scarf my uncle was wearing in a desperate attempt to verify that he was among the laborers.

When the allies bombed the German manufacturing facilities that were above ground the Nazis opened Dora in an abandoned mine.  Here they manufactured their V2 ballistic missiles.  The same missiles that were the cornerstone of the American space program after the second World War.  Sixty-thousand prisoners from 21 nations passed through Dora.  In Camp Dora and Buchenwald, an estimated 20,000 inmates died; 9000 died from exhaustion and collapse, 350 hanged (including 200 for sabotage), the rest died mainly from disease and starvation. In April of 1945 the  104th Timberwolf Army Infantry  and Third Armored Division liberated the surviving prisoners.  Over 1,200 patients were evacuated, with 15 dying en route to the hospital area and 300 then dying of malnutrition.

When news of the liberation reached my family in Driebergen, my grandmother went to the train station daily to greet her son, Gerard, and welcome him home.  He did not come home.  She followed this routine daily for years with the same result.  We didn’t receive any information about the exact fate of my uncle.  Many years later another uncle and brother of Gerardus, Piet, received special permission to cross the Berlin Wall, in hopes of getting information about his brother from the Communist government.  They were not forthcoming.

In March of this year, after researching the internet, I came across a website called the International Tracing Service.  I filled out their application for information about my uncle.  I waited until May and when I heard nothing from them I forwarded my earlier email again.  Finally in September I received a letter from them with the information that my family had waited sixty-seven years to hear.  My uncle Gerardus Petrus Zegers passed away on the twenty-eighth of April 1945 of tuberculosis.  It isn’t clear if he was among the fifteen that died on route to the hospital or one of the 20,000 souls that passed during his imprisonment.  according to civil records he was buried in Nordhausen Cemetery in Grave No. 2.

My mother said that it was too bad that her mom and dad weren’t still alive to finally hear the news of their son.  I reminded her that he is re-united with his mother, father, and two brothers in Heaven.  This Remembrance Day, I honor my uncle, Gerardus Petrus Zegers.

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The First Commute

I’ve had a lot of firsts this year.  I couldn’t tell if I was nervous with excitement or fear.  I hadn’t set an alarm clock since high school.  A solid breakfast and a lunchbox hadn’t been my morning routine either.   I used to jog to work, but that would be a ten-hour jog at six mph.  I slumped into the driver’s seat and reluctantly started my commute.  Preoccupied with new job jitters, I rounded the corner.  The panorama that revealed itself made me involuntarily gasp.  The contrasting beauty of nature, black and white, delicate pink, sky blue;  a commute that will never lose the awe-inspiring, God-like appeal.

Photo credit belongs to Douglas McIlroy

Listen to Mother

Beggars and soldiers were all that remained the day Mother Earth gave back.
She raised up her mighty ocean in a tsunamic slap,
to clean the parasites that encrusted her skin.
She cried from the heavens with lightning and hail, and flooded Her suffering skin,
in an effort to heal the filthy mess her children left her in.
A warning to all who won’t heed Nature’s signs or heed Mother Earth’s discipline.
What we ignore now is only a tap, compared to what Mother Earth will bring.

I wanted to include some words of wisdom with my poem.  The following are various quotes that inspired me regarding the state of the earth today, and the state the earth will be in if we don’t start the healing process.

” Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
Chief Seattle

photo by: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_Seattle

“The time will soon be here when my grandchild will long for the cry of a loon, the flash of a salmon, the whisper of spruce needles, or the screech of an eagle.  But he will not make friends with any of these creatures and when his heart aches with longing he will curse me.  Have I done all to keep the air fresh?  Have I cared enough about the water?  Have I left the eagle to soar in freedom?  Have I done everything I could to earn my grandchild’s fondness?” Chief Dan George

photo by: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_Dan_George

“When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots, we make little holes. When we build houses, we make little holes. When we burn grass for grasshoppers, we don’t ruin things. We shake down acorns and pine nuts. We don’t chop down the trees. We only use dead wood. But the white people plow up the ground, pull down the trees, kill everything. … the White people pay no attention. …How can the spirit of the earth like the White man? Everywhere the White man has touched it, it is sore.” Unknown Wintu Woman, 19th Century

photo by: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WWwintu.htm

Healing Waters

By funk5ive

Sometimes life just goes by.
You know you should be paying attention,
then something catches your eye.
The imagination of a child,
an angel shape in clouds of white,
the pain in a loved ones eyes.

Sometimes the well is dry.
You go to fill your heart with joy,
then you see you can’t and why.
The tragic wrongs not yet ignored,
a mournful love never regained,
the pain in your own blue eyes.

Sometimes it’s time to cry.
The healing waters from God Himself,
If you don’t you know you’ll die.
But the dam in your eyes,
and the lump in your throat..
deny, deny, DENY.

Sometimes a friend is nigh.
You know you should accept their love
but your faith will not comply.
So you think of the child,
and the angel clouds,
and your soul begins to cry.

Picture credit :

By funk5ive

The Price of Colonization

The terms colonization and European tribe don’t often come up in every-day language.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that these terms are being used by First Nations people to describe my race, my ancestry, me.    I felt really insulted at first but the more I educate myself the more I understand the label.  I’ve learned I am descendant from a European tribe that colonized around the world and was instrumental in decimating the culture, livelihood and inevitably the spirit of the inhabitants.  I used to feel pride in history class when I learned that my homeland, the Netherlands, colonized far off lands filled with savages, untamed wilderness and natural resources galore just waiting to be plundered for Queen and country.  We were taught in school that the explorers were heroes, “Indians” were godless savages, facts backed up by Hollywood’s portrayal of “Indians” on the silver screen.  In researching this article I am sickened by what I learned.  First, consider the words spoken by Tatanka Yotanka (Sitting Bull) at the Powder River Council, 1877:

“Behold, my brothers, the spring has come; the earth has received the embraces of the sun and we shall soon see the results of that love! Every seed has awakened and so has all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our neighbors, even our animal neighbors, and the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land. Yet hear me, my people, we have now to deal with another race – small and feeble when our fathers first met them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possessions is a disease with them . . . They claim this mother of ours, the earth, for their own, and fence their neighbors away; they deface her with their buildings and their refuse. They threaten to take [the land] away from us. My brothers, shall we submit, or shall we say to them: ‘First kill me before you take possession of my Fatherland.’”

For the most part the history of the colonization of North America, as taught in schools, is riddled with omissions, lies and half-truths.  I couldn’t find anything specific regarding how the Dutch conducted themselves, but take a look at good old Christopher Columbus, hero, conqueror, intrepid explorer and friend to the crown of Spain.    When Columbus and his sailors came ashore the Arawak’s of the Bahamas Islands ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. Columbus wrote of this in his log:

“They brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned…. They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…. They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

In another entry in his log, Columbus wrote:

“As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.”

Of course the “whatever there is in these parts” was gold that Columbus would trade for glass beads, in the name of the Spanish monarchy.  His description of the inhabitants tells the story:

“The Indians are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone….”

Here is a horrifying eye witness account of the Spaniards’ conduct by Barloeme de Las Casas:

“Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits. .. Spaniards have no more consideration for them than beasts. And I say this from my own knowledge of the acts I witnessed. But I should not say “than beasts” for, thanks be to God, they have treated beasts with some respect; I should say instead like excrement on the public squares. And thus they have deprived the Indians of their lives and souls, for the millions I mentioned have died without the Faith and without the benefit of the sacraments… never have the Indians in all the Indies committed any act against the Spanish Christians, until those Christians have first and many times committed countless cruel aggressions against them or against neighboring nations. For in the beginning the Indians regarded the Spaniards as angels from Heaven. Only after the Spaniards had used violence against them, killing, robbing, torturing, did the Indians ever rise up against them….”

Yet another report by Las Casas:

“They (the Spaniards) attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, “Boil there, you offspring of the devil!” Other infants they put to the sword along with their mothers and anyone else who happened to be nearby. They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim’s feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, and then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive.”

In the mid-eighties the media ramped up its coverage of Environmental issues and a thought started to form in the back of my mind.  If we do not heed the warnings we are being given, Mother Earth will be forced to use the mightiest weapon in her arsenal, extinction.  She will raise her oceans and give herself a cleansing and us a tsunamic slap to extinction.  We need the help of the Frist Nations people to undo the centuries of destruction.  I wonder what the face of the world would look like had we adopted the aboriginals’ ways instead of forcing our ways on them.  What if all the colonists had first encountered less passive tribes, like the Mayans or Incas and had just gone home?

William Commanda, Mamiwinini, Algonquin, Quebec, said:

“Traditional people of Indian nations have interpreted the two roads that face the light-skinned race as the road to technology and the road to spirituality. We feel that the road to technology…. has led modern society to a damaged and seared earth. Could it be that the road to technology represents a rush to destruction, and that the road to spirituality represents the slower path that the traditional native people have traveled and are now seeking again? The earth is not scorched on this trail. The grass is still growing there.”

An Unknown Wintu Woman, in the 19th Century, said:

“When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots, we make little holes. When we build houses, we make little holes. When we burn grass for grasshoppers, we don’t ruin things. We shake down acorns and pine nuts. We don’t chop down the trees. We only use dead wood. But the white people plow up the ground, pull down the trees, kill everything. … the White people pay no attention. …How can the spirit of the earth like the White man? Everywhere the White man has touched it, it is sore.”

I can’t tell you how emotionally exhausting this research has been.  There are many more horror stories throughout the centuries, too many to mention in a thousand word article.  I’m left feeling hurt, shame, and empathy.  Hurt because my ancestors left such a terrible legacy, shame because I’m a light skinned colonist, and empathy for our First Nations people.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”  I hope that in sharing this truth I am being that change.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_N._Paul

http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Wisdom/MourningDove.html

http://www.nativevillage.org/Libraries/Quotes/Native%20American%20Quotes%2019.htm

http://www.danielnpaul.com/index.html

http://www.danielnpaul.com/ChristopherColumbus.html

http://www.greatdreams.com/wisdom.htm

http://www.lauraleekharris.com/

 

Enlightening Midnight

     The day started out like every other day.  I, Snowball Catus, descendant of Felis Catus, woke up.  I heard the thud of the human’s feet hitting the floor upstairs.  There was much scurrying around, slamming of doors, water splashing and then finally his trundling downstairs.

     “Good morning Snowball, are we ready for breakfast?” he asked.

     First, he does some more splashing with the water and tinkering with his gadgets and has a steamy cup of something.  Then I hear my breakfast hit the bowl.  Next he comes over to pick me up and pets me a while.  I purr for him and he sets me down in front of the bowl.  He usually waits for me to finish breakfast and then he lets me out to roam the backyard. 

     Today I heard the back door slam as soon as I started to eat.  It was curious but I wandered upstairs to the human’s room, tucked myself into his bed and went to sleep.  A door slamming awakened me and I heard the human downstairs.

     “Snowball I’m home! Come here pussy cato, I have a surprise for you!  Come and meet our new friend, Midnight.” he said.

     I thought I heard lonesome mewing sounds as I sauntered down to the kitchen.  As I rounded the corner, there was the human, cuddling a tiny scared black kitten.  Midnight was the kitten!  Oh great! I now had a job.  I would have to find a way to console the little fur ball.

      “ I’m scared! Meeooowww!” howled the kitty.

     “Now Midnight, you need to stop crying.” I scolded.  “I won’t let anything bad happen to you.  I’m Snowball Catus.  Think of me as a big brother.  Shhhh, I want to tell you a story that will make you feel a lot better.”

     “Nothing is going to make me feel better, ever.  I miss my mother!  I miss my brothers and sisters!” he wailed.

     “But the story is about the animals the human took from their homes.” I protested.  “He put them in a pond he built called Hounslow Pond.  It only existed for three seasons.  For some reason he took all the creatures out, drained the water and filled in the hole.  We ended up moving here.  This is our home!””

     “Why did the human do this Snowball?” meowed Midnight.

     “I don’t know.” I sighed.  The little guy started to tug at my heart.  “Humans are what they are Midnight.  Hounslow Pond was special because all of us were feeling the same homesickness.  A great horned owl known as The Imperator, Bubo Virginianus, gave us the strength to unite and survive well in our new surroundings.  Each night we would meet and recite the Credendum, the living history of each of our species.”

     “Sniff.  Did you recite the Credendum Snowball?” asked Midnight as the human put him down on the floor beside me.

     “Midnight Catus clean yourself and I’ll tell you the story.  One night The Imperator roosted on a branch overlooking Hounslow Pond.  He was going to speak to us; we were bound to listen.

     ‘This is witnessed in the Credendum as one of our beliefs.” Bubo began.  “In the olden times we lived in Quiddity.  In the land there was only nature. We had only to be what we were to survive.  The ancient humans lived as we did, and only had to be what they were to survive.  Then the new humans came and built the boxes of clangor they live in.’

     He allowed us to finish grumbling before he went on.

      ‘In the present, we have come together as one species.’ he said.   ‘In Quiddity, Raccoon Lotor’s ancestor, Procyon Lotor, hunted the fish, mice, birds and frogs according to the Credendum, at one with nature.  Today, Raccoon hunts in dumpster and garbage can to feed her young.’ Bubo paused, spun his head around, then he continued. 

     ‘In the past Procyon’s habitat was near big water with small timbers, bordering corn and vegetable fields.  In the present, Raccoon lives in garage, shed and boxes of clangor near Hounslow Pond.  When human feeds the creatures of the pond, the pond gives back beauty to feed the human soul.  The new human is voracious in the present and takes all, with nothing to give in return.  The new humans took nature from the creatures living in Quiddity.’

     ‘The time has come for me to nourish in Big Field.  The sun is kissing the horizon.  I shall soar and think on the Creator.  When I return, I should like to hear from the descendants of Felis Catus to gain some insight into the new humans.  Snowball’s species has lived with humans for four thousand seasons.  I suspect his entry in the Credendum will prove fascinating. Snowball Catus,’ he hooted ‘see that you are ready when I return.’

     With that the Imperator silently descended from his perch.  He floated just above our heads and then silently disappeared into the shadows of dusk.

     When Bubo returned this is what I said, ‘Four thousand seasons ago, my ancestor, Felis Catus lived with humans who built enormous stone mountains to carry their spirits to the Creator.  Catus was worshiped by these humans and mistakenly thought of as a god…”

     “Snowball, am I related to Felis Catus too?” asked Midnight.

     “Yes Midnight you are.  Hey you stopped crying!  Are you feeling a little better?”

     “I-I think I am. Thanks brother.” said Midnight.

     “You see!  I told you, the Credendum works!” I said giving Midnight a few licks.

     “From now on when I feel like crying I’ll practice my own speech for the Credendum.  I am Midnight Catus, descendant of Felis Catus, little brother of Snowball Catus.”

     “That’s a very good start Midnight.  Later I’ll tell you all about the rest of the creatures of Hounslow Pond.  Now get over here and go to sleep kitty.”

     Midnight curled himself in a ball against my stomach, and purred himself to sleep.  I have a feeling it’s going to be fun enlightening Midnight Catus!

Midnight photo by: kittyblogger.wordpress.com

I Ran Away Today, From the Din

I found a place with silent butterflies.
Fluttering by in complete silence to human ears.
Do butterflies hear a din?
I wonder if their wings make a noise that only they can hear.

I found a place with uncountable crickets.
Each one rubbing out their mechanical song.
Separate and then together as one.
Eventually to be removed from my consciousness, then back again.

I found a place with grasses ten feet tall.
Swaying in the wind, whispering all the while
of creatures hiding within.
They marked the path of the wind, invisible until it touched them.

I found a place of endless prairie sky
with sculptures in the clouds.
A handle bar mustached gent, a Meer cat, an angel on the wing.

I found a bridge of planks across the stream.
The families cycling by tap rhythmically all in sync.
I hear snapshots as they speak, a moment in their lives.

I found a place I hoped that God would speak,
to calm my worried mind, to quench my thirsty soul.
I waited quite a while and didn’t hear His word.
Picked up my book and pen, and wrote these very lines.
Then a stunning thought, He was speaking all the while,
in the wind, the birds, the clouds.
Then the grasses gently bowed, like smiling Asian men,
who always seemed to know, I’d get there in the end.

© 2009 Angelique Maatman

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