As I write this entry on the last night of our Germany trip, I am filled with gratitude, connection, and hope, but also anger, grief, and shame.
I am not surprised by this myriad of feelings, because it seems to be an appropriate reaction to our equally-varied itinerary. From lighting candles at Track 17 to reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish at Sachsenhausen to sitting in the courtroom of the Nuremberg trials to staring out at the beautiful lake in Wannsee from the conference room, just to name a few experiences.
Tonight, I scroll through the photos I took from each of these visits, and I am struck by the smile I am wearing in each picture. Anyone else could look at these photos and think, “she’s having a great time!” But I look at these photos, and only I know the internal conflict I was feeling in these moments, each time thinking, “do we smile?”
Looking at our trip photos this evening reminds me of the countless photos we saw in each museum or memorial. I remember seeing the photos of those in attendance of the Nazi rallies, each face smiling. If I had zero context, I would think, “what a lovely parade, I’m so glad this moment was captured!”
I also remember photos of children about to board the train to a death camp, never to return home. Again, smiles. And again, without context, these photos look like special moments just before boarding a train to visit loved ones or going on holiday.
The contrast is striking, seeing such joy in a moment of such darkness, and I wonder if they too asked themselves, “do we smile?”
I recognize a version of this question in many areas of my life, wondering if my outward behavior reflects my inner discord. Where else in my life am I smiling when it feels inappropriate? What meetings am I in where I agree when I know I should speak out? What relationships do I hold on to when I know I should let go? What headlines do I scroll past that I know I should pay attention to?
I don’t know the answers, but I do know I won’t find them when I ignore the questions altogether.
There is much knowledge and meaning I am bringing home with me, but my most valuable takeaway is this call to stop sleep-walking through life. I am awake, and I will continue to listen to what is stirring inside.