Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What I Learned in Alsace

Our trip began in the city of Strasbourg, in a region of France called Alsace. In case you are unfamiliar with it, this is a region that has deep roots in both France and Germany. The territory has been hard-fought-over by those countries, again and again, and has in the past belonged to Germany at certain times, and to France at others. It is now in French possession, but if you travel there, you will find the culture, the food, the towns' (and people's) names are both French and German. As one of the guidebooks says, the French believe that the natural border is the Rhine River, and the Germans believe that the natural border is the Vosges mountain range. This has created continual disagreement over the territory in between these two gifts of nature.

Wine production is a great part of the culture of the area, particularly white wine. There is a "Route des Vins" which you can follow on a map, visiting vineyards and tasting the wines. It is lush and green and a little bit sleepy. It's hard to picture buildings being shelled, or people dying in uniform there.

I enjoyed being able to visit the place from which my ancestors came. As I walked the streets, saw the architecture, ate the food and observed the landscape, I looked for clues about my great-grandmother's character, as she had a great impact on all of our lives; she is the reason that our family is part French, and we are proud of it. I hoped to find clues to my grandmother's and mother's lives, as well.

The French and German temperaments are quite different. I should know, as my family's heritage lies in both countries. Living side by side over many centuries has not been easy for these two cultures. A great deal of innocent blood has been shed over the territory that both nations covet.

What I gained, most deeply, from being in Alsace was a sense that our personal tragedy (Katie's death) is not just personal; it's universal. Katie's passing is part of the fabric of being a human, here on earth. Families in history have always seen the untimely death of children. War, natural disaster, disease, accident have always broken lives, and there are always, left behind, some who survive those precious ones who die...and who have to live on without them.

I saw a gorgeous landscape that has literally been watered with the life-blood of sons and daughters. It hurt me, to be in this beautiful, peaceful, rural, fertile landscape and to reflect upon this fact, but the hurt wasn't personal; it was human. I saw the futility of those wars, and the land which is still precious, verdant, productive - and which still lies between the same two natural boundaries. It belongs to NO one; it is part of "mother earth." And yet, if my home & family were there, I think I would feel impelled to fight to keep it, and to prevent it from being taken from me & mine.

I saw that my family is no different from the thousands of families in history who have seen a child, of any age, die; that those families are everywhere, and that, like us, they have been left to survive. They have to keep living, because they are still alive. And not only do they live, but they live in the land that speaks to them, daily, of their loved one and their loss. It is part of the fabric of life. We are like them; we are not unique in our loss, and we are not alone.

The cross had told me this, but being in Alsace brought it into me in a new way.


KBL 2 ORD 2 SAN 2 LUV said...

Wow, this post has knocked me off my feet. Beautifull written. And so very true, no?

As a human of this earth we will all share profound grief too soon. I'm sorry it has to be that way, but I'm hopeful that when I die and hopefully get to sit down for a chat with God, I can ask, why?

Your pictures are spectacular. I can't wait to return to Europe.

Elizabeth said...

Karen, this is such a beautiful post and one that resonates with me despite the fact that I don't share the experience of the death of a child with you. I, too, find great comfort in seeing the grand scheme of things, the enormous scope of history, the very fact of my very small life -- so small yet so huge. Thank you for the thoughts and for the glorious pictures.

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing post - thank you for sharing. One of the things I worked on when I studied in Strasbourg was the 'memorialisation' of the victims of WW1, especially the tradition of constructing monuments in practically every town. I remember that many of these featured a 'mother and child' image. Your post today definitely brought home the fact that our interconnectedness, whether defined by familial or national terms, is a broader concept which should give us a sense of general human empathy, rather than a sense of exclusiveness.

I'm particularly pleased to see the photos of this beautiful town - brought back many memories.


Gannet Girl said...

Your thoughts resonate with me -- I have been thinking along much the same lines, but not yet able to articulate my thoughts nearly so well -- and I have started writing about my son and France -- soon to be posted.

Busy Bee Suz said...

You have an amazing way of expressing yourself...I love the pictures, but more importantly are your words. You are a gem and i loved reading this...take care, Suz

ChiTown Girl said...

Beautiful post. And, beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

It is true that we are all connected across land and time through shared experiences. Thank you for that beautiful reminder.

Karen and Joe said...

Beautiful reflections, still almost unbearably poignant. Mothers everywhere weep, and it's been going on since the beginning of human history. I wish I weren't part of the sisterhood, but I am and must learn to live with that pain inside of me. Thanks for your insights.

Mary said...

Karen -- thanks for sharing your beautiful and authentic reflections. I really admire and appreciate your writing!

Clippy Mat said...

what you learned in Alsace was a beautiful thing.
Beautiful thoughts and I hope the revelations you felt about Katie's death will stay to comfort you.
Lovely pictures too.
Hugs. :-)))

Jennifer said...

Well, make it 11 for 11 -- your words in this post hit home for me too, even though, as Elizabeth said, I have not lost (or had) a child. At some point during my own suffering, I realized how deeply it connects me to ALL the suffering in the world, the greater story of humanity. The suffering going on currently, and, as you wrote of, the suffering and bloodshed that has taken place over decades and centuries. It is a knowledge that goes beyond a "feel-good" kind of comfort; it is a hard truth, but a good truth. And it orients me on my own journey as part of the larger fabric of humanity.

OK, and now on a purely lighthearted note: the picture of you with the pink sweater? The cuteness factor? It's off the charts. I swear, you are NOT 50. I think you're fooling all of us -- you gotta be, like, 29 at most or something, woman. 'Fess up. ;)


christine said...

Touching to visit your writings and to hear your heart. Just home from speaking about Tapastries and threads of Joy and Threads of Sorrow at a Women's summer conference in Pa. Just so amazed at the number of women who have lost children and live daily in living out their life now. I was honored again to share about dear Sarah and her story. I love that you went to where she died and also met Paula...touches me so.

christine said...

Touching to visit your writings and to hear your heart. Just home from speaking about Tapastries and threads of Joy and Threads of Sorrow at a Women's summer conference in Pa. Just so amazed at the number of women who have lost children and live daily in living out their life now. I was honored again to share about dear Sarah and her story. I love that you went to where she died and also met Paula...touches me so.

Jennifer Campbell said...

So eloquent, so true, so very wise. What can tear us apart can also tie us together. Thanks Karen. As usual...you bring light and perspective to my day. xx00

Dawn ~ BJSMomma said...

I am loving your photo's...tinged with a bit...okay ALOT of jealousy, but it's happy thoughts for you! I too have also had these same thoughts, of the families before me to walk this road. Whether they be recent...or in the very far past..say Job for instance. As a matter of fact, on the way to the hospital, there would be this Cross on the side of the road that we would pass. Her name is Joanna. I didn't know her, but for 11 years, everytime we passed I would pray for her family, and their pain. Of course over time, I became more "aware" of those Crosses, and then even more acutely aware of the pain when Brandon passed away. But I have come to not only look for "those crosses", but see the promise of THE CROSS. I am so thankful for that. And I also feel like when my thoughts take me to those other families that have been on this journey before me, it continues to keep a part of the ones that they loved so much, and were not ready to part with...still very much alive in a sense. Still 5 years later, since I no longer pass Joanna's cross...I still think of her. I'd like to hope that someone somewhere, even a long time from now...will wonder and think about Brandon, Katie, Andrew, Stanton, Tony, Brad,Vonda, & Joanna...just to name but a small few.

Thank you for such beautiful insight, and taking "us" with you on your trip.


Renee said...

Karen the picture of you in the pink sweater. You are so beautiful.

It is true what you wrote. Katie was a loss for all of us. When children die, we all lose.

I also understand the natural order of things, not for Katie, I will never understand that, but for me.

Being older, we all die, it is natural.

Love Renee xoxo

Lakeland Jo said...

beautiful pictures and beautiful words too - as always