It is the morning before the US elections. I put my morning cup of tea down on a sturdy wooden crate next to me. The printing on the side of the crate reads:
W.G.C & S (1929) L
Net Weight 35 LBS
This crate was parachuted out near the town of Gorinchem in the Netherlands at the end of the hungerwinter of 1945. It was found by a little boy, nearly 14 years old, who carried it home with his brother. His father had been arrested in September 1943, tortured and sent to a concentration camp, because he was a member of the resistence.
That little boy always kept that crate and later passed it on to his daughter, which is me.
To me, this crate is a symbol of the kindness and compassion that the British and American people showed us here in Europe, where people were dying of hunger. They did not know the people here, there was no internet, no telephone. These were people on the other side of the world, who they had never met. It was America, that welcomed thousands of European refugees with open arms. And it was America, that initiated the Marshall Plan, which gave rise to a speedy economic recovery in Western European countries.
Back then, people said that this had been the war to end all wars. That this should never happen again. But memories fade and the people that lived through the war are dying out.
There is one thing we can learn from history and that is that humanity has never learned from history. With the forces of fear, greed, hatred and delusion on the rise again, and extremist parties gaining more ground all over the world, I cannot help but to compare it to pre-war Europe.
But each of us has a choice on how to react to the world we see around us. We can allow the fear to overwhelm us, we can react with hatred towards those who are different, or we can look inside our own hearts and find that kindness and compassion that shatters all fear and hatred. With the Dhamma as our guide, with meditation, we can face that fear and find the courage in ourselves to overcome the negative forces of Mara.
When I put my cup down on that crate every morning, I remember that there is kindness and compassion in the hearts of people. It was that same kindness and compassion of the American people that has fed my father when he was starving and it was that kindness and compassion that made America great. Tomorrow you have a choice. Use it with kindness and compassion. Your choice will affect the world.
This is the image of America I grew up with: The Americans, the friends who have been kind to our parents! Would be nice to look at such an America again…..
Just a few days before the end of the war, the tiny village of my parents in South Germany was attacked by bombs, half of the village burned down. My mother was 7 years old at the time, my father 9. American soldiers entered the village, searching for German soldiers to take them hostage, yet what they found were the wives and children of those. Some of the soldiers were .Afro-American. As they approached the children, including my mother, they trembled in fear – still under the shock of the attack, but moreover because they have never seen a black man before.
Standing in front, prepared for anything terrible to happen, the black soldier opened his pocket and out came a bar of chocolate which he kindly offered the children – to their amazement as chocolate was a rarity, moreover in times of war. A moment in time, of kindness and compassion – in midst the despair of a devastating war -. a moment of friendship and of hope. My mother remembered the kind black man ever since and chocolate became a very special thing for all of us.
As I’m writing these lines, I’m carrying stacks of chocolates in my hand luggage to India and Burma – to offer to traumatized Tibetan nuns and children who have managed to escape from the Chinese to Northern India and to the the countless little nuns living in poverty in under-resourced nunneries in Upper Burma -to offer a moment of joy, of friendship and care.
Thank you so much for sharing Ayya! That is just beautiful.
Bhante Sujato replied:
Ahh, chocolate, the universal language! No really, it’s the word found most widely in the world’s languages.
Yes, chocolate! My father – he was 13 at the time – said this was the first time ever they saw chocolate! And his younger brother, 5 or 6 years old, stole some eggs from the Americans. And they just let him do. There are many such stories…. And this was not a government that decided something like a marshal plan on an administrative level, but this were all individuals, just people – which makes it so touching!