Monday, August 09, 2010
Happy 18th Birthday, Zach!
It seems that all I am writing on this blog these days is birthday posts. I certainly wouldn't want to pass up the opportunity to write about an occasion as momentous as my son's 18th birthday, so I think it is time for some reflection.
I was 47 years old when Zachary was born. Several months before he arrived, I had taken a solitary trip, at my wife's urging, to find my brothers in Germany. I have written about this before but here is a brief recap: In January of 1945, near the end of World War II, my mother, along with tens of thousands of other Germans who had resided in Poland, were fleeing towards Germany to the west to escape the advancing Russian army. She had become separated from my father through a series of misadventures and was alone with my sister Wanda, aged about thirteen at the time and my bothers Albert and Erwin, aged respectively 3 1/2 and 1 1/2. I was not yet born. My two brothers got sick and my mother took them to a clinic in Graal Muritz, a seaside resort in what would later become communist East Germany and there they died.
Because the refugees had no choice but to keep going, nothing was known about where my brothers were buried. I made it my quest to travel to Graal Muritz and find out. I needed the closure. The trip and the emotional turmoil I experienced are too much to address here in a few words, but I visited the clinic and was told that when the Russians arrived all patient records were destroyed. A receptionist at the clinic helpfully suggested I visit the local Lutheran Church to see if they had any records. I met with a kindly pastor there and he found an old ledger with my brothers' names and their times of death and where they had been buried. He also warned me that I shouldn't expect grave markers as so many children had died that the bodies were simply stacked one on top of the other.
I found the cemetery. I spent most of one day there, walking around, grieving and getting the closure that I needed. The rage I had felt for years was stilled and I felt mostly just emptiness and disappointment. Disappointment that I would never get to meet my brothers, disappointment that they had been cheated of their lives, disappointment in the human race for repeating the same insane behaviours century after century, seemingly never learning from experience that hate and violence breeds, not surprisingly, more hate and violence.
The photo above is of the church in the cemetery at Graal Muritz where my brothers were buried.
When I returned to Canada, I was very ready for something more positive in my life. A little over two months later, Zachary Alexander Pedde was born. For many years, I had been ambivalent about having children. I needn't have been. My son has been a source of joy and pride and has given me a sense of continuity that I needed.
As Zach grew up, I talked to him often about my brothers, about my family history, about history generally, about war and peace, about everything I could think of that would help him come to his own conclusions about the meaning of it all. At age eighteen now, I know that he is equipped to handle life's surprises, its frustrations and disappointments, and still be receptive to and grateful for, its beauty and pleasures.
Life is, as Thomas Hobbes first told us: "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." It is up to each of us to find joy and peace and meaning in our life. I think I have accomplished quite a lot in my life and I am proud of my achievements. But if I had never accomplished anything in my life but to be the father of Zachary Alexander Pedde, I would be proud to have that honour and distinction. He is a special young man and I am very proud to be his father.
I love you, son.
Happy 18th birthday.