Notes from a 2010 visit to Germany:
My mom sat on a log of driftwood, next to the River Rhine, petting our dog Max, a black and white mutt. We were only a few hundred yards away from our farm. This was the territory of my youth; the lush green landscape, a leisurely flowing Rhine. Cargo ships carried their goods back and forth on this life vessel. I saw Belgium, Dutch, Swiss and German flags on the back of the ships, indicating their port of origin. The occasional river cruise ship passed by, tourists on the upper deck enjoyed the sun.
The reflection of the bright blue sky on the water and the added touch of silver light gave the illusion of Mediterranean waters. The sandy riverbanks were abundantly covered with shells. Sheep grazed on the levee across the river.
The place of my youth, this landscape of peace and serenity, was one of histories most horrific battlefields. At this exact spot the allies crossed the River Rhine to conquer Germany. A place of heavy fighting and many dead, separated through time it still affected the present and the living. After my mom’s revelations about World War II, I read book after book, written by psychologists about the lost generation; the war children born between 1930 and 1945, the generation of my parents. Research proved that the trauma affected the second and third generation.
In my search for understanding and healing, I had chosen to build a labyrinth. Labyrinths are spiritual tools, which exist in every culture around the globe. A one-way path leads to the center, circling round and round, and symbolizing the journey through life. The seeker cannot get lost, only has to focus on the next step ahead, which allows entering deep meditative states of minds. Unlike a maze, where one makes choices and the rational, analytical mind is activated, which is the opposite of meditation and introspection. As a professional meditation teacher and labyrinth facilitator I had experienced many times the transformational power of this ancient structure.
Earlier, I had drawn this 20 foot round design with a stick into the tough surface of an embankment that was always under water. This year the water levels of the Rhine were extremely low and exposed a triangular area. To me, it felt like the perfect place to build a temporary 7- circuit labyrinth, a pattern engraved on Cretan coins dating back as early as 430 B.C. Soon I discovered that the surface was tough to penetrate, and it was hard work to build this labyrinth, but I couldn’t give up. Now my hands were sore, blistered and bloody.
When I was drawing the last line into the gravel surface, my mom had strolled over with Max, the dog.
“A lot of work you put in there,” she admired the labyrinth and then saw my hands. She paused and shook her head.
“Mom, would you like to walk it with me. I would love to walk this labyrinth together with you.”
“Oh no,” she said firmly, still shaking her head. “Just looking at all the circles I am getting dizzy. You walk it and I’ll watch you.”
My mom watched from 50 feet away as I reached the labyrinth’s center. She was comfortably sitting on the log of driftwood, glancing into the sun and then waved to me. I thought back to the one time she actually did walk a labyrinth with me. A couple of years ago I had built one right next to the cow stables on our farm. The creation was effortless, easy to draw into a sandy surface wet from the rain. It took only 20 minutes, compared to the two hours it took me to labor on the gravel surface.
“Explain to me, what I have to do, to walk a labyrinth,” she had asked then.
“It’s easy, mom,” I said. “Just take one step after the other and you will automatically reach the center, which represents a place of unity, a place of inner peace, oneness, and where you can communicate with your higher self or the divine. You cannot get lost. You walk the same way out that you came in.”
“Hm,” she nodded and frowned at the same time. My mom was never impressed with my fancy spiritual interpretations. For her, things were easy, there is a God, you go to church and you try your best to be a good, loving person.
Our labyrinth walk together had felt like a gentle dance, circling and circling. When we came out of it and I asked, “So how did you like it?”
All she said was, “I prayed for you the entire time.”
Clearly, this was not what I had expected. I had hoped she would come up with an amazing spiritual epiphany, the kind that I always searched for when I walked labyrinths.
Now, in the center of the gravel labyrinth, my hands aching, I tried to grasp the magnitude of events and the history of this very place in the Lower Rhine Valley. In the labyrinth looking at the land around, so peaceful and serene, seeing my mom, petting the dog and waving every time I looked at her, I realized the futility of my efforts. I would never know what they had been through, my parents and the previous generations. It was my duty to not dig deeper, to not ask more questions and not to remind my mom of the pain and the unspeakable loss.
I followed the same path out of the labyrinth as I had walked in. Soon, when it would rain this labyrinth would be flooded over and disappear. There was nothing more certain than impermanence.
I walked over to my mom, in silence we held hands for a moment, and then we returned to the farm.
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Learn about my mom’s revelations about World War II.
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