Grieving the Space Between Us (video)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 - 6:06am
Grieving the Space Between Us (video)

What happens when we choose anger and hatred over vulnerability and love? A short video with a World War II veteran who tells a personal story about being confronted by the German enemy and the power of music.

Post by:
Mariah Helgeson (@mariahism),  associate producer for On Being
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24 ReflectionsRead/Add Yours

During her conversation with Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman in "Embracing Our Enemies and Our Suffering," Krista Tippett said something about halfway in that caught my attention:

"We instinctively recoil from the reality of feeling vulnerable or afraid, right? And so, anger gets layered on top of that because it feels like a more powerful response. But then we stop being able to tell the difference ourselves, right? You stop knowing ‘I'm scared’; you say ‘I'm angry.’

And this sense of deep sadness, of loss and longing, washed over me. I remembered all the moments I said “I’m angry” instead of “I’m scared,” moments I chose anger over vulnerability. And how even when anger shielded me from pain, it did not stay and sit with me in the ashes. It left me, cold and alone and more afraid, more disconnected than before. There is a saying of the Buddha’s in Love Your Enemies:

“Anger, like forest fire, burns up its own support.”

Anger is masterful at painting the illusion of separateness, the tunnel vision that severs and frays the bonds of relationship and distorts our memory for joy. Perhaps this is why the command “love your enemies” is so magnetic — because I know that anger reduces my world to a single color, and I long for the many-hued brilliance of the full picture.

That moment, when I chose anger over love, I lost something deeply precious, something magical and inexplicable and nearly impossible to describe.

I am reminded of a remarkable interview of Jack Leroy Tueller, a decorated World War II veteran. His incredible story says more about the power of loving your enemies than I could ever put into words:

"This is two weeks after D-Day. It was dark, raining, muddy. And I’m stressed so I get my trumpet out. And the commander said, 'Jack, don’t play tonight because there’s one sniper left.' I thought to myself that German sniper is as scared and lonely as I am. So I thought, I’ll play his love song."

And just this little act of grace, this message of love played out across the expanse of darkness is so wonderful. If the story ends here, it is still a beautiful story of human kindness. It seems almost unreal what happens next: the military police approach Tueller the following morning and tell him they have a German prisoner on the beach who keeps asking, "Who played that trumpet last night?"

"I grabbed my trumpet and went down to the beach. There was a 19-year-old German, scared and lonesome. He was dressed like a French peasant to cloak his role as a sniper. And, crying, he said, 'I couldn't fire because I thought of my fiancé. I thought of my mother and father,' and he says, 'My role is finished.'

And he stuck out his hand and I shook the hand of the enemy. He was no enemy, he was scared and lonely like me."

And, in this powerful choice to be vulnerable or stay masked rests the heart of our intentions, our deep caring for each other, and our will to see and speak love in the world. Where anger and hatred isolate, love and forgiveness embrace. This is a melancholy kind of love. A love that sees separation and the space between us that inspires so much pain. A love that knows the sting of suffering but chooses to see the fullness, light and darkness, joy and sorrow, entwined in one magnificent reality.

I hear echoes of the tune's melody, and I wonder what act of love, as simple as a few notes played on a trumpet, might lift me out of anger, out of hatred, and into the fullness and grace of love.

If you’re wondering what song he’s playing in the video, it’s "Lili Marleen," a popular German love song during World War II. This achingly beautiful rendition from Katie Holley was written for a film inspired by Tueller’s story. It captures the sweet sorrow of one scared and lonely man reaching out to another.

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Mariah Helgeson is an associate producer at On Being. She earned a degree in International Affairs with concentrations in the Middle East and Conflict Resolution from George Washington University. She grew up in Minnesota and was a program associate at the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network. When she’s not submerged in a good book she might be found laughing with her teenage sisters or playing chamber music.

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24Reflections

Oh my, what tears for me this morning, listening to this. By leaps and bounds we make progress with an enemy, a neighbor, a friend- when our potential for love exceeds itself through selfless acts. Thanks...very well taken.

Thanks so much for sharing this. I was teaching on a peace and conflict resolution course last week in Bangkok and was talking about how the most powerful expression of 'peace music' is to play a song from someone else's culture, especially in someone else's language. That's so much more meaningful than simply singing a song about peace in your own language. Here's another wonderful example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQ580YpZQZY. Thanks so much for sharing Mariah.

Several years ago at a friend's wedding reception, my wife and I found ourselves seated with a WWII veteran who happened to be the bride's neighbor. The told the most amazing story.

One of his last assignments was in Japan after the war. He was assigned to a delegation sent to Vladivostok to arrange for the repatriation of American GIs held by the Russians. At first, the negotiations did not go well. At dinner, the Russians sat around talking Russian to each other. The Americans sat around talking English. Then, one American, an enlisted man got up from the table and seated himself at a piano in the room. He began to play some popular Russian folk songs. Soon the Russians in the room were singing along, and the Americans were trying. After a few more songs and a few rounds of Vodka, the Russians handed the internees over to the American delegation. The name of the pianist: Eddy Duchin.

thank you thank you for adding to the goodness of the world. That gentle rendition of Lili Marleen is heart breaking and heart opening.

Regarding the article: It sounds like they are saying that we have a choice between anger and love, in the moment. For me, it never feels like a choice, in the beginning stages of a physiological disruptive sensation. The choice to stay in anger usually shows up a little later. I agree that it usually starts out as fear or shame, then transfers over to anger, as a defense mechanism. Example: After the dogfight, I felt shame because it appeared that nutty and I were bad. Anger quickly followed, along with intolerance and exasperation. To me, a choice indicates that we can control the emergence of these emotions. From what I've learned, emotions are always going to arise, whether we choose that option or not(kinda like trying to stop a tsunami wave). All we can do is notice/witness/observe, and then, when able, initiate the letting go mechanism, start the self-forgiveness practice and then promptly apologize to anyone else that was affected by the outburst.

Beautifully written

Such clear seeing

I agree, and I think we could all learn how to anticipate the tsunami/emotion in time to save some of the bystanders.

That was perfection. Thank you for every little bit of it --

Thank you Col. Words to live by: "I'll play his love song." The power of music.. the power of love.

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