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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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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Very powerful words and music - thank you.

What a beautiful testament to the power of music. Not too many years ago, I was asked by a dear friend to come and sing to her mother who lay dying. This mother had been a music teacher much of her life and her income along with that of her musician husband sustained their family during very tough times. Although this dying mother could not speak, she showed us in her eyes and smile that she heard and appreciated the serenade. Just a couple of days ago, a friend sent me a story about a little boy who sang to his little sister in utero, and when she was born and dying he sang to her in ICU, reviving her and helping her to live. If anyone has ANY dobuts about music and its power and universal language ~ just tell them these stories.

I am currently reading a novel about the Vietnam war with my high school seniors, and we have listened to the "soundtrack" of that war. I was planning on having them choose their own soundtrack for war. This article and video will help them to see the beauty of song to ease the pain, fear and hate of war. It will help them acknowledge a different perspective of music and war. Thank you for always giving me (and now my students) stories that cause us to reconsider the common and consider the possible.

Listened to your inspired broadcast - was touched. I am in the midst of Teilhard - and was grateful for the knowledge of the last essay. Something that struck me. And I know you've tried to discuss this. The SUNY professor who identifies himself as atheist. What does that mean? Atheism and religion identify themselves by God or god. Atheism seems to be a sort of religion.? Are atheists denying a god with a long beard on a gold throne? Or simply creation? And if your concern is the evolution of human kind, why deny the possibility of a creator until at least the proof is in the pudding? And then there is disdain for those who would deny evolution? Both positions are extreme and seem to me based on belief. And are relevant to this morning's broadcast in that we humans seem to need fundamentally to be right and that requires us to rush to conclusions based on information that is by all odds only partially revealed. And in that rush, anger comes up. I look forward to reading The Heart of the Matter and next Sunday at 7:00 AM.

Wow...our human connections are just so powerful. If only more of us would stop, embrace our fear, and listen.

Simply beautiful

So deeply moving! One deeply human gesture goes a long way.

I am grateful to you for posting this. So very powerful, meaningful and real. I recall my high school German class (we are going back 40 years). My teacher was unusual. He taught us the term Sehnsucht... as I can recall - the longing for something we cannot get, that is out of our reach, that is beyond us. But which we yearn for. Katie's singing captures this so hauntingly. Jack's story gives us a foretaste of what it is. Just a foretaste of something that speaks to all of us. I have never posted on facebook for two years - until this day and this link. I also linked it to my blog. I am so grateful to you and them.

This short story is so inspirational! It brings tears to my eyes.

A nice story amidst the carnage and brutality of war.


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