Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Visitations from the Past

Inside the sun-bleached cover, the pristine pages are thick and oatmeal-y, a quality uncommon in recent publications. The author, Isser Harel, was born in 1912. The events of the non-fiction account of the capture of Adolf Eichmann occurred in the 1940s and 50s. My husband purchased the book--new--in 1975. For forty years, it sat on a shelf in his office, unread. But here's the thing about books: they don't lose their value or relevance over time. Two weeks ago, he picked up The House on Garibaldi Street (Viking Press, 1975) and began reading a chapter or two each evening. The third night, he thrashed in the grip of a nightmare, literally screaming in his sleep.
I haven't read the book, but I get the general context, and there is plenty of nightmare-inducing material. Coincidence or not (and I don't believe in coincidence), I'm also reading about events from World War II, researching a short story I feel compelled to write. The story is based on a railway disaster in England (Soham Railway Disaster  June 2, 1944) but is germane to recent railway crashes here and in Canada. This is my first attempt at historical fiction, and immersing myself in the details of that era has fomented my own night terrors of running through the woods, hiding from jack-booted thugs.
There are probably multiple reasons that the Harel book and my WWII story have swirled out of the mists of time to haunt us now. That era has always held fascinations, both nostalgic and terrifying. Everyone knows revisiting the past offers important lessons for the future, but is anyone paying attention? Though I prefer to steer clear of politics, given the current crop of buffoons and jack-a-napes running for the highest office in this land, I'm alarmed. Hitler wasn't taken seriously at first, either.
We need our stories of the past, the present, and the future to remember where we've been and hopefully, to light a safe and sane path to the future. Every day, when I sit in my little office, with my imaginary friends, it's my goal to carve out such a path, even it it's only for myself. Given the power of the written word, if I'm good enough and lucky enough, that might not be a complete waste of time.

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