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ASHES AND MEMORY

Christians remembered Ash Wednesday this week.


For me, the reference to ‘ash’ took me to a different time and place.


In 2005, as I prepared to teach a university course on the Holocaust – this is the ashes part for me – I participated in an educator’s trip to Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.


One of our outings took us to Ravensbruck, a women’s concentration camp north of Berlin. I could not have predicted what would happen to me that will forever keep that place and those women in my memory.


The camp sat at the edge of a lake, across which you could see the church spire and the rooftops of town buildings. Many women from that town were guards and held other positions doing whatever they did at the camp. No one in town could hide from what was occurred there: women prisoners were marched through the streets from the train depot to the camp.


In the decades since, a tradition arose of honoring the women who were imprisoned and died there with a flower and Kaddish ceremony at the edge of the lake.


As our group of educators milled about, a quiet buzz grew louder as one and then another called out, Linda, Linda. What? I asked.


Yellow butterflies had landed all over my back.


I had not heard them, nor had I seen them. A shiver ran through me as I tried to understand the what and the why of this mysterious occurrence.


What I came to feel and know was that these butterflies represented the women whose ashes were the lake, who were joining with us in our prayers, who were remembering alongside us.


It is said that we die twice. Once when our physical body ceases to function. But a second time, when there is no one left who remembers us.


From that day at the edge of the lake, I now add a prayer “for those who have no one else to remember them.”


Whom might you call to mind now and remember? What do you remember about them? I'd welcome your sharings.





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