First published in 1928, German vet Erich Maria Remarque wrote “All Quiet on the Western Front.” The fictional account depicts some of the intense physical and emotional stress experienced by WWI soldiers, while also describing the challenging attempts to resume civilian life once back home. The book (and its sequel) was later banished and burned in Nazi Germany. I wonder if such was in part due to one of the book’s most powerful accounts.
As told by blogger Scott Higgins…
“Erich Remarque’s book, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ tells of a remarkable encounter between two enemy soldiers during the Second World War. During battle a German soldier took shelter in crater made by artillery shells. Looking around he saw a man wounded, an enemy soldier. He was dying. The German soldier’s heart went out to him. He gave him water from his canteen and listened as the dying man spoke of his wife and children. The German helped him find his wallet and take out pictures of his family to look at one last time.
In that encounter these two men ceased to be enemies. The German had seen the wounded soldier in a new way. Not as an enemy combatant but as a father, a husband, someone who loves and is loved. Someone just like him.
This is always the path of peace and reconciliation, learning to truly see the other and in them recognizing someone just like yourself.”
For years the Intramuralist has advocated for what’s good and true and right. Reconciliation is one of those things. Few things are more powerful, moving, and contagious than reconciliation.
And yet we live in a society which increasingly justifies not reconciling. We live in a society that seems to instead justify adding to our personal enemy lists.
Last week “The View” cohost Joy Behar appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” in a seemingly sincere segment addressing the difficulty in conversing with persons who feel differently than she does about the current state of political affairs. Behar then averred that she did not believe supporters of Pres. Trump and opposers could actually find a way to live together. In the ensuing roundtable discussion, the cohosts and others seriously wondered aloud if such was even possible.
My heart saddens. Not because it’s about Pres. Trump; we could make it about another person and still find the same sort of heated division. The reality is that society has morally digressed so far that we now often see opposition as people we can’t live with… people we can’t speak with. We see them as enemy combatants.
We justify seeing them as combatants.
But what would it change if instead of looking at another as the enemy combatant, we saw the person differently?
What would it change?
We might not agree with them. We might still think they’re a little off. But what if we actually, intentionally looked at them differently — humbling ourselves long enough, seeking to love and understand — what would that change?
What would happen, if, just like the German soldier — who had far more on his personal vendetta list than most of us will ever have — if instead of seeing those who fought a different fight or came from a different angle — even militarily — what if we could see that person as… a father, a husband…
… someone who loves and is loved…
… someone just like us.
This is us, folks. If we could only realize that, wouldn’t we solve more? Wouldn’t we listen better? And wouldn’t we love better and more? Wouldn’t we also rid ourselves of some of the hatred that has unknowingly settled within our own hearts? It’s so deep and passionate we can’t always even tell it’s hatred?
That reconciliation would be so good, so true, and yes, so right.
It’s also always beautiful.