Friday, April 30, 2010
SPOILS OF WAR, VOICES UNHEARD, HISTORY LOST and THE NATIONAL ARHCIVES WKI PROJECT
This is inspired by Carmen Cepeda. An Charraig Aonair, an Irish lighthouse.
I rarely weep over things in life. Oh, well, yes I confess I did shed tears over Lassie Come Home and when I read the book, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, but those were long ago and I was still a child. I find myself shedding tears more often now as I age and move into the "other" categories on sheets of paper that have little or no consequence of business for me. Perhaps its hormones or a realization that life has silently passed me by without a single thought about MY feelings on the subject. Perhaps its because I realize that when history is lost, it is gone forever and it makes those who have participated in that history a voice lost too. And then, I know I cannot have what is so desired, yet denied to me-knowledge.
Carmen shared a bit of history on the Captain Edward:The Lighthouse Keeper page on An Charraig Aonair (I like the Gaelic even though I do not have a clue how it is pronounced), an isolated Irish Lighthouse . Just the picture of its majestic tower awash in swaths of emerald seas and frothy white waves moves me. I also like to see bits and pieces of history side-by-side, it connects me to my past and makes me feel a part of something greater then myself, my country and my world. It makes me feel human.
And so, I had the inspiration given the fact the story she posted is about the Lighthouse keepers and the Great War and the Lusitania,- I thought it would be interesting to explore log books from lighthouses other then the United States. After all, lighthouse keepers were operating on the global village theme long before it was coined a bright new modern idea. And saving lives was just that-no questions asked and I doubt the keepers were asking the country of origin, racial background, or political and religious views of ship wrecked victims. I doubt the victims really cared if they were being saved by a Spanish, Irish, African American, British, or Japanese lighthouse keeper. After all, a rescue boat is a rescue boat and a life saved is a life saved.
I have already wept over the loss of lighthouse log books-the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse, Edward's first lighthouse assignment. An especially poignant loss since the lighthouse remains a perching place for birds and a science lesson on the effects of water and decay. Today was different and I was optimistic about my search. I was not prepared for the spoils of war.
It was a war I was not born of but born because of and I knew about its effects and affects on humans from my father. I also knew about it because one day it was thrust into my world and it did not make me feel human. It only connected me to a horrible past that I could not change. Its human voices were lost forever. But some of them remained etched in the skin of its still living victims.
I happened to sit next to her in a college course. She was a tiny Polish woman who befriended me. She had trouble with the language and wanted me to help her. She always wore long sleeves, even on warm spring days. And, so it was on this particular day when she sat beside me. We were going over a piece of literature written by a Yiddish author when the spoils of war became my silent voice and partner. Her sleeve caught the end of the book and moved up her thin pale arm. She took no notice at first, but I saw them. Numbers tattooed on her forearm. I was nineteen years old. I stared and my voice went silent, for after all what was I to say?
She noticed eventually, and as if the routine were all too familiar a tiny hand reached down to quickly slide the sleeve back over a history she was born to and because of -her religion-she was Jewish. I never asked and she never told me. I regret (terribly) my mistake. She did not return to class or the university. I never saw her again. It has been a long while since I thought about her. Until today, when I searched for lighthouse log books.
Before I could get to Irish lighthouse log books I came upon the Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section. This was the "Sources for Lighthouse History". It read, "The Corporation of Trinity House is the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands, and Gibralter". Well, I am to be in Europe and England January of next year, so I felt a sense of excitement thinking I might be able to digitally photograph log books from the same time period that Edward was at his lighthouse!
I scrolled down to "Records Of Individual Lighthouses".
"There are no series of records about individual lighthouses. Most records of the lighthouse and light vessel appear to have been destroyed in the 1940 bombing of Trinity House."
It was then my thoughts about another spoil of war returned. I once again saw the numbers tattooed on an arm. A human history lost, a people and voices unheard and log books-all lost, gone and now denied a generation, a thousand generations after because their history was silenced.
I am not going to argue political agendas or the merits of war. It is not a productive discourse for something I do not have the power to change. Next Friday I will be in Washington D.C. to participate in the National Archives wki project. What I do have is the power to change our access to history and the stories I know are silently waiting to be told. Mine, yours and ours. It is the people's story-it is the human story and it connects us to something far greater then our "self". It connects us to life, it "is" what makes us human and it goes far beyond the politics of the small world we live in today.
If you are reading this I strongly urge you to read about the project and let me know "your thoughts and ideas" so I may share them with "your National Archives". Even if you are not from this country, we are connected by lighthouses and history and preservation. Feel free to share your ideas. After all, a rescue boat is a rescue boat and a life saved is a life saved. And, so is a history.
www.commissionersofirishlights.com For information and stories on Irish lighthouses. Go to the site map. Scroll down to Information on Lighthouses. Select a lighthouse. Scroll down a little more then half-way to Publications from the Beam Magazine. Three of my favorite stories;
A Singing Lighthouse Keeper, by John McGuiness.
John Richardson Wigham 1829-1906, by Jonathan P. Wigham. (He was a Quaker)
The Higginbothams of Ballincourty, by Eddie Cantwell.
There are many more stories-share yours!
Thank you Carmen!