Thursday, October 06, 2005

I honk for martyrs!

An interesting thing happened at work today. In the deadly silence of an unbearably boring warehouse-moment, a co-worker asked, out of the blue:
If you could sit down and have a beer with anyone in the world, anyone in history, living or dead, who would you choose?
I soon found that this is actually a tough question for me to answer.

Initially, I did not know what to say at all, I had to really think about it. What an incredible question. You’d think with all the reading I do, and all of the constant thinking and coffee-drinking.... I would be able to answer this straightaway, but perhaps it is for these very reasons that the answer is elusive. There are SO MANY fascinating persons I would love to have a beer with!
A female co-worker then piped up “I know who I would choose.”
I was all ears, “Who?”
She replied, “Christopher Columbus.”
I like that answer.
It did not help me whatsoever.
So I told the first guy I’d get back to him. Then I thought about this question for the next five hours or so. I want to share with you my conclusions. You will probably find them somewhat.... out-of-the-ordinary. All except the first one.

I must be honest and say that if I could speak to anyone, this is who I would want to speak to, one-on-one.
Some people might say, “Impossible. He is not a proven historical figure. He may have never existed. And secondly, if he did, he would not drink beer with you.”
I personally disagree with both assumptions.

Firstly, I think he did exist, and secondly, I do not think he would be averse to consuming a pint of ale. Although admittedly, he would probably stop right there, whereas I would be over at the kitchen sink, filling up every available jug with water and asking him if he would please turn them all into Corona, or even Budweiser!
All irreverence aside, I even know what I would like to ask him.

It would not have to do with the obvious question, “How do we get to heaven?” or whatever because he already mentioned stuff about this a long time ago, and I have a feeling that his answer today would be no clearer than it was back then. That is because there is no such thing as a CLEAR answer.... whatever answer he gave us today would be every bit as cryptic and multi-interpretable as the answer[s] he gave back then.
No, no, what I would ask Jesus if he was sitting across from me and we were chatting, would be about the church. I would fill him in on how we do church today, and then I would ask him for his opinion on how close this present-day model [ie., going to a building on Sunday and listening to one person tell a whole bunch of other persons stuff and then everyone shaking hands and then going home until next Sunday].... how close this present-day model is to any sort of intentions he may have had of it.
OK.... so, speaking to Jesus I think would be a fairly common answer among many people, me included. He would be ultimately my first choice.
But when I think of who else I would like to speak to, I can’t help it, the name that continued to be at the top of my list all day was Raoul Wallenberg.
He appears at the top of this blog. It is presumed to be the last photo ever taken of him.

Raoul Wallenberg was a young Swedish diplomat whose heroic and selfless efforts saved thousands (some say as many as 100,000) Hungarian Jews from certain death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Budapest's Jews were among the last substantial population threatened by the Nazi's, and in July of 1944 Wallenberg was sent there by the Swedish Foreign Ministry in an effort to rescue the remaining 200,000 Jews from planned deportations.

He issued thousands of Swedish Embassy-stamped "Schutzpassen" which were provisional or "protective" passports, granting the bearer not only an exemption from wearing the humiliating yellow star, but (more importantly) extending to them the rights of Swedish citizens, with the eventual intention of being "repatriated" to Sweden. With funds supplied from the War Refugee Board, Wallenberg also secured property which he then converted into "safe houses" for those rescued from deportations. Can you imagine? At times, Wallenberg put himself on the line and pressured SS officials into turning over to his custody "prisoners" who were already on board deportation trains! He then organized a network of hundreds of Jewish agents who managed the distribution of food and medicine to Jews in his shelters.
The tragic twist to this story [and here is why I want to speak to him so badly] is that after Budapest's liberation, Wallenberg himself was arrested by the Soviets on espionage charges and imprisoned, presumably until the rest of his life, for his fate remains shrouded in mystery. No one has ever concluded what really happened to him.

All attempts by his family and government to obtain his release were frustrated. To placate the mass of inquiries, Lubyanka Prison officials gave a date of Wallenberg's alleged death as being July 17, 1947. But there are many reasons why such an ending to Wallenberg's life seems suspicious. It has been said that Wallenberg was quite possibly the Soviet's most important prisoner. His name and his legend were too powerful to release. A free Wallenberg would be a living indictment and would have presented a dangerous competition to the Communist party's most jealously guarded possessions: legitimacy and power.
Most of us know about Oskar Schindler, who is a similar hero of this era. But what fascinates me about Wallenberg is that his fate is unknown. No one knows how or when he died, or where he is buried, if at all. And so it is that I want to ask him of his final days, of how he paid the ultimate price for doing what was the right thing to do. Did he wallow away in prison, alone? Was he summarily executed, swiftly done away with? I want to know. And ever since I have read his biography more than a decade ago, I have been very much concerned with knowing.
To me, he is one of the unsung heroes of all time.
As I continued to think about it, there are others that I want to sit down and talk with. Foremost among these would be Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg, who was executed after an unsuccessful attempt at assassinating Hitler.
Hans and Sophie Scholl (brother and sister), leaders of the White Rose resistance movement, who were decapitated by [Nazi] court order in 1943 while they were students at the university of Munich.
I want to have a beer with them, and talk. These are unsung heroes.
One of the most admirable of men that have ever lived, Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (executed April 9, 1945, at the age of 39) for his anti-Hitlerism. Here is a man I want to talk with.
No matter how much I thought of literary greats, and people I have admired in the arts and whatnot.... I could not get away from the fact that the above grouping of people are a reflection of the ones I most admire, and that I most feel I would have something to SAY TO.
For instance, what good would it do me to meet Leonardo da Vinci? What would I SAY to him?
And as much as I love the work of Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy, Robert Browning.... I am not so sure I want to drink beer with any of them.
As the day wore on, only two people from the literary arts emerged in my mind as someone that yes, I would be fascinated to spend time with, and the first was William Shakespeare.
And I would not talk. I would listen. And probably mildly pee my pants.

I mean, is there anyone that could be more interesting to talk to than Shakespeare? The guy INVENTED WORDS! Even one of the words I have used in this blog [assassinated]..... invented by none other than The Bard!
Other than Bill, the only other person from the literary arts that I would want to meet is C.S. Lewis. I feel that he and I would get along fine.

So, toward the end of the day, I returned to the person who asked the question in the first place, and I said “I’ve got the answer. I want to have a beer with Raoul Wallenberg.”
And he said the exact same thing that you did.....
So I told him about Raoul.
Incidentally, this fellow had no doubt whatsoever as to his own choice. No hesitation. And I was intrigued to know.
He said “Napolean Bonaparte.”
[I was so relieved that he did not say Napolean Dynamite!]
I said “Yeah? What would you ask him?”
He said, “I would ask him how he could be so smart to almost win Europe for himself, and at the same time be so dumb as to lose it in one battle!”

We all have our interests in life. We all have heroes, I truly believe we do.
Who would yours be?
Feel free to leave a comment, as to how you would answer the question.
“If you could sit down and speak to anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?”


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