Tag Archives: Sacrifice

“Salt to the Sea”: healing through story

I was chatting with some friends recently and we were talking about the idea that after a while, there might be a burn-out of how many WWII novels and movies we can consume. What about the other wars? Or, is it that WWII has left its mark on the world and it’s something we are still trying to fully understand. There are millions of stories that we haven’t heard yet because everyone’s experience was different. During this conversation, I had just started to read Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. What a great novel! And I have to say that I found it didn’t just retell the same stories I’ve heard or read before. It was something new. Terrible, yet new.


Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25614492-salt-to-the-sea

Salt to the Sea is the story of three young people caught up in the war and all trying to find hope and freedom in the docks. Thousands of people are trying to escape the Germans and Russians and end up getting onto refugee boats seeking safety. I had never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff ship disaster before, but in fact I feel that I should have. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff caused more loss of life than the sinking of the Titanic. The Titanic sunk because of hitting an iceberg, whereas the Wilhelm Gustloff, full of mostly women and children and injured men, was torpedoed by the Russians.

Just looking at images online was heartbreaking.


Source: https://www.welt.de/geschichte/zweiter-weltkrieg/article136893332/Der-Trinker-der-die-Wilhelm-Gustloff-versenkte.html


Source: https://europebetweeneastandwest.wordpress.com/tag/wilhelm-gustloff/


Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/142567144425047906/


Source: http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2016/01/sinking-of-wilhelm-gustloff.html


Source: https://www.zyjepodwoda.pl/en/wrak-wilhelm-gustloff-morze-baltyckie/

The novel is told from the point of view of four different characters. Each character has a unique story, yet they all end up seeking safety on this ship. One young man is running from the Nazis because of something he stole from a prominent Officer. One young woman is running because she is trying to be reunited with her family after being given permission to stay in Germany because of her skills as a nurse. Another younger woman is running away from both the Germans and the Russians because of her nationality. And the last young man is a German officer who is desperately trying to prove himself as courageous without actually doing anything that requires sacrifice. This cast of misfits intertwine with each other and use and help each other in order to get onto the boat.

Like all war stories, this one has a tragic ending for all involved, even those who survive the wreck. Those who survive are fortunate, yet have to live with the visions of seeing hundreds of people, fellow passengers and asylum seekers, die in the waters around them.

I can’t help but think about all of these people who survived and how they most likely spent their lives living with post-traumatic stress disorder. And not only that, but this book made me start to think about intergeneration trauma: trauma that is transmitted to next generations.

In an article in Psychology Today by Molly Castelloe, she includes this thought:

Transmission is the giving of a task. The next generation must grapple with the trauma, find ways of representing it and spare transmitting the experience of hell back to one’s parents. A main task of transmission is to resist disassociating from the family heritage and “bring its full, tragic story into social discourse.” (Fromm, xxi)

So perhaps we need stories about WWII because we aren’t finished sharing the trauma and the stories. Perhaps people like my parents, who both had fathers in WWII, need to write and produce art that still tells the stories of their parents. Perhaps a world that is afraid of another war, because Veterans from WWII and the Vietnam, Korean, and Gulf Wars, needs to share and tell stories about WWII in order to carry the trauma into the future in order to find healing. In a world that is in desperate need of healing, perhaps stories are the way to healing.


Source: http://izquotes.com/quote/342421

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” -Phillip Pullman



“Suffragette”: a different kind of war

I went with a good friend to see the film Suffragette. I think that every student should watch this film in school to see the dedication and sacrifices that so many women made in order to be considered equal, or even as humans. Between 1916-1921, women in Canada gathered to protest and give voice to their cause. Today I am so grateful for their courage and determination. Yet I am reminded that not all women had the right to vote in this country until 1960. That was only 55 years ago!!

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MONqsKlGgLk

The film Suffragette provided several view points on how the movement in the UK did so much damage to so many people. Families torn apart because their mothers were in prison. Men made to feel like an outcast if they didn’t punish their suffragette wives. Men of power who felt powerless to side with the women. And finally those women who fought to the bitter end, just so that they could provide a better future for their daughters, sisters, and friends. These brave women knew that their peaceful protests were getting them nowhere, so they began acts of civil disobedience and destruction.

Source: http://www.saugeentimes.com/15%20y/Walker%20House%20heritage%20dinner%20march%203,%202013/Template.htm

Some of the film was extremely difficult to watch: Seeing innocent women beaten to the ground at peaceful protests, seeing women force-fed milk through tubes up their noses while in jail, seeing the isolation and punishment they received from family and society. Yet they persevered and continued with their cause, even to death for some. The film reenacts Emily Davison’s tragic death at the 1913 Derby when she ran in front of the King’s horse on the track. Her actions brought international attention to the movement.

Here in Canada we also have several women to thank for their bravery and their commitment to making Canada a better place. Of course all Canadians know about the Famous Five. I know I am grateful for the sacrifices all of those women made so that I can be a woman in Canada and have an education, a profession, and the ability to live on my own.

Source: http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Canadian_Suffragettes

Currently I am in the middle of reading a collection of short stories written by Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Doctor’s Sweetheart and Other Stories. I think that L.M. Montgomery is one of the champions of Canadian women. She writes about women forced into marriage at a young age. She writes about the social ostracism women faced as ‘old maids’ of 27. She writes about unhappy marriages that were doomed from the beginning. Montgomery saw that the way society treated its women was wrong and I think she sought to make some noise through her writing. I am so grateful that I live in a different time and that I am not controlled by family; instead, I am supported and encouraged in my independence.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/853995.The_Doctor_s_Sweetheart

The women in our recent history were fighting a different kind of war: societal norms. They were fighting an enemy that couldn’t be seen. Yet they never gave up and they demonstrated that women are people and a valuable part of society. As said in the film, “I would rather be a rebel than a slave.”

Source: http://thefashionarchives.org/?people_and_places=dale-spender

“We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.” (Emmeline Pankhurst)

“Women who set a low value on themselves make life hard for all women.” (Nellie McClung)

“People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?” (L.M. Montgomery)

“He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.” (Psalm 146: 7-8)

Source: http://powellriverdailynews.com/2015/08/09/canadian-women-voting-since-1960/

“Outlander”: we need a hero

Now that I have some free time before heading back to work, I have all kinds of free time to read.  I have a list of books I would like to read, and even a few books checked out from the library that I should be reading (like the book for my next Book Club meeting).  Yet, I found myself picking up a book I had read before.  Yes, I reread (again) The Outlander this week by Diana Gabaldon.  And right now, I even started reading the second book, Dragonfly in Amber,again.

Source: https://cannonballread4.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/prolixity-juliens-cbr4-reviews-14-19-dragonfly-in-amber-voyager-drums-of-autumn-the-fiery-cross-a-breath-of-snow-and-ashes-an-echo-in-the-bone-by-diana-gabaldon/

Perhaps after almost of a week of being around my favourite people (my family), I wasn’t quite ready to start something new. I still needed some time with the familiar. Apparently this feeling didn’t extend only to books. Tonight, I found myself watching, again, the film Outlander. I love watching movies and reading books with overly perfect heroes, hence why I enjoy the book series and the film so much. That idea of an outlander, of being from away, and then pitching to save the day is something that I admire and like hearing about. There is something about the goodness of humanity in those who are willing to sacrifice and fight alongside strangers. Yet, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Source: http://www.aclipart.com/quotes/quotes-a-hero-is/

The idea of a hero walking in to save the day is classic! Just think of every Western ever written. Or, Harry Potter. There are countless stories of men and women showing up to save the day for others. One of the best stories I have ever read was during my English Lit undergrad: Beowulf. Beowulf is the ultimate hero! He comes into the area, kills Grendel and Grendel’s mother, saves the day, becomes king, defends his people, and dies slaying a dragon. It doesn’t get better! So as I was watching Outlander with James Caviezel I couldn’t help but make the connection to Beowulf. And, searching Outlander online revealed that the writers were indeed basing their story on that of Beowulf.

Source: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/outlander/images/6713791/title/outlander-movie-wallpaper-wallpaper

I of course read the Seamus Heaney version of Beowulf (as if there was a better translation!) and after 10 years, I can still vividly remember parts of the story and I also remember the joy I got from reading the story. I tried to convince everyone around me that they needed to read this epic poem. Roommates, friends, family members, and especially by brother who loves war stories. I don’t think I was successful, but that joy and excitement was reawakened watching Outlander again tonight.

In the movie, a Moorwen (a dragon-like creature) is brought to earth unknowingly with Kainan as Kainan’s ship lands in Norway in 709 A.D. Just like Grendel in Beowulf, the Moorwen destroys villages in Outlander. I love the description of Grendel and his motivation:
“In off the moors, down through the mist bands / God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping. / The bane of the race of men roamed forth, / hunting for a prey in the high hall. . . . his glee was demonic, / picturing the mayhem: before morning / he would rip life from limb and devour them, / feed on their flesh; but his fate that night / was due to change, his days of ravening had come to an end” (pg 49).

The film makes a nod to the epic poem when Kainan realizes that if they are to defeat the Moorwen, they need better weapons: “When they joined the struggle / there was something they could not have known at the time, / that no blade on earth, nor blacksmith’s art / could ever damage their demon opponent” (pg 53).

One of my favourite parts of the film is when Kainan tries to convince some of the village’s warriors to climb down into the well with him, as it seems that the Moorwen is attacking from the well. Again, I can’t help but relate this episode to what Beowulf goes through. The scene of Beowulf fighting underwater is my favourite fight scene in all of the poem: “Without more ado, he dived into the heaving / depths of the lake. It was the best part of a day / before he could see the solid bottom” (104). It is true that the well does lead to the nest of the Moorwen and Kainan and his new friends are able to defeat the Moorwens and save the day, much like Beowulf’s success under water.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/9423516/Beowulf-and-Iliad-more-plausible-than-Shakespeare.html

We don’t know the exact ending of the story of Kainan, but if the story is anything like Beowulf, we can guess. In Beowulf, “the wide kingdom / reverted to Beowulf. He ruled it well / for fifty winters, grew old and wise / as warden of the land / until one began / to dominate the dark, a dragon on the prowl” (151). In Outlander, we see Kainan become king and his wife, the daughter of the past king that Kainan saves from the Moorwens, believes that Kainan is a god who has chosen to stay with the people. A sacrifice for the good of others from a brave heart. So, I can assume that if we were to follow Kainan to his death, he would die similar to Beowulf: “Beowulf dealt [the dragon] a deadly wound . . . for the king, / this would be the last of his many labours / and triumphs in the world” (183). By dying in killing a dragon to save the people around him, again, Beowulf is a hero by habit!

Source: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/on-screen/Content?oid=999986

One of the things I love most about Beowulf is that within the story, they tell the story. Within the actual events happening, the villagers retell the glorious victories of old, and of Beowulf. Beowulf becomes a legend in his own time and they tell his story for all to hear. So, why do I love rereading and re-watching these stories of heroes? It must have something to do with the satisfaction of seeing good triumph. Of seeing hard work rewarded. Of seeing immediate results of work completed. Of choosing to do something for others, even if it is dangerous. I think right now, we need heroes. We need reminders, both in print and in film, that humans are capable of saving the day. And that sometimes, it’s ok to let others in to fight our battles for us.

“A hero is somebody who understands the responsibility that comes with freedom.” (Bob Dylan)
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

Source: http://www.bandagedear.com/category/pink/6