Tag Archives: War

“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



“The War of Art”: life to the fullest

Steven Pressfield gives his own personal insight and advice in The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. I first heard about this book when I was out for coffee with a friend and I snuck a peak at a friend’s book while she was in the bathroom. I could tell that this book was important to her because it was full of notes and highlighted sections. Now that I’ve read it, I feel like I’m about to do the same. Pressfield has something to say to everyone who lets fear and resistance hold them back.

Source: http://www.stevenpressfield.com/the-war-of-art/

Resistance. For Pressfield, “Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work” (Pg 7). Throughout the book, Pressfield continually defines Resistance; he looks at it’s different forms and how we react to it. Resistance is powerful and is a life changer.

I know that I give Resistance a lot of power and influence in my own life. There are a lot of things I would like to try and explore, yet I allow Resistance to hold me back from listening to the Spirit in my own life. Just think of all of the things Resistance has destroyed. It’s staggering.

Source: http://sunnibrown.com/doodlerevolution/showcase/the-war-of-art-2/

My Mom lent me a book that talks about anxiety and I found some of the ideas really interesting and helpful. In the book, the author suggests that people write down their anxieties and put them into a box. Every month or so, open the box and throw out the anxieties that no longer matter and keep the ones that still produce that Resistance. It’s not entirely out of sight, out of mind, but I feel like this technique looks at the anxiety or worry, and moves beyond it while keeping it away from all positive things. I like that idea. It doesn’t allow the anxiety a place to live in the soul. It lives in a box.

Source: http://www.nottelevision.net/anxiety-box-speaks/

On a trip to an independent bookstore in Edmonton, I stumbled upon a local poet who wrote a book of poems for meditation as an invitation to prayer. To rid the body of Resistance, meditation moves beyond the Resistance and focuses on the positive. My favourite poem so far is this:

Release your grip
on this wheelbarrow
of words

Watch it roll away as you lift off

Free at last

(Antoinette Voute Roeder)

Free at last! Yes! Pressfield doesn’t just describe Resistance; he also shows ways to combat Resistance. It is the war of art! The war to allow yourself to explore and create without the dehabilitating effect of Resistance.

Source: http://sunnibrown.com/2010/05/the-war-of-art-visual-book-summary

In the final section of his book, Pressfield explores what happens after Resistance is beat. He looks at what happens beyond Resistance. Imagine a world where we noticed the fear of reject or failure, recognized it, overcame it, and then went on to accomplish something amazing. Something like writing a note of encourage. Like painting the chairs green. Like drawing the flowers we see in the garden. Like opening that business. Like writing that novel. Like finishing that painting. To end, Pressfield makes these remarks: “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got” (Pg 165).

Pressfield’s book isn’t just for artists or creative people. It is an exploration of the human spirit and what can happen when we listen to that still, small voice over Resistance. Living a full life is not easy. And as Pressfield explores, living a full life is hard work. In fact, it is war!

Source: http://thewellnessalmanac.com/2015/03/18/wellnessreads2015-the-war-of-art-by-steven-pressfield/

“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” (Steven Pressfield)

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:27)

Source: http://iamembrace.com/message/still-small-voice/

“Brock’s Agent”: same story, different side

I’m Canadian and my family has been for a long time. I have a distant cousin named Issac Brock and a first cousin named Brock and a cousin’s kid named Issac. I think it’s safe to say that my family is a Loyalist family. My mother’s family moved West to escape the French takeover of their small Quebec village of Leeds. We watch the Queen’s Message at Christmas. Living in Ontario, the War of 1812 became more of a reality because I saw the battle sites, the houses, the monuments, and the reenactments. I have climbed to the top of Brock’s Monument (pictured below).

Source: http://www.nflibrary.ca/nfplindex/show.asp?id=363685&b=1

Lately the Canadian Government has been advertising and celebrating Canada’s victory over the Americans in the War of 1812 (although, technically it was a victory for the fur traders and the British). True, we would not have become a country if this war had been won by the Americans and it did bring us together as a mixed nation (French, First Nations, British, Metis). We learned in history class in high school that the Americans believed they won the war. We learned that we burned down the original White House. We learned about Laura Secord (and I’ve been to her house), about Sir Issac Brock, and the night marches the British/Canadians executed in order to surprise the Americans. The element of surprise was critical to the success of the Canadas in the war against the Americans.

Canadian hero Laura Secord warning that the Americans are coming.

Canadian hero Laura Secord warning that the Americans are coming.

Source: http://1812.gc.ca/eng/1340398247490

Yet, the Americans (or at least some) are beginning to see that they did lose the war to annex Canada. That being said, history is full of opinion and perception. In the book Captured by Love by Jody Hedlund, she describes the capture of Mackinac Island (Michilimackinac Island) in 1815. Fort Michilimackinac was built by the Americans on an island that was a key point in the fur trading routes. I am also in the middle of reading Tom Taylor’s novel Brock’s Agent, a story of Canada during the War of 1812 written by a historian and former military member, that describes the first British capture of Mackinac Island at the start of the war, in 1812.

Source: http://www.eighteentwelve.ca/?q=eng/Topic/13

Both Hedlund and Taylor write about the importance of the fur trade and the significance that the island had in controlling the movement of furs in the Great Lakes areas. There was more at stake then land and power. The fur trade was the sore spot that spurred on the voyagers, traders, and First Nations to get involved and pick sides in the war. Both stories are historically interesting and well researched. Both stories show the planning and the strategies. Both stories include the important role of spies and the element of surprise. The stories are told from either side of the war, yet both tell of the victory of the British. Hedlund on the American side and Taylor on the Canadian side.

Taylor describes the success of the British/Canadians in taking the island in a surprise night/early morning attack and shows that the Americans were not prepared and surrendered without any battle or fight. He focuses his story on the son, who becomes an agent for Brock, of a large fur trading company who is sent by his father to make sure that the furs of the company remain safe during the war.

Hedlund describes the blundering attack of the Americans on Mackinac Island in 1814 and the effect it had on those living on the island. Her focus is on the villagers and the fur traders who depend on the island and the area around it to sell and trade their furs. She shows the pain of family allegiances when two brothers end up on different sides of the fight.

Source: http://a-drifting-cowboy.blogspot.ca/2013/08/cowboy-legacy-great-granddad-was-fur.html

Eventually the British gave control of the island back to the Americans in 1815. Once the lines had been drawn and the war was over, the fur trade continued and the people of Mackinac Island no longer had to pledge loyalty to the King and they were able to continue on as Americans. What I found so interesting is that two-hundred years later, I am still interested in these battles and the politics behind them. Yes, Hedlund’s novel was a historical romance, but she still stuck to some fantastic details and had me engaged with her knowledge of the history behind Mackinac Island. Yes, Taylor’s novel was more focused on the battle plans, the political landscape, and the major players in the war, but he was still able to sneak in a romance story.

Overall, I would say that reading Jody Hedlund and Tom Taylor at the same time (accidentally I will add) increased by enjoyment and my perspective on a war that helped to shape the area I lived in and loved. Although I LOVE living in Calgary, I am always grateful for the time I spent in Ontario and how it shaped my understanding of this wonderful nation.

Source: http://wnycraftbeer.com/the-other-steel-city/

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

“[The US Army] might have taken Canada easily, if not for the miraculously systemic idiocy among the top brass.” (Stephen Marche)

Source: http://daysgoneby.me/the-burning-of-the-white-house/

“The Impossible Knife of Memory”: finding a voice

When high school students want to talk about literature outside of the classroom, that is an exciting moment! This year, along with two other teachers, I am helping to run the school’s Book Club. I find it interesting that the group chose a book with such a strong-voiced protagonist because all I can think of is books like Twilight and the books by Ellen Hopkins. These teenagers must be looking for a voice that they are not able or not confident enough to embody on their own. In The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, the narrator is 18 year-old Hayley Kincain who lives with her father, an recent veteran of the US Army, and the novel tells the story of surviving high school while living with a father who has PTSD.
Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18079527-the-impossible-knife-of-memory

I did enjoy the novel, but I have enjoyed the conversations with the Book Club even more. Some of the members of the Book Club have such sad stories, that they can relate to the miserable life of Hayley Kincain. In the novel, Hayley has blocked a lot of her early childhood memories because they were so volatile and hurtful. For the girls reading this book in the high school, they can relate to the absent father, to the stress of war, to the pain of having a rough childhood full of fighting, and also the heartbreak of wanting friends yet not being able to let others in to their lives. I am continually reminded in my job as a teacher that teenagers are amazing humans beings.
Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18079527-the-impossible-knife-of-memory

Yes, I enjoyed the novel and the discussions with the Book Club members, but as I read I kept thinking of the film Hurt Locker. I remember seeing this film; it stayed with me for days. I could not imagine the stress and the trauma that these men and women experienced. I think that is why I enjoyed reading The Impossible Knife of Memory. As much as Hayley tries to suppress her childhood and the bad memories and as much as her father tries to suppress his memories of fighting in war, those memories still surface and do act like a knife, cutting deep into the goodness of life. For me, and I’m sure for many, one of the most haunting scenes in Hurt Locker is when the soldier is back home and is trying to do something as simple as buy cereal. The clip of the scene really is powerful.

Source: https://arcticspecter.wordpress.com/tag/godzilla/

For teens, seeing an example of two people who deal with their horrible memories and the fall-out of those memories allows them to see what could happen in their own lives: the experience of reading the book answers some of their ‘what-if’ questions. Our final discussion on the book is after Christmas Break, and I can’t wait to hear what they thought of the entire novel and it’s significance to their own lives.
Source: https://maclic.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/new-zealand-book-month/

“I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.” (Kofi Annan)

Source: http://www.coolnsmart.com/memory_quotes/