After preaching a sermon one Sunday about holy plans and the Children’s Holocaust Museum in Whitwell, Tennessee, Ruthie suggested we make a one-day pilgrimage there this past Monday. After a lovely 5-hour drive through mountains and ice-covered rocks, we arrived at the Whitwell Middle School on Butterfly Lane in time to see children still on the playground near the end of the school day. We spent an hour walking around the grounds and meditating in the German railcar that had been transported to Whitwell to house the paper clips and artifacts the students had collected to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews and 5 million others including gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and Germans who were differently-abled, who died in the Holocaust.
One of the images that stays with me is a statue of a butterfly wrapped in barbed wire on top of a pillar. The barbed wire appeared so jarring – an image of confinement, torture, suffocation, and death. In contrast, the butterfly is a sign of release, freedom, new life, and hope. It says something not only about the victims and survivors of the Holocaust but about the students who worked on the paper clips project. Perhaps the students had been imprisoned in what they thought was a protected and insulated lifestyle, but one in which their minds and hearts were suffocating. Their exposure to the story and the flesh-and-blood holocaust survivors opened their eyes to see the world in all its bright and bold diversity and opened themselves to the possibilities of new and unlikely friendships.
I am grateful to Ruthie for suggesting we make this one-day pilgrimage. It is one thing to read and talk about a story. It is another thing to see it, touch it, breathe it in, and pray in the presence of it. Sarah York writes, “My travels stirred reflections on what it means to leave home in order to find home, to go ‘there’ to find ‘here,’ and to listen, always, to the voice inside saying, ‘Pay attention to now.’” I hope this visceral experience stays with me and inspires me and others to become untangled from whatever barbed wire is imprisoning us, then to spread our wings and soar.