Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Purgatory for fascists

We're entering into what I think of as The Birthday Season at our house. My birthday is in a few days, followed immediately by that of elder daughter, then a host of friends' and family birthdays in early May, including that of younger daughter. Just before that, before we topple into the topography of Taurus, we trip over the hurdle of a troubling birthday which is today. I mean, elder daughter was born on Shakespeare's birthday (or what is assumed to be, based on the day of his christening three days later) which is nifty. I was born on Lenin's birthday which is considerably more ambiguous, but what about someone born today? Today is Hitler's birthday. I suppose you could concentrate on other much nicer people born today, but he's a heck of a person with whom to share your day, isn't he? Actually, one of my favourite songs is about Hitler, but to explain why, I have to back up a bit:

For some years, I was a volunteer at Hospice Victoria. Being a volunteer meant attending a lot of workshops, and we were well versed in the Kübler-Ross Model, otherwise known as the Five Stages (of Dying, of Grief, of Loss, etc.). We learned that the five stages didn't just apply to death and bereavement; you experience the stages every day, sometimes within seconds:
"I can't have lost my keys!" (Disbelief)
"Dammit! Where are the *&$%# keys?" (Anger)
"Please, not today..." (Bargaining)
"Well, this blows everything..." (Depression)
"I'll meet so-and-so from work, get his keys and then figure out what to do." (Acceptance)

I read somewhere a few days ago that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's model is now losing its hallowed status, as many people apparently recover from loss without the long period of "grief work" that the five stages imply. I don't know; the theory always made sense to me. Kübler-Ross went into a rather odd stage after she became well-known, where she was interested in the afterlife. Not that it's odd to be interested in the after-life, but she seemed to be under the spell of some character named Jay Barham who was one of those people who claimed to channel dead spirits. I remember reading a magazine article (I think it was in Mother Jones) where the interviewer was asking her questions about this and sounded very baffled and bewildered, as Kübler-Ross said how every soul is redeemable. Naturally, the interviewer came up with the old war-horse: "What about Hitler?"

Now, I'm trying to paraphrase this from memory alone, so I'll probably get it wrong, but she answered something like this: that Hitler would be brought to a place where he could see, and come to understand, the consequences of what he had done.

This fuzzily-remembered idea has haunted me for years. At the Resident Fan Boy's church, they used to have a pre-confession prayer. I say "used to", because churches seem to be phasing out confession and saying you're sorry. Anyway, they used to say: "Some sins are plain to us; some escape us; some we cannot face." So, try to imagine being made aware not only of what you've done wrong, but of what you've done wrong that you didn't know was wrong. Is that purgatory? Or is that hell? We all wound others without being aware of it. Oh geez...

Back in the days when I still had LaunchCast, I was sent a song by John Wesley Harding (who was born Wesley Stapes), called "Hitler's Tears". I've tried to find a way of embedding or linking the actual song here (it appears in Why We Fight, and in a slower more acoustic form in The Garden of Eden), but the best I can do is an Amazon sample that gives you thirty seconds. (Update:  someone has posted it on YouTube -- but for how long?) 

I don't know if I understand the song at all, but whenever I hear it, I think of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who moved into the afterlife about seven years ago, standing with her hand on the shoulder of Hitler as he's made to look beyond the veil of unknowing that protects us all. And he's sobbing. I also wonder if you looked into the heart of every dictator, would you find the face of a broken-hearted little boy?

Hitler's Tears

One man's tears stain the pillow
Where he used to lay his head
She's left him for another man
So how come they're both sleeping in his bed?
He can hardly sleep for misery
You can hear him catch his breath
He grinds his teeth into the night
And God says "Hey, Adolf, are you all right?"

One boy's tears stain the paper
Where he writes his Christmas list
And he inks in broken German
"Send me the skill of a fine artist."
Then he wipes out half a continent
With a flick of his wrist
He's so lonely, so misunderstanding
As he pulls his blanket across the landing

You can hear them falling every day (Hitler's tears)
Just open up the newspaper (Hitler's tears)
You can hide, there's no escape from Hitler's tears--
Just what makes the Führer blue?
He's crying for you

One man's tears--he was fascist
Before it was cool
'Cause now it's so expected
Just accept it that power is cruel
So he'll apply for reinstatement
Using new reincarnation rules
'Cause he's the only man, most certainly
Who could claim to have learned from history

Hitler cries himself to sleep, alone in Brazil, no one calls
How must it feel to be the biggest loser of them all?

One man's tears--salt water salutes the final trip
A thousand naughty Nazis
A fraülein with a bullwhip
A lullaby of Über Alles
A shaking upper lip
It's all become a Whitehall farce
That's how we tear our fears apart
But you shouldn't take it straight to heart
So the rest of us can get some sleep tonight

-John Wesley Harding (Wesley Stace)

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