This morning I woke up thinking about what it means to memorialize, to remember, to honor someone or something.
Brian and I have been to our share of memorials in the past few years, places of remembrance that exist to tell a story – stories about people who have lived and died in such a way that we who remain, living, want to construct something so that we will remember, and maybe even learn from their stories.
We have seen the Genocide Museums in Washington DC, Rwanda and Cambodia, and now we can add Northern Iraq to the list.
We visited the town of Halabja a few weeks ago. Halabja is the most well-known town where Saddam Hussein’s regime dropped chemical weapons on the Kurds. He was the first leader in history to use chemical weapons on his own country’s people. When the bombs fell, they released a gas that smelled sweet, like fruit, causing people to take in deep breaths, and activating the deadly chemicals in their bodies. Halabja has a number of mass grave sights, as well as a museum which contains pictures and names of the thousands who were killed.
The morning after our visit to Halabja I was still processing what we saw, what we learned. In my attempt to process I wrote the following:
The bombs dropped heavy on the ground. The air smelled heavy of apple and sweets. The breaths they took were heavy and deep as they tried to identify the smell. They fell heavy on the ground – over children, ovens, doorsteps. Their bodies filled heavy with chemicals.
Their families, who came later, stood heavy over the lifeless bodies. But the souls of their loved ones were light in the sky. Free from their bodies, they flew above the mountain tops, over the planes, beyond the atmosphere of poison.
On that ground, I drank the sweet tea, ate the yogurt with salt, the chicken with oil and the sweet apricot. It is now a part of me, and I am a part of it. I have tasted life from the place of death.
My eyes felt heavy when I looked at the pictures of the lifeless bodies. My heart was heavy on the beautiful drive through the mountains.
Something about beauty and horror filled my mind. That beautiful place. That horror they faced. The beauty still existed and looked over the horror. The horror still came, though it did not match the beauty. How can so much horror and so much beauty exist in the same place?
The horror that fell did not destroy the beauty. That ground did not stop being beautiful even though there was wickedness falling upon it, soaking into its soil.
How can we become a part of the beauty? Can we help to purge the wickedness? Can we move purposefully on this ground and plant new life in poisoned soil?