I still remember the Summer day that I met Hannah. My husband and I were renting an apartment during baseball season and one morning I was sitting beside the complex pool when Hannah walked through the gate. She was very tall, with a swimmer’s body. She was eighty years old. She swam her laps, got out of the pool, and came over to sit beside me, introducing herself in her thick German accent. My mornings at the pool were never the same. Hannah liked to talk because Hannah was lonely. So I listened most of the time. She spoke about her life with her deceased husband. He had been a professor, an American. She spoke about how much they had loved each other, their trips to Mexico, and how she still goes a couple of times a year to the same resort. They know her well. She described their beautiful home and how her children once filled that home with laughter. Her children didn’t have much to do with her any longer. One morning she asked me if I wanted to visit her apartment and see her “shoe room.” I had heard about that room from other residents. I decided to go see it for myself. Hannah lived in a two bedroom apartment and one of those bedrooms had been turned into her own shoe and handbag boutique. Her husband had built special shelves and racks for her shoes and purses, it was a sight to see. She showed me around her apartment, and pointed out other furnishings her husband had created. We sat for a while and the conversation turned to her childhood in Germany. Hannah had grown up in Germany during World War II. Before the war began, her father had been an engineer for Ford Motor, Co. She showed me paintings and photographs from Germany. I had just recently read the book, ‘In the Garden of Beasts’ which is about the American ambassador to Germany and his family living in Berlin during the rise of Hitler, so I was very interested in what Hannah had to say. The book describes how even the ambassador and his family were convinced by the German government that Jews were bad. The ambassador witnessed the beatings and arrests of a group of people. The ambassador witnessed the destruction, the end of a civil society, but yet he went along with the crowd. I asked Hannah how they didn’t see from the beginning what Hitler was. She replied, “We thought he was just a politician.” She went on to say that she had a brief encounter with Hitler. Hannah had been one of the school children we have seen in photographs and on film who handed Hitler flowers whenever he visited schools. She said he arrived in his convertible accompanied by a large woman. The woman walked beside Hitler and as he was handed the bouquets, the large woman took the flowers and laid them in a basket. I asked Hannah what she remembered the most about the man, and she replied, “He didn’t smile.” Later her family would move to Austria where her father would work in a parachute factory, and her mother was a seamstress. She said her family never lacked for anything during the war, as though it wasn’t really happening. She spent her days swimming in the Rhine River, and towards the end of the war, attended dances with German officers, but thought them to be too arrogant. I can say I was becoming frustrated during our conversation, but I held back what I was thinking. I couldn’t understand how she seemed so nonchalant about one of the cruelest eras in world history. But how could I be angry with her, because she was young at the time and the mind is a delicate thing. It can be influenced without us even realizing it. Before we know it and if we aren’t careful, we can be following along with the crowd, destroying history, destroying a nation. Things happen swiftly and it becomes too late for a people, for a nation to turn it around. I sat there with Hannah and thought how Hitler had decided the history he didn’t like should be erased, and what people he despised should be erased. He repeatedly told his country that Jews were the cause of their economic ills, and everything else that was wrong with the world. He shouted it from the mountain tops, “Guilty!” Blame was placed on the Jewish people until an entire nation was brainwashed into thinking just that. People who were once friends and neighbors, turned on each other. When you are told the same thing over and over, you start believing it, you start living it. A civil society can disappear in the blink of an eye. Yet, during those darkest of days, there were still aliens living within that garden of beasts.
It’s been years since my Summer with Hannah, but our conversations are still fresh in my memory. I’m sitting in my house now and it’s getting darker. Clouds are rolling in as another Summer storm builds outside. I look out of my window and watch as the trees begin to bend and sway with the rising wind. Lately it seems that I am always standing at the window, observing the world and another gathering storm. Watching, listening, and waiting for what is to come. It is all unfolding in amazing and surreal ways. I am thankful that I am an alien in this world.
I have been so disheartened. I’ve wanted to shield myself from the gathering storm, from the Beast who is on the prowl. I know that I can’t because there is still God’s work to be done. I watch as people riot and cities burn. I watched as our nation’s capitol became a surreal, hellish scene. I try to warn others of what is to come and to be careful of falsehoods, but I am chastised. What hurts the most is to see Christians who are blinded by it all, Christians following along with the crowd. Satan is not whispering in our ears, he is shouting from the mountain tops. He shouts, “Guilty!” He shouts, “Unforgiven!” Many believe that no longer should the individual accept responsibility for their ills, but instead a certain group is at fault, and the blame for any wrong doing or situation in our country needs to be placed on them. They need to be shamed and punished, or just erased. I stand at the window and watch, an alien in this world.
The storm is here and the clouds have burst open. The thunder rattles and the rain pours against the windowpanes. I close my eyes and listen. I think of the cleansing rain. I think of more peaceful days of Summers past. I think about what God would have me do now and know that I won’t be afraid. The world rages outside my window. Satan wants me to join in the rage, but I refuse. I refuse to bow and grovel. I refuse to become what he wants me to become. I am a child of Christ. I have been forgiven. I have been redeemed, my guilt is gone. I stand at the window and pray, an alien in this world. An alien in a garden of beasts.
God help us.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.–Romans 12:2