Monday, August 15, 2016

becoming hardened history

The steel we use with the blade is the high carbon steel folding by 11 times, creating with 2048 layers....                 

The making of a Japanese katana or long sword is what sticks out in my mind, even with my deplorable lack of specific understanding. The thing I do know is that several sorts of molten metal are folded again and again against themselves, making the completed product harder and harder. If I am not mistaken, the katana is the sharpest cutting implement in the world, but it is the folding that whispers....

Today, after reading an interview with one of former Nazi Agitation and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels' secretaries, the sword came up in my mind. Here was a woman who, at 105, remembered a time most today have consigned to something called history. The history of the Nazis ... the history of a 105-year-old woman. She actually lived then -- a swooping soaring time when the leader of her country started World War II. She says in the interview that she didn't know of the atrocities of that time -- a time when Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other undesirables were sent to concentration camps and killed ... wholesale. But she says she is not looking for absolution. It was a time as we have all lived our time -- with the mores of the era all around us.

But now those times have gone and this woman, like anyone getting older, is folded neatly into a stronger and stronger formation in the historical minds that others might employ. And like any other older person, she is dying to have someone to feel the era as she did and perhaps does -- not as history, not as a completed katana, but as a living, breathing era, when jokes were told and kisses stolen; where people laughed with friends, minded their p's and q's and nylon stockings ....wwwwoooooeeee!!!

I lived in a time when Martin Luther King and John Fitzgerald Kennedy were household names. Not history. The katana was not yet set and there were moments of humor that may seem embarrassing now as with Kennedy critics who might intone in a Boston accent, "If you do not do your job with vigah/ We will replace you with a niggah." I remember trying to buy condoms in a Massachusetts pharmacy and being told by a scowling pharmacist that they didn't carry such things (it was either and option or there was a law against it in Massachusetts). Stalin and Churchill were near history in my mind. I was in the army for three years at a time when Kennedy was making the Vietnam war possible. Clark Gable was a movie star and I had a crush of Catherine Deneuve.

But now my katana is set in others' minds. Because I had been in the army and because Vietnam was a part of my time, therefore now, in other minds, I know about the Vietnam war, much as Goebbels' secretary must -- mustn't she? -- have known about the Nazi depredations. She is fixed and I am fixed in the times we lived through, not as human beings, but as bit players in a sharpened historical past.

And it is hard.

Maybe, I now think of Goebbels' secretary, she really didn't know. Or maybe she's lying both for her own and others' benefit. Or maybe she just wants the history to be as free and easy as the living of it all had been.

It is impossible to ask others to keep the metal hot and malleable and sparkly. They have their own swords to fashion. But I miss the camaraderie. Bit by bit, the steel cools and the sword glistens, but I don't want to glisten. I want to laugh... or weep as Jews whose forbears were lost to atrocity might.

Twinkle, twinkle.

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