1985. I'm doing the tour of Europe. Old-school, I know, but we're doing it on the cheap. Bus tours. A few days in Germany. Two days in Munich. A day at Dachau. It's not out in the woods. Not where nobody could see. It's in the suburbs ten miles outside the city.
Concrete and stone pads showing where the bunkhouses were. I wished they hadn't torn down so much, but I suppose they had to. It looked clean, which is what is wrong.
In the museum. A picture. A mother in a winter coat over a dress, leading her two little girls by the hand. All in their good clothes, hair done, black and white. I stepped closer. The caption? "On the Way to the Gas Chamber."
So that was one time.
2002. May, I think. Walking home from the corner market to my apartment, carrying the New York Times. On the cover, Masai warriors standing on a grass plain, a dozen cows grazing. A son of this village, a student now at Stanford, had carried home the news of the attack on the World Trade Center. And his village elders had voted to give a dozen or so of their most valued cows to the people of the United States, to help them in their time of need. The U.S. Ambassador had arrived to accept the donation.
So that was another.
The thing about this kind of spontaneous emotion is precisely that it is not expected. Or expected, as you would at Dachau— if never in the street outside your apartment— but sudden. Not from memory, from history, but from a picture. Of a mother and two little girls. Or yes, in the street, of warriors and cows.
That's what I want you to know, you writers, you humans. That sometimes, the things that hit us the hardest are the things we did not expect.