Aunt Ruthie figures large in my memoir, Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl. Though she stands as my most significant mentor for life, one of my chapters about her is entitled “Ruthie the Cheater.”
After her death in 2017, I discovered her diaries inside a painted chest in her bedroom.
The two entries below from 1945 (recording events happening 74 years ago) juxtapose ordinary life in her household with the detonation of a bomb over Hiroshima.
August 6, 1945
Rainy Monday, so we decided since we had all yesterday’s dishes to wash, we’d clean the cupboards. We cleaned the desk and the red [cherry] cupboard, washed all the dishes, etc. Uncle Joe stopped in for dinner. Today an atomic bomb was released over Japan. It is very destructive – weighing 11 pounds, it is equivalent to 300 carloads of T.N.T.
August 7, 1945
Sun in & sun out, so we washed – it dried & is ironed. This afternoon we had 3 showers – one a thunderstorm. Now it seems quite clear. Ray brought Janice down in the scooter [equipped with a rear bin] today. She’s only 10 months old.
That atomic bomb surely has been destructive although no one knows to what extent. It was never tested for there was no spot possible in the U. S.
Washing and ironing and cooking and cleaning amidst news of a BOMB exploding in a foreign land, killing hundreds of thousands of people, likely announced first on the radio, and the next day, in the newspaper.
Aunt Ruthie’s diary entry reflects the sentiment which W. H. Auden expresses in Musee des Beaux Arts, a poem he wrote just before the beginning of World War II in 1938.
Auden praises the painters, old Masters, like Brueghel, who understood the nature of suffering and humanity’s indifference to it.
He recognizes that all humans have painful and traumatic experiences that can change the course of their lives, but meanwhile the rest of the world continues on in a mundane way. He uses these examples:
- Children are born
- The elderly are waiting to die
- Meanwhile, skaters glide on a pond
- Dogs go on with their “doggy life”
- A horse scratches its behind on a tree.
In the Painting:
A boy falls out of the sky – the mythical Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, his wings melting!
A farmer keeps plowing his field though he may have heard a splash.
Sailors on “the expensive ship must have seen /Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,/Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.”
Life Goes On!
How do you reconcile cataclysmic events that explode in the world with your personal life?
What about those that burst into your own, ordinary life?
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