Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sub-Zero Connections: D-Day, William the Silent, Rubens

December 7, 2013 D-Day. The weather outside is frightful. It is a clear and beautiful day as long as you stay inside. Outside it reached minus six degrees Fahrenheit, about minus 22 Celsius. How cold is that? Well, you would not be able to find a well digger’s butt because it would be frozen to the side of the well. That’s cold. That’s beyond brisk. The cold snap is supposed to last a few more days, and then we will move back up into the high 20’s. We’ll be dancing for joy: we’re having a heat wave, a sub-arctic heat wave! It is also the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the terrible event that brought the United States into World War Two through the back door. More importantly, 2500 lives were lost on that day in that attack. In the grand scheme of things, with a death toll numbering over sixty million in that war alone, 2500 doesn’t sound like much, unless of course you are one of them or knew one of them. The other fact is that most of the people who lived through and fought that war have slipped away from us. But it is important to remember them, to imagine their lives and their deaths, to realize their humanity. The great philosopher of misery, Josef Stalin, once said, “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.” We have to hold onto the tragedies one by one or the statistics will overwhelm us into indifference. I bear that in mind especially this year, remembering that next year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the War to End All Wars, which is still raging. Having said all this, I now present you with a heartwarming story for a cold afternoon. You can call it “Connections” or, simply, “Forgiveness.” It goes: In 1572, William the Silent learned that his wife was having an affair with a man of relatively little consequence. Anna was an unhappy woman and wife, with a husband more devoted to his adopted country’s struggle against Spain than to her. She became involved with a married man, and the affair was discovered. By the rights and precedents of the time, William had the right to have them both executed for treason. He decided to spare his wife to protect fragile political alliances, and probably because he felt at least partly responsible for her actions. The man’s wife came to him to plead for her husband’s life, and William had already decided to spare him as well. William felt the man was as much a victim of Anna’s unhappiness and behaviors as he himself was. So he demanded, simply, that the man return to his own town with his devoted and steadfast wife, and never leave it. John Rubens’ wife apparently also forgave the man. History would not have noticed him further, except that, six years later, he and his wife had a son together. They named him Peter Paul.

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