On glimpsing darkness and light

When our granddaughter Silvia was nearly four, we were stopped in traffic near the local military cemetery, row on row of tombstones. “What are those white things?” she asked.

I said they marked where soldiers were buried. “All those are dead people?” Yes, I said. “From war?” Yes. Long pause from the car seat and then an anguished voice. “I didn’t know war was so bad.”

I realized with a jolt that she’d thought these two rolling knolls represented all the soldiers of all the wars that ever were around the world. I had to explain that actually, those were some of  the soldiers of part of our state who had died in some recent wars. “Oh,” and in that “oh” was the full horror we adults so rarely face. Perhaps only a child could see its depth. 

* * *

About that time, I picked up Silvia from pre-school. She came flying across the playground, sobbing as she crashed into my arms. Her friends wouldn’t play with her, “Not even Natalie and Evie!” her very best friends since they were toddlers together. “I didn’t do anything,” she cried. “Why won’t they play with me? They’re my best friends.” 

Her teacher, Miss Ollie, was nearby and promised to get to the bottom of this in the next day’s Circle Time. Meanwhile Silvia should try to relax and have a good rest of the day. But Circle Time was hours away and the shock and pain of man’s inhumanity to man, writ small, was just too great. 

I offered a trip to the public library, usually a hit and got a laconic “ok.” In the children’s section, Silvia couldn’t focus on choosing or even looking at book, constantly repeating “Why wouldn’t they play with me?” The unprovoked, inexplicable betrayal of those loved and trusted. The pain wouldn’t lift. Out of my pay grade, I decided to appeal to a higher authority, Miss Miller, the librarian. “Librarians know a lot,” I said. “Let’s go ask.” 

I sat Silvia on the counter where she poured out her woeful tale. Miss Miller, as flummoxed as I was, repeated the same salvo of “a mistake” and offered some  palliative gifts—a pencil topped by a little bear, a  bookmark, coloring book and tissue. Silvia wiped her eyes, tearfully thanked Miss Miller, and trudged back to the car with me. 

She was silent as I strapped her in her seat, but as I put the car in reverse a thoughtful voice stopped me. “I shouldn’t keep thinking such sad things. I know my friends love me. So it probably was a mistake.” 

Many times older than she, having easily spent the equivalent of her lifetime thinking “sad things” and not seeing love around me, I was filled with spiritual awe at the great, wise soul behind me. 

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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Posted in Just life
3 comments on “On glimpsing darkness and light
  1. Betty Pagett says:

    Thank you! I have received much wisdom from children….


  2. Iosifina says:

    Silvia was a wise little girl to come to that conclusion. We all need to stop the sad thoughts and look for the love around us. ♥️


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Sunday, May 6, 2pm reading from latest work at Hexagon Brewing Company, Knoxville, TN.

Thursday, May 10, 6-8 pm presentation on research on the historical novel, Blount County Library, Maryville, TN.

When We Were Strangers, Italian translation, to be presented in Pescasseroli, Italy, August 2018.

Recent Review
“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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