In case you haven’t heard, the Vatican has a new leader, and he is a rock star! Pope Francis visited Philadelphia this weekend, and it was sensational. Catholics and non-Catholics alike say they have been moved and inspired by the Pope. One of his key messages is that we must combat climate change and protect the natural environment. But is anyone really listening?
Of course, living in Germany is very different from visiting as a tourist. For one thing, when you live there, you have German neighbors. And if you have German neighbors, it’s only a matter of time before you learn one of my favorite German words: Sichtschutz.
Sicht means “sight”, and Schutz means “protection”, so you might naturally think of safety goggles or annual eye exams. However, Sichtschutz isn’t protection of your vision but, rather, protection from being seen by other people.
When we lived in Germany, my son went on a 4-day, 3-night trip to a youth hostel in the countryside with his class and their teachers. No parents. I went out for dinner with a few other moms on one of those evenings, and I remember how anxious some of them were. The conversation went like this:
I haven’t heard anything.
Have you heard anything?
No, I haven’t heard anything either.
I wonder why we haven’t heard anything.
Shouldn’t we have heard something?
Nothing unusual there, perhaps, but the kids were only 5 and 6 years old at the time. They were finishing Kindergarten, getting ready to start elementary school, and this trip was meant as a special ending to their Kindergarten career. In fact, it was only the first of many class trips: a week at a youth hostel in 3rd grade, a week at a more distant youth hostel (a converted castle!) in 6th grade… Had we stayed in Germany, the exchanges with France and ski weeks in Austria would have begun in 8th and 9th grade.
Some of you have already read the text of the speech I gave in a German church on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 . (Some of you even remember hearing it!)
I was preceded that day by a history teacher from the local high school, who had been asked to comment on the September 11th attacks in historical context. What I remember most about his talk was his assertion that, in the long run, the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011 would eclipse 9/11 as an event of greater consequence.
I was skeptical of his thesis then, and I’m even more skeptical now. Millions of Afghans and Iraqis have been displaced. Civilians in both countries are being killed daily in terrorist attacks. Here in the United States, we’ve been quick to accept as the “new normal” security measures that should give us pause.
Meanwhile, StoryCorps has expanded its commitment to preserving the stories of 9/11. It’s a great resource for sharing with our teenagers – the babies we held extra close 14 years ago.
Summer school holidays in Germany last only 6 weeks. (Children there have more, shorter breaks throughout the year.) So friends often ask me what American kids do with nearly 3 months of summer vacation. I’ve typically answered with an explanation of all the great camps that are available here, but my daughter has reminded me of another important feature of our long summer holidays: Boredom.