A wedding, glass, and unknown history
by Rob Tiller
We went to Virginia Beach last weekend to celebrate my brother’s wedding and catch up with the Tiller clan. The wedding was outside in a yard beside the intercoastal waterway, and it was a bit on the chilly side, but sunny. My brother Paul played his banjo as his bride arrived, and the couple seemed very happy. Afterwards we moved inside for lunch, and caught up on family news.
We Tillers have been fortunate in many ways, not least in that we still love each other, despite our differences in politics and religion. As my sister Jane observed, people these days are very polarized, and it’s gotten hard to communicate across tribal lines. But we still had plenty of common ground, and had some invigorating discussions.
The next day we visited the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, and spent a couple of hours looking at their impressive glass collection, which we missed when we previously visited. Much of the enjoyment for me was about history and craftsmanship, rather than individual artistic vision. But there were some pieces that were definitely art, and were moving. It made me look at our household glass differently, and consider it as part of a long tradition of craft and experimentation.
Speaking of art and history, this past week there was a significant opening: the new lynching memorial and museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Way too few Americans know much about the terrorism against black Americans in the first half of the twentieth century. Thousands of black people were publicly tortured and killed, some in front of crowds of white people who viewed the violence as entertainment.
The new memorial to the victims of this horrendous violence sounds powerful in just the way the D.C. Vietnam memorial is powerful: making the suffering concrete and undeniable in a beautiful and dignified way. There was a fine description of it in the Washington Post, including good photographs. I’ve added it to my list of places to visit.
Just one more thing about our racism, and then I’ll stop. This week the New Yorker has a fine and unsettling piece by Alex Ross called the Hitler Vortex. I’d recently read most of the new biography of Hitler by Volker Ullrich, which was quite good, but Ross provided new perspectives on the conflicting schools of Hitler scholarship, and the social forces that brought Germany to acknowledge its enormous crime against the Jews.
As Ross notes, Hitler greatly admired America’s genocide of native Americans and its elaborate system for repression of African Americans. This should give us pause. Unlike the Germans, who have acknowledged and worked to atone for the crimes of the third reich, we Americans for the most part maintain our ignorance and innocence as to these enormous racial crimes. Perhaps one day we’ll teach our school children what really happened, how it was horribly wrong, and how we need to be continually vigilant to prevent such evil from ever recurring.
In the meantime, we need to do what we can, and stay sane. For a dose of beauty and clarity, I recommend a walk at Raulston Arboretum, where the irises and early roses are blooming. I took these flower pictures this weekend.