Book Review – The Blue Coat

The Blue Coat by Margie Brown.  Private printing.

The members of my congregation are by and large post-retirement age.  They are a delightful group of people with an amazing diversity of backgrounds and experiences.  But being of that age, there are several who lived through The War (World War II).  Several who lived through it in Germany or escaping from Germany.  Margie is one of those.  She was nine as the war was raging and bombs were falling on her hometown.  Nine years old as her father was fighting on the front lines in Russia, as her mother was sick and sometimes bed-ridden, and as her younger siblings were lost and rediscovered in the mad shuffle to try and keep people safe.

Margie suffered with nightmares for years, and when she married her husband suggested to her that she write down some of her war experiences.  The result is The Blue Coat, a short and simple telling of some of the key events of her life as a nine-year old in the midst of war.  Although she was encouraged to write more of her story during those years, she opted to keep it brief and focused.  Her nightmares went away.  And her family and a few privileged friends now have the opportunity to peek into a nine-year old’s view of the war.

Not surprisingly it is not about ideologies or political agendas.  It is simply about a girl trying to keep her family together – a task sometimes made harder by well-intentioned strangers.  A girl following instructions in order to remain safe from bombs and hunger.

It’s shocking, to think that a nine-year old could endure such things, but of course there are plenty of nine-year olds around the world today (or younger) who endure similar or worse, and for longer periods of time.  I grew up in a peculiar bubble, culturally and historically.  I didn’t need to fight in a war.  I haven’t had to worry about my house being bombed.  My family tucks one another into bed at night in peace and security.  The fact that people can survive and eventually thrive under opposite circumstances is incredible.

I wish more people were required to talk to and read the notes of those who have lived through terrible events, as a means of sharing perspective.  Our rights of free speech are being openly abridged and stripped away because of concerns that what is said might hurt someone else’s feelings, someone who won’t be able to cope knowing that someone, somewhere nearby, is saying something they disagree with.  It’s a big world out there, full of people who disagree with you.  Sometimes they drop bombs on your houses, and sometimes they don’t.  But knowing that you might be called upon to recover your siblings from homes they’ve been farmed out to might be a good way of reminding people that we need to be more resilient than we apparently are, more able to cope with pressure.  You can’t prepare for these things adequately, of course.  But you can certainly do better than refusing to deal with an offensive world.

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