Today's date is one that has more significance for me than you might think.
It's my 45th birthday, but going to school in Germany, I would never forget this date for another reason.
On January 30th, 1933, Hitler was "elected" chancellor. Exactly 30 years before I was born.
Coming to the United States as an exchange student to the State University at Albany, where I eventually got my MA in English, people would detect my accent and ask me where I was from.
The Germany I knew was a modern society where the government took good care of its citizens: mandating, for example, was the every new mom is able to stay home with her baby for one year and still get her job back.
As students, we were able to participate in protest marches, whether it was against some silly school policy (we thought) or a larger issue like acid rain.
Everyone in Germany enjoys freedom of speech, health care, a great public transportation system, free elections, all the good stuff. (It's not utopia there, or one I am creating because the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence... dont' get me wrong. My entire family lives there and I know they have their struggles just like everyone else.)
When I first came here, I was always eager to talk about my country, and tell people all the good aspects. But in most cases, when they found out that I was from Germany, a kind of shadow would run across their face.
It took me years to figure out why. Because to them, the only connotation they had with Germany was the holocaust. It made me so sad, that I as an individual could evoke such horrible connotations wherever I went. As if I had stepped right out of 1945 and no time had elapsed and we had suddenly landed in 1983. Had nobody ever read Heinrich Boell? Or seen a movie by Rainer Werner Fassbinder? As I was studying literature, I was surprised to find out how many students knew so little about the way intellectuals, writers, poets, and filmakers had been trying to come to grips with Germany's past.
I began to work really hard on losing my accent. In some cases, I would evade the question where I was from entirely. I was perpetually amazed that Jewish aquaintances would even want to talk to me...for I felt that I was carrying the guilt of an entire nation around with me. I did not deserve to be respected. One of my jokes became: "I was born guilty -- I am German, and a Lutheran!"
Of course I was so self-conscious for many years, that it took me a while to figure out how utterly gracious and forgiving people can be. As my awareness grew, more grace came my way. For that, I am grateful.
As to this date? See for yourself.
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30th, 1948.
Dick Cheney has a birthday today.
Then Ms JK Rowling decides to give Harry Potter's mom the same birthday as me. A tad older, but still. Killed by you-know-who.
Hitler, horrible violence, Dick Cheney. I keep waiting to see what might happen to me one day, but then I remember that I am just a little ant and not famous at all and I am here to spread goodwill, and grace, and thankfulness for all the wonderful people that happened to me.
For example, just last week, I found out that the Great Norah Gaughan and I share the same birthday! She told me so herself.
I hope you all have a wonderful day today, whether it's your birthday, or not!