I wrote this at the request of my students, but then had someone reject it for the intended purpose. The reason they gave the students was, “…in our culture, we don’t believe in stealing from the dead…” (Private)
I think you will find that the person obviously missed the point. Still, I’m finding myself feeling a little sensitive about the issue at the moment. I thought I’d share it with all of you and see if that makes me feel better.
My grandfather was a man who kept his secrets close. He participated in Legion activities and never failed to attend a Remembrance Day service, but he never talked about his experiences with us. It wasn’t until after he had his first stroke that this began to change.
One day my brother was digging through the china cabinet and found a wooden box filled with pocket watches. He asked my grandfather where they all came from. My grandfather’s face slumped as he told my brother his secret shame; that he’d taken them off of the bodies of civilians they came across as they moved across the war-ravaged countryside.
He explained that for a very long time he’d resisted the urge to take things, as he witnessed others doing. It was easy to tell that revealing the actions of those he served with was just as troubling to him as talking about his own guilt. My grandfather told my brother the reason he started taking watches is he’d found a diamond ring on one woman, and had told himself to leave it in case someone she loved found her, only to witness another soldier take it. Since it was going to happen anyway, my grandpa thought he might as well benefit.
Even in the midst of putting his life on the line for love of country and strangers, my grandfather had done something that filled him with shame. We don’t always make the right choices in life. This doesn’t necessarily damn us as bad people, so long as we learn from our mistakes moving forward.
So what do you all think? Does that sound like I’m breaking a cultural taboo by promoting theft from the dead?