NewsWhistle is pleased to present Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.
You can read the original on Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog – or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at the comings and goings of life.
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY… FEBRUARY 16
600 – “God bless you.
Pope Gregory the Great ruled during a pandemic and is the origin of the saying. The first sign that someone was sick and was likely to die was a sneeze. So he issued a papal edict requiring those around a sneezing person to utter the three-word prayer “God bless you.” This was at a time when medical science knew little about disease, so the hope was that enough prayers might help the person ward off disease. This papal edict lasted in one form or another for 1400 years. “Gesundheit” in German translates to “good health”.
It seems the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers are still betting on Pope Gregory over science. And while we’re at it, don’t believe that nonsense about the world being round either.
1942 – Bangka Island Massacre.
Bangka Island, a small Indonesian island was the scene of a horrific incident at the start of World War II. Singapore was under siege and a ship fleeing the city carrying wounded servicemen, Australian nurses and civilians was sunk by Japanese aircraft. The survivors washed up on the shores of Bangka Island, occupied by Japanese soldiers. The soldiers separated the captured men and women, marching the men, about 60 of them, through the jungle. There they were machine-gunned. A few tried to flee and one man, Stoker Lloyd, despite being shot, managed to escape. Back on the beach, the Japanese ordered the 22 Australian nurses to wade into the ocean. When they reached their waists, the machine guns opened, killing 21 of the 22 nurses. Vivian Bullwinkel faked death and survived. This is the official story, the truth adds another layer of criminality. Bullwinkel, Lloyd and another wounded British soldier met and Bullwinkel dressed their wounds. They decided they had no choice but to surrender. The British soldier died in captivity, and Bullwinkel and Lloyd spent the rest of the war in POW camps. Released after the war, Bullwinkel told her story and the Australian authorities suppressed her. It was a truth too horrible to tell. The fact that the nurses were raped before being machine-gunned in the waves was deliberately concealed from the public. At the Tokyo war crimes trial, Bullwinkel, under orders, was not allowed to testify about the rapes. The perpetrators of these crimes have never been punished.
This story was eventually brought to light by historian Lynette Silver, journalist Tess Lawrence, and biographer Barbara Angell. Before she died in 2000, Bullwinkel privately revealed what happened and said it was a secret that tormented her. The three investigators shone the spotlight on this atrocity and BBC.com Silver said: “It’s also important to tell the ‘unsanitized truth’ that Vivian Bullwinkel wanted to tell in 1945 and 1946. “If I didn’t tell this secret, I would be part of the culture of silence and government repression . , and protect the authors,” she says. “These nurses deserve to have their story told – it’s their justice.” Silver also speculated if the MeToo movement had started decades earlier, Bullwinkel would have found it easier to tell its story publicly.
Those who might justify and glorify war should remember that there are far more savage incidents like this than moments of glory.
1948 – Eckhart Tolle.
Author, spiritualist. A writer of self-help books and a public speaker, Tolle focuses primarily on “being.” A quote from Tolle sums up his message: “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the Now the main focus of your life. Tolle grew up in Germany just after World War II and experienced the negative energy of that war. At age 13 he moved to Spain to live with his father and while there he did not attend school. Instead, he studied any subject that interested him. As a young adult, he experienced periods of depression or, as he put it, “I couldn’t live with myself anymore.” But then he had a transformation and questioned the “me” and the “self”. Always in his words: “Who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self?” It brought about a sense of peace, a sense of “being.” He spent the next two years mostly sitting on park benches “being” and observing the world. His family thought him crazy but he was developing his sense of peace. He began a career as a counselor and spiritual teacher. In 1995 he moved to Vancouver and wrote a book, “The Power of Now”. The book was touted by Oprah Winfrey and was a hit. Since then, Tolle has written more books and holds seminars on spiritual guidance. He has his detractors who say he offers nothing out of witty gibberish. Proponents say he took the works of great Eastern and Western mystics and put them into easily understandable language. Tolle’s books continue to sell well.
I watched some of his seminars, with fascination I might add. However, I find that embracing the moment with a sense of peace is easier said than done. Early one Sunday morning, I decided to ride my bike to the St. Paul Farmer’s Market. A beautiful blue sky Sunday morning in September. It was in the middle of the pandemic and I knew the market wouldn’t be buoyant as usual, but I had to get out. It’s a great bike ride, especially on a peaceful Sunday morning. Sometimes on bike rides like this I reach a meditative state, I’m at peace with the world, and I reach the “Now” moment promoted by Eckhart Tolle. The route was about 12 miles, mostly along the Mississippi River. The last stretch, before reaching downtown Saint-Paul, I have to pass under bridges. Just as I approached the Wabasha Bridge, perhaps a few hundred yards away, screams pierced my reverie. I looked up to see an elderly couple standing next to the bike path; she just stares at the floor, he’s on his cellphone. On the road beside the trail, two cars stopped and the drivers, the two women, were getting out. The screams continued. A bridge abutment curved the trail slightly and obstructed my view. I passed the couple on their bikes and wondered if I should stop and ask if they were lost, but since he’s on the phone, I didn’t. I rounded the slight curve and there, right in front of me, was a body on the bike path. A white man, face down, gray hair, in his fifties, with blood pouring from his head onto the sidewalk. Looking at him a few feet away from me, I deviated slightly to avoid the blood, and that image will forever be etched indelibly into my brain. Stunned, shocked and knowing exactly what had happened, I drove about fifty feet before braking. There had been a momentary urge to keep riding the bike and pretend I hadn’t seen anything. Astride my bike, I looked back. The two drivers were crossing the freeway cautiously and approaching the body. The screams from the top of the bridge came from two black men and a black woman peering over the railing. I turned around thinking I should check, he might still be alive. But one of the women got there first while the other was on her cell phone. The screams became intelligible to me now. “Oh man! Oh man! Holy shit! Oh man, why?” A woman momentarily leaned over the body and straightened up. I heard sirens in the distance. “I am a nurse, he is dead. I saw him fall. said the woman to the other. We all stand there helplessly, silently urging the sirens to come closer. A woman, not the nurse, started a shouted conversation with the people on the bridge. “What happened, you saw it.” “Yeah, yeah, he just jumped.” “Did you know him?” “No, no way, he walked in front of us and… then on the railing and he was gone. Oh man! The people on deck looked down, walked away in anguish, then came back. The two women, strangers to each other, with face-covering pandemic masks, hugged. A police car drove up, stopped on the sidewalk, stopped on the trail and an officer got out.
It came after a summer of unrest, George Floyd, Derek Chauvin, riots with parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul torn apart and burned. The police came out with a dark stripe painted on his reputation. Yet this guy was showing up for what was for us, an awful traumatic moment and for him, his job, probably too much of his day-to-day activities. I had sympathy for him, but I had no reason to stay. The other people were witnesses, had seen him jump, not me. I skipped the farmers market and took a different route home. I was tormented by this terrible image that I could not erase from my mind. I also realized that if I had gotten there, what, thirty seconds, a minute, sooner, he could have landed right in front of me, even on top of me. What had been a beautiful morning had turned into a horror. This poor man obviously saw no beauty or felt no peace in his Sunday morning. That horrible image of him on the bike path kept haunting me, especially at night while trying to sleep. Then I talked to my friend, Darrold, who also listened to Eckhart Tolle. I wondered aloud what Tolle would say about my trauma. The answer he found worked. This image was mine, it was part of my life now, there would be no way to erase it. Sure, it’s upsetting, but by obsessing over it, I’m continuing the life of the image, so embrace it. These are my words, my interpretation. It worked, every time the image pops up in my head I accept it and the trauma lessens. As I write these words it has been a year and a half since this morning and sometimes the image still visits me, but I just accept it and the moment does not escalate.
ABOUT GARY JENNEKE
At various times in his life, Gary has been an indifferent elementary school student, a poor high school student, a good Navy radioman, a former hippie, a passable student, an inveterate traveler, a devoted writer, an erroneous accountant (at the exception of an interesting stint at a communist cafe), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, failed retiree, and new blogger.
You can reach him at [email protected]
The above information comes from the following sites and newspapers:
We would also like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:
* Intro Image (“Roses and a Book”) – Photo by Aleksey Oryshchenko on Unsplash
* Ram Dass and Eckhart Tolle – Baba Ram Dass / YouTube.com
* Outro (Man-In-Museum cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com