Biking to Auschwitz

One man's unusual resolutions for 2009

I always make New Year’s resolutions. Not those
obnoxiously goody-goody ones about exercising more and being nicer
to people. That is far too easy. I insist that mine challenge me to
the core. Here’s my list of five resolutions for 2009.

1. I will have only one feeling per day. There are
clearly far too many unchecked feelings loose in the world today.
People confess their sentiments continuously. You hear rampant
mixed feelings of the “Dear Abby” variety, for instance whether
pets have souls or not. Strong feelings run a close second, pro and
contra giving money for Christmas, or who was the worst president
ever. Add to these the gently trickling creeks of good feelings
about a moving prayer at St. Eugene’s and the thank you of a
friendly cashier at Ross Dress for Less.  

In restaurants and stores we are forced to witness a
cell-cacophony of resentments, bitterness, anger, pleasure,
satisfaction, pride and other frenzies directed toward neighbors,
spouses, ungrateful children, friends and meter maids.
Environmentalists speak of a new noise pollution: the noise private
feelings make in public. While my friends are cherishing and
displaying their feelings as if they were heirlooms, I have decided
to downsize my portfolio of sentiments and only use one per day.
Shortly after breakfast, I will choose my daily passion, randomly
or guided by the stock market—dread, love, sadness, joy,
gloom, bliss, etc.—and stick with it for 24 hours. I am
advocating an economical use of emotions.  

2. I will read a difficult book. I have been thinking
about the sixth edition of Hardy and Wright’s Introduction to
the Theory of Numbers
or Chemerinsky’s Constitutional Law:
Principles and Policies
. In previous years, I was modest like
most people, vowing to reread Shakespeare’s sonnets or a
translation of an unknown French auteur. For 2009, I am determined
to read not only for pleasure and enchantment, but for pain. I
think it was Hegel who said that it is only the very best thoughts
that hurt. You can imagine how much I look forward to the wounds I
will receive from my difficult book.

3. I will have a secret. The young, old and middle-aged
are all sharing their received opinions as if they were examples of
wondrous revelations. I am not against it in principle; pouring out
what’s pressing against the inside, however trivial it may be, is a
law of nature. But in 2009 I will recuse myself from the ubiquitous
urge to share. I will consciously tell nobody about certain naughty
thoughts or virtuous facts or exciting stories or sensational
incidents. I can’t be more specific without already breaking my
resolution right here. But I will say this: what I have in mind as
my secret for 2009 has to do with hummingbirds, Bach’s cantata BWV
36 and the smell of a new horseshoe.

4. I will bike to Auschwitz. Once a year, I take a 10-day
bicycle trip to explore a small region in Europe. Mileage is less
important than finding a new museum and a hearty meal. I visit
places that were still hidden behind the then-so-called Iron
Curtain when I was young. Last year, I visited old churches in
Stralsund on the Baltic island of Rügen. In 2009, I must come
face to face with Auschwitz. You might object and alter the famous
quote “Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” to a censorious
“Bicycling on a vacation to Auschwitz is barbaric” and suggest I
bike to Goethe’s city of Weimar instead.

Why am I going? As a personal pilgrimage of moral cleansing,
letting the tragedy of the Holocaust play out within myself where
until now have only been unspeakable pictures, numbers,
biographies? W. H. Auden called it wicked: “To write a play, that
is to construct a secondary world, about Auschwitz, for example, is
wicked: author and audience may pretend that they are morally
horrified, but in fact they are passing an entertaining evening
together in the aesthetic enjoyment of horrors.” All I know is that
I have to go. I will watch myself as things are happening to me.
It’ll be a long trek, and I need to be fit, therefore:

5. I will exercise more.

Sonoma County Library