Grandpa’s role in history

Danny, my grandma, died in August–a few days after her 94th birthday. My grandfather died decades ago, but it wasn’t until Danny died that my uncles began sorting through the belongings they’d amassed over the years. That was when Dick discovered that Grandpa, an Army chaplain, had accompanied some of the defendants who were sentenced to death for war crimes at the Nüremberg trials to the gallows.

Grandpa with boxer
Grandpa in his “uniform” of engineer overalls and cap. He and Danny always had a boxer. Always.

Wait. What? The guy who looked like a train engineer because he always wore blue-and-white striped overalls and a matching cap? The guy who always had a toothpick in his mouth, looked a lot like his boxer, and could be counted on to have Coffee Nips on hand? That guy?

In addition to evidence of the role that Grandpa played at the Nüremberg trials, Dick found a hand-drawn map of the concentration camp in Dachau with Grandpa’s writing on it. We know Grandpa was at Dachau after it was liberated, but we’re not sure when.

Honestly, I don’t remember my grandfather as a kind man. Though he was a “man of God,” religion seemed to be largely an intellectual exercise for him—not something he put into practice in his daily life. He originally wanted to become a doctor, but World War II put an end to that, so he became a chaplain instead. I did not know him to be a spiritual man. He often insulted and demeaned Danny and my father, which made him hard to trust and still harder to like.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Gary W. Roush, Sr.

What’s interesting to me is that, in spite of his Nüremberg and Dachau experiences—which might’ve led most Americans to draw unfavorable conclusions about the German people—it was Grandpa who met my mother, a German citizen, and insisted on introducing her to his son.

My German grandparents were Methodist descendants of Huguenots who were convinced Hitler was the Antichrist. At the end of the war, when Hitler was running out of men of draftable age, my Opa (grandfather) was drafted in his 40s and served as a cook in the Navy. My uncle was drafted into the SS at 17, but Oma (my grandmother) worked diligently to change that and succeeded. He became a Gebirgsjäger (mountain infantryman) instead, and both my Opa and uncle survived the war without seeing combat. Onkel Walter became a Methodist minister and met Grandpa, a Methodist Army chaplain, which led to the introduction of Mom and Dad. Which led to me.

Danny, Grandpa, and Onkel Walter with my uncle  Bill
Danny, Grandpa, and Onkel Walter with my uncle Bill on Mom and Dad’s wedding day

I owe my existence to Grandpa. Somehow, what I learned about his involvement at Nüremberg and Dachau helped me see him in a different light. He didn’t judge Germans by the worst he’d seen of them. He saw what author and historian Robert Abzug says was “the trappedness of good people in the machinations of history at its most evil.” He saw the good in my mom, wanted that for his son, and it didn’t take long for Dad to realize he was right. I have rarely seen a man love a woman the way my dad loved my mom.

When I look at the following picture of Mom and Dad, whose people had been enemies little more than a decade before they met, I think of the song, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” I never viewed Grandpa as spiritual. But he held a practical vision of peace that enabled him to welcome a German woman into his American family. Peace began with him. And it led to me.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day
Irmgard and Gary Roush, Jr. on their wedding day

A major spiritual shift

I was speaking, in passing, with a friend, when someone who overheard our conversation stopped, waited for it to end, and then mentioned something she’d just learned about that might help me. Challenging to pronounce, and even more difficult to spell, I had trouble finding more information about it on the Internet, but ultimately succeeded. It’s called ho’oponopono, and as you may guess from its spelling, is Hawaiian in origin.

What is it? It is an ancient practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. “Ho’oponopono” basically means to set things right. It entails taking 100 percent responsibility for everything that enters your awareness, because there is no “out there.” Everything you perceive is interpreted within the confines of your physical body, where all kinds of filters and influences come into play—especially in the form of memories.

We are all One, and in ho’oponopono, we take responsibility for the situations in which we find ourselves, whether we “caused” them or not. Long before I knew about ho’oponopono, I forced myself to go to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. I did not play a role in the Holocaust. I was not responsible for it. But I knew that if humans could do that to each other, somewhere deep inside me, I must hold the potential to do it too. I had to face and confront that.

If I had known ho’oponopono then, my experience would have been different. Ho’oponopono is a simple four-step process that entails taking responsibility, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness. In Dachau, I might have said something like this:

  1. I am sorry for the suffering that people experienced here. I am sorry for the unspeakable cruelty that prisoners endured. But I am also sorry that Nazi soldiers were ordered to be cruel by their superiors.
  2. Please forgive me for the potential that lies within me to be so judgmental of and so cruel to my fellow human beings.
  3. Thank you for this opportunity to make amends.
  4. I love you.

This process is called “cleaning.”

Ho’oponopono in everyday life

Yesterday, a friend told me about a situation that has been incredibly challenging, in a twisted, convoluted, messed up sort of way. It was her experience, but once she told me about it, it became part of my experience, and something I needed to clean. You clean everything that comes into your experience that does not feel right or harmonious—which means you could be cleaning continuously. And when you are not cleaning, you can cut to the last step and say, “I love you” to things you’ve been taking for granted. Today, for example, I loved the trees in their autumn splendor and the road that brought me home.

Another example of using ho’oponopono is food, which I’ve thought a lot about. Are certain kinds of foods bad for us in and of themselves, or are they bad for us because we think they’re bad? A friend recently told the story of her Grandpa Norm, who had his own stick of butter at mealtimes (everyone else at the table had to share a second stick). He put butter on everything—including donuts—and lived to the age of 92. Clearly, grandpa was saying “I love you” to his butter. He welcomed it into his body and his body received it in harmony.

Although I’m committed to eating in a healthy way, I hate thinking of supermarkets or restaurants as mine fields, where danger lurks in the artificial sweeteners, trans fats, and genetically modified organisms that are hiding everywhere. So today, I tried ho’oponopono on the can of non-organic soup I had for lunch. I said, “I am sorry for the way I have judged you. Please forgive me for thinking that any part of you might be bad for my health. Thank you for nourishing me. I love you.” This will be our new way of saying grace.

The advantages of ho’oponopono

For me, the advantages of ho’oponopono are:

  1. It prevents me from judging. When I take responsibility for the circumstances I’m in, say I’m sorry, ask for forgiveness, and express gratitude and love, it becomes impossible to judge.
  2. It makes me feel peaceful.
  3. It makes me feel empowered, because acknowledging the role I play in everything means I can’t possibly be a victim.
  4. It addresses issues I’ve had with the law of attraction for a long time. The law of attraction is about intention (tell the Universe exactly what you want and you will get it). Ho’oponopono is about inspiration (clean up your mess and clear the way, so you can receive inspiration from the Divine). The law of attraction entails constant effort via affirmations, visioning, scripting, etc. Ho’oponopono entails clearing the channels between ourselves and the Divine, so we can receive (and act on) its inspiration and guidance. And that feels right to me.