Ravensbruck concentration camp memorial
A few years back, I visited four concentration camps in Poland and Germany in the course of a single week. I don’t recommend this sort of punishing travel experience for just anyone, but I did it for a good reason and I’m glad that I did. (If you’re ever feeling particularly angst-ridden and depressed and want to hear more about my experiences at each camp, buy me a glass of wine and I’ll pour it all out for you – the details and my impressions, that is, not the wine.)
There was one camp, though, that haunts me still and at regular intervals. Ravensbruck. It was a camp for women and children, like women and children don’t already suffer enough during times of war. Hell, even in times of peace. And, here’s what moved me the most – a simple display of the camp’s survivors who, in their ordinariness, revealed more devastatingly than any tribute or memorial could about the extent of what was lost to so many others. Women as mothers, wives, friends, grandmothers. Women in their gardens. Women smiling at the camera, waving on a summer day. Extraordinary women doing ordinary things, in ordinary ways, remarkable because they – unlike so many others – walked out of Ravensbruck alive.
As another Mother’s Day nears, I started wondering how many women soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq? How many mothers, wives, lovers? How many women who would have been mothers, wives, lovers, friends?
As of today, the answer to how many female soldiers have died in Iraq since the beginning of the war is 79. I know their names.
Here is my idea for The Mother’s Day Project. You know the sort of fiber-arts work I’ve been doing lately. I would like to make a tote bag and incorporate the names of these soldiers. I want to hand-stitch the names on muslin fabric, but I’d like to have many different hands contributing to the stitching. I need volunteers.
I don’t care one whit how accomplished you are with a needle. Anything goes as long as the name is readable. I will provide the names (pre-stamped so you simply outline the letters with stitching) and the fabric and, if you need help with the return postage, I’ll even take care of that detail. Once I have all the stitched names, I’ll assemble the tote.
Why a tote? Because I want something utilitarian. Something that will go out into the world every day as a reminder of this horrible loss, made more horrible as people recognize that these names represent only a very small portion of the human toll this war has taken. And, for every volunteer who contributes a stitched name, I will send the tote to you. Put it to use. Take it to the market, keep it in your mini-van as you drive your kids to school. Stuff it with your knitting. A week. Two. Whatever seems right to you.
All I ask in return is that you keep sending the tote on, and that you record your feelings and experiences with the project on your blog (if you have one) or in a letter.
Obviously, this project will not be completed by Mother’s Day, 2007. That’s OK. If you would like to participate, send your contact information to mothersdayproject (at) sbcglobal (dot) net.