When Igor struck with all its fury on the night of the autumnal equinox, it was a demonstration of the incredible force that nature can set loose, force such as few have ever seen.The word awesome is so overused that it has become almost meaningless. Igor went a long way to restoring true meaning to that word.
It is humbling indeed to see ourselves face to face with a phenomenon such as Igor and recognize, by contrast, how small and feeble are we card-carrying members of the organization we call humankind.
Where humans shone, in response to all that Igor had to dish out, was in kindness, that trait of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that we hear spoken of so often, and which was truly centre stage in the grand opera Igor performed September 21.
There is something that restores confidence in the human race about the spirit of a people, huddled together, clinging for all their fingernails can withstand to this windswept rock in the north Atlantic. That spirit glows like the light from a series of pocket flashlights pointing skyward into the horizontal sheets of rain. Spreading outward from the tiny pockets of humankind in all the nooks and crannies scattered almost at random around the shore, these pinpoints of light signal to the world the message, " we are here, we are alive and we will survive, though we are scared, wet and cold."
Thought truthfully in the case of Igor, it was not cold. In fact it was eerily warm as we struggled to remain standing against the wind, making fast our worldly possessions while our faces were lashed with stinging rain. Warm because the source of the storm was that witch's cauldron of the ocean where the Atlantic and Caribbean meet to stir into frenzy winds that will migrate north to dish out as much harm as they can muster.
The first part: "we are here, we are alive, we will survive" impresses me because of the message it sends of our people's determination to survive, but it is what comes next that is truly inspirational: "how can we help you"?
Humanity at its best.
As you read this, I will be returning from the other side of the Atlantic. I will have just finished paying a visit to a place where the absolute flipside of humanity is on display.
A place of pure evil.
I will have just visited the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald, Germany. It was here on September 10, 1944, that my uncle, Frank Pickersgill, was brutally murdered by the Nazis.
I was born 360 days later and, growing up, stories of the exploits of the uncle I never knew created a character in my mind who was every bit as real as if he was standing beside me.
He was much loved in my parent's circle of friends, for his energy, humour, intelligence and fun.
These, along with strength, determination, and guts were the characteristics that helped him remain alive during the 446 days he remained in Nazi captivity following his capture five days after parachuting into occupied France the night of June 15-16, 1943.
He was dropped into the Loire Valley in central France with his colleague, fellow Canadian Ken Macalister, to help co-ordinate resistance efforts.
This would have included blowing up bridges and railway lines, frustrating Nazi efforts to resist the long awaited allied invasion that ultimately came on the beaches of Normandy, D-Day, June 6, 1944. By then, Frank had already been in captivity for 355 brutal days and was on his way to Buchenwald and his rendezvous with death.
Along with Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Auschwitz, and numerous others, the death camp at Buchenwald was dreamed up, designed and built years before war was declared in 1939.
Its purpose was to house forced labour: Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and others the Nazis classified as undesirable in the pure Aryan utopia that was their wretched dream.
These slaves were worked to death and then incinerated. In their number were resistance fighters, who were interrogated, tortured and finally exterminated, among them my uncle Frank.
Estimates of the numbers killed in Buchenwald vary between the low 30,000's and the high 50,000's. The murders started in 1937 before the war began when Jews were already being rounded up and executed, some 1300 pre-war.
Included among them were some of the 30,000 Jewish men -a quarter of all adult Jewish males in Germany-arrested on one night alone-the infamous ninth of November 1938 "Kristallnacht" (the night of broken glass). They were sent to various concentration camps, among them Buchenwald from which few returned.
Why would I want to visit such a dreadful place?
I dreaded going there, and night after night awoke, afraid of being in the presence of such evil, but on October 15 a plaque was placed in Buchenwald to the memory of those resistance fighters imprisoned in Block 17 and murdered in a bunker in the basement of the crematorium. I went there to pay homage to the uncle I never knew.
My hope is that, carrying with me, like a talisman, some of the spirit of profound humanity that is at the core of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, as shown most recently in the horrific circumstances of Igor, I will have succeeded in warding off the evil that permeates the terrible place called Buchenwald and be able return home safely to tell you more of what happened.