Reconciliation’s promise

Dec. 08, 2013 @ 04:54 PM

It was a weekend for memories on several fronts – memories of troubled, even horrible times, but reminders, too, of the strength of the human spirit and the salve of reconciliation.

Here in Durham, family and friends buried Alvin Bryant.

Bryant was remembered as a friendly and compassionate pharmacist who would make sure people got the medicine they needed regardless of whether they had any money, and as someone who “just wanted to jump on you and help you,” as longtime friend Gary McCorkle said. “You don’t meet a lot of guys like him.”

But Bryant, too, was a symbol. He and six of his brothers fought in World War II, and all survived that conflict and returned to their Durham home.  Bryant was the last to die, last week at the age of 87. 

It was another reminder of the swiftness with which the Greatest Generation is passing from the scene. Those who can remember that conflict and the post-war boom that followed are becoming fewer by the hour.

Which helps to explain why Pearl Harbor Day, once the focus of intense national attention each Dec. 7, is met with far less commemoration these days.  Even the annual fly-over by the Hawaii Air National Guard fighter jets and helicopters at Pearl Harbor was grounded Saturday by federal budget cuts.

Still, 50 survivors of the attack joined about 2,500 others for the ceremony on the 72nd anniversary of the attack. It was a poignant coincidence that Alvin Bryant’s funeral was on Pearl Harbor Day -- we suspect the old vet would have liked that.

While many of the World War II generation understandably could never overcome their antipathy toward Japan, as time has passed and new generations have come along in both countries, Japan has long since become both a significant trading party and vital ally in a Pacific Rim where countries such as China and North Korea pose real or potential threats to our interests.

Meanwhile this weekend, the world continued to mourn Nelson Mandela, the man imprisoned for more than two decades by the white rulers of a South Africa in the cruel grip of apartheid. At the same time, it celebrated his ability to bring a measure of genuine reconciliation between black and white as apartheid ended and he became the first truly democratically elected president of that country.

News coverage through the weekend recalled the anxiety with which the world watched South Africa as the Afrikaner minority grudgingly gave up the power and privilege they wielded at the expense of the African majority.

But Mandela led the country through a stunningly peaceful transition to a new era of equity and freedom.

Perhaps in these two reminders – of how international foes can become allies, and of how magnanimity can overcome even the cruelest mistreatment – are reminders that it should be possible to find solutions to any conflict of arms or culture, foreign or domestic that plagues the world today.