Lillian Hellman wrote the play “Watch on the Rhine” in 1940, following the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939. Her play, which won The New York Drama Critics Circle Award, calls for a united international alliance to resist Hitler, contrary to the Communist position. It’s a powerful play. It was made into a movie in 1943, starring Bette Davis and Paul Lukas.
Seated around a table in a small church classroom, seven of us, most of us seniors, had just finished reading the play aloud and were prepared to discuss it. Our discussion quickly expanded to the changing state of our world today and the character of its people.
Before attending the class, I had participated in a supervised group exercise class at my community’s YMCA. As I was leaving the building, my path to the door was blocked by a tiny person, a boy about a year old, no taller than my knee, who was offering his hand in a high-five to everyone he could see. His solemn expression did not change as grownups cheerfully returned his high-fives. His facial features showed me that his ancestors came to the United States from somewhere in Asia.
Later, as the post-“Watch on the Rhine” discussion moved along, the group found itself worrying about the plight of thousands of refugees who are leaving their countries to seek refuge in other lands, seeking to escape from violence and poverty. Destination nations struggle to accommodate these desperate people. One woman in our discussion confessed that she finds comfort in the knowledge that she won’t be around too many years longer and therefore won’t be here to suffer these inevitable problems.
Another reminded her that if we have grandchildren we love, we should not wish to escape the world’s problems, but should work while we are still here to try to solve them, to help create a better world for the generations that will follow us.
At that moment I remembered the little boy with his high fives at the YMCA. He inherits our world. It becomes his. I want it to be wonderful.