Apr 7, 2011
In the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music the Character of Captain Von Trapp sings the song “Edelweiss”. At the cusp of World War II, the characters are facing the destruction of an idyllic period of their history and a subsequent rush into the tragic future. The song is a nostalgic lament for what is about to be lost, but should have been forever. Through the voice of the character, the song expresses his love for his homeland of Austria. The melancholy melody and words of longing express a love for an Austria that would soon live no more.
But the unfortunate truth is that the song doesn’t really pine for what was to be lost, but really for something that never existed in the first place. The Austria that exists in The Sound of Music is a dream within a dream. The song really laments the loss of a dream that has crashed into reality. This is not just the reality of the war but the reality of the situation. Austria was not just a victim of the German war machine, it helped produce it. The same homeland the produced the edelweiss also played and instrumental role in the development of the Nazi movement and the horrors of World War II.
The Nazi movement was perversely built upon a myth of nationalistic identity that was neither true nor even desirable. We all love our own cultures, and probably secretly feel superior, but that does not make it so. We also tend to love a caricature of our cultures, highlighting and exaggerating the good and ignoring or minimizing the evil. Yet, Von Trapp speaks to something that is within us all, a desire for the good times to continue and reach the idealization of our dreams:
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Bless my homeland forever.
The musical speaks to the problem of innocence lost. The Von Trapps were singing for the loss of their homeland, but it was a homeland that was lost long before their forced exit from Austria. The loss of a dream is lamentable, even if the dream is just that, a dream.
Having lost my faith in the Church, and well aware of many of the damaging elements of the faith, I still find myself longing for that which never was, the edelweiss of my youth. Rationally, I know it was a myth and built upon false premises. Yet I sometimes still yearn for it. However, my longing for a dream speaks nothing of the truth or achievability of that dream.
It is still okay to have our edelweiss. It is alright to miss some element of the Church and think fondly back on times that make us what we are. Truth is always better than deception, no matter how comforting those deceptions can be. But it is not wrong to miss our own Austria and our own homelands, even if they were only a dream.