Being alone

One of the most negative outcomes from this pandemic is the number of suicides and reports of people having trouble with being alone. The loneliness comes as a result of losing a loved one or from the inability to interact with the community or both. Although I have no power to bring back someone loved and cherished, I have made a number of observations as a result of my own loss.

Write that person a letter and record your memories of times spent with him or her. Do this before too much time passes and your memories have the potential to fade. You won’t have anywhere to mail the letter but there is some form of release or gratification in the process of recording your feelings.

Seek out someone or several people who knew both of you. It may be that those people are unaware of your loss and you will have a chance to catch up while exchanging recollections from the past. My life was vastly enhanced by the condolences and cards that I received, especially because of the kind thoughts that were included.

Develop a new friendship or alliance. Our community has a forum for those who have shared interests and although much of the contact is virtual, many neighbors find enjoyment from comparing stories or seeking information about a service or product that they need.

Identify new activities that you enjoy doing by yourself. It may be painting, jigsaw puzzles, indoor gardening, or writing a memoir. From personal experience, you may be surprised by how many people are eager to learn more about you, past and present. Plus, the act of writing your life story is cathartic, whether you publish it or not.

And finally, be very intentional about your belongings, your estate, and your legacies. It will make life much easier for those who follow you and it will take quite a bit of pressure off you. This is not morbid – it’s just good planning and something extremely worthwhile. Being alone doesn’t have to be awful; you may learn many new things about yourself. Shalom.

Good and evil

If you spend a few minutes thinking about it, you have probably known a person or persons in your life who were purely good. My mom was one of those. I also remember an English teacher, colleague, and several family members who have left me with memories of only positive personalities and actions.

Now think of someone who was pure evil. Again, I can conjure a co-worker, a boss, a friend who turned out to be toxic, and several others who seemed to have dedicated their lives to dispensing ugly thoughts and deeds. What is the point of all of this, you ask?

My most recent revelation concerns some information I just secured from my current reading material. The author refers to the Kapos and Sonderkommandos in World War II, Jews who were responsible for directing the activities and/or deaths in of fellow Jews in ghettos and concentration camps. In many cases, these were ruthless and cruel people who indulged in much the same torture and brutality that was conducted by their Nazi counterparts. The author goes on to say that while these Kapos and Sonderkommandos did what they were told in order to survive, there is a very fine line between doing your job under duress and enjoying the power, however fleeting.

It all causes me to wonder about the capacity all of us have for both good and bad. It also drives home the point that when we speak of 6 million Jews, we unintentionally forget that each one was an individual life. Each one had family members, pasts and presents, hopes for the future, and accomplishments that they had accumulated. When we lump victims into groups (Kapos, Sonderkommandos, inmates, survivors, escapees, protestors, etc.,) we are incapable of seeing them as the women, men, and children that they were.

Some were good while some were pure evil. But the majority were a combination of everything human, such as kindness, generosity, sacrifice, and the litany of adjectives that could be correctly applied to the lost and those who survived the Holocaust. For my part, I am in awe of those who managed to escape and have told their heartbreaking stories. Each time I do, I remain touched by the memories of those whose lives ended never telling us who they were and what they wanted to be. Shalom.

Ribbon

What is it about a piece of ribbon that can entertain a first grader for an immeasurable amount of time? You can put it in your hair. You can decorate your artwork. Or you can attach it to a pipe cleaner and make a combination sword-baton-lightsaber and use it to duel with your neighbor. Better yet, I am told that they can be fishing rods or magic wands.

One of the best lessons I learn when I dispense, ribbon, paper, stickers, and pipe cleaners is that kids have more creativity than we ever imagine. Maybe we would be better equipped if we attempt the tasks that we assign to our students. More importantly, those tasks might be better taught if we learn them at the same time. The danger of this option is imitation; if the teacher does it, I’ll just copy hers and that way, I know that I’m okay.

It’s unlikely that most contemporary educators investigate the infinite possibilities of ribbon or colored paper. What I’m suggesting is that if I spend some time in that endeavor, I can make good suggestions. Instead of doing colored drawings, why not attempt origami? If you can make a necklace for mom, why not do what one of my first graders did – stick a collection of rubber shapes on the ribbon. Or you can weave ribbon colors. Or what else can you do?

We must be thorough about approving and complimenting all efforts. I’m forever telling students that there is no bad art and everything that they create is worthwhile and beautiful.

The message that we must always convey is that you have no limits in terms of what you are able to create. If you want to build your own Disneyland, let me know how I can help. If you want to devise a vessel to send yourself to Mars, tell me how you want it to look.

Kids hear more “no” in the course of a day than “yes.” My desire is to reverse that unfortunate reality and remove the limits, boundaries, ceilings, criticism, and any other restraints. Shalom.

Day of remembrance

January 27 was International Holocaust Day, a day to remember the victims of Nazi terrorism and the liberation of Auschwitz, a death camp that murdered over 1 million Jews. Hitler’s plan was referred to as the Final Solution and in total, over 6 million Jews, Romanos, Russians, Polish, and others were murdered by the Nazis.

This year marks my ninth year of in-depth studies of World War II and the Holocaust, the subject of my most recent and next two books. What I have just discovered is the following information published by The Forward, a Jewish newspaper that has been published since 1897. This is the quotation from The Forward:

On Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Forward is publishing the first-ever database of monuments to Nazi collaborators and Holocaust perpetrators. It lists 320 monuments and street names in 16 countries on three continents which represent men and organizations who’ve enabled — and often quite literally implemented — the Final Solution.

We live in a country that has been quite verbal and demonstrative about removing statues of slavers and colonizers whose deeds were considered reprehensible by subsequent generations. Somehow, while freedom speech is a right guaranteed to Americans, monuments that are erected and maintained are not protected by that right. My observation here is that protesters could be lawfully protected when they removed offensive statues while those that are much more offensive (at least to some of us) are maintained.

Holocaust perpetrators lived in many countries around the globe. They arrested and deported Jews to concentration camps or killed them in locations within Eastern Europe. It has been estimated that one-third of all Holocaust victims were killed in this manner.

We have chosen to honor many of these Nazis with memorials in our own country, many of which were erected within the past twenty years. Here are two examples, also from The Forward.

Andrey Vlasov, the Soviet general who went over to the Nazis and raised an army of over 100,000 men for the Third Reich, has a memorial just outside New York.

Chicago also has a memorial to Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, who commanded a unit of the Lithuanian Activist Front, a Nazi-allied organization whose members slaughtered Jews across Lithuania in the summer of 1941.

With all of the hate-mongering and outrage about past slave-owners, we see fit to honor Nazi allies in a city like Chicago that boasts a huge Jewish population. With sixteen countries throughout the world containing these memorials, is it any wonder that we are also seeing Holocaust denial organizations and neo-Nazis at the attack on our Capitol building? While all of this makes me very sad and worried, I am more determined than ever to make certain that the world never forgets. Shalom.

Be patient

Most of us are quite sincere about living for as long as possible, in the styles to which we have become (or want to become) accustomed. Right now, those of us who have been paying attention to the news and the statistics are interested in the possibility of acquiring an immunity to the deadly Covid-19 virus. But as one who was recently promised a vaccine and wasn’t able to receive one, I am uniquely qualified to emphasize the need for patience.

We didn’t immediately begin watching hundreds and thousands of people dying every day. It’s taken some time, some stubborn refusal to adhere to safe practices, and a certain amount of time to reach the levels that this pandemic has reached. Likewise, it’s reasonable to realize that we won’t have an immediate solution and cure to the situation in which we find ourselves.

It’s not your neighbor, your doctor, or your healthcare provider’s fault that you haven’t been invited to come in for a vaccine. The kickoff for vaccines was clumsily handled and we have been playing catch-up ever since, trying to get the most amount of vaccine to the places and people who need it most. Too many have died and too many will die. But there has been incompetence from the top down, and we are now in a rush to compensate for that lack of reliable management.

According to Tuesday’s news, many millions of doses have been ordered and it is expected that all adults will receive shots by August. By this time, we hav already endured one year of Covid-19. A few more months and we should all be protected. Use your brain instead of your mouth and do whatever possible to make the time pass quickly, show our kids that we are survivors, and make it possible for this wonderful country to become healthy and wonderful as soon as we can.

Take a breath, observe the distancing guidelines, and wear your mask. We may not have much influence on how quickly we are vaccinated, but we do have complete control over how we behave in the interim. As an educator, I will be in the classroom when I am needed. The kids shouldn’t have to suffer from a lack of in-person, reliable education while all of us are waiting to receive a vaccine. Shalom.

Simplify

Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify. Henry David Thoreau

This morning I had some thoughts about the various ways by which we make our lives unnecessarily complicated. We do it in large and small ways. Instead of using one bar of soap for all of our needs, I find myself using an entire assortment of products that do the same job as a humble bar of soap. One could probably make a case for the food that we prepare and eat as well as the clothes we wear and the method of transportation that we select.

As I make sense out of the things that we do that could be simplified, I first have to understand why we made them complicated in the first place. Some of them are obvious. We use multiple cleaning products because we persuade ourselves that our faces need care that is different from what we deliver to our knees and feet. And if one spice is good for seasoning, twelve must be better. It’s variety, trying new things, aiming for the best possible consequences, and in the best case, to find methods that are easier and potentially less expensive.

But ultimately, I think that Mr. Thoreau is right. As we have fewer items from which to choose for any purpose, our decision time is reduced and ideally, we have spent less money. In another realm, we have minimized the number of things that surround us. There is less clutter, fewer areas to clean, more streamlined processes, and efficiency. The best outcome is reducing the amount of stuff we have in our lives. Eliminating junk promotes peace of mind that is otherwise less available.

The older I am fortunate to get, the fewer things are necessary to make me happy and fulfilled. Let me have my books, my laptop, my secure home, and most importantly, my indescribably terrific family. Clothes are shoes are nice to have, both for the purposes of being in public and for keeping comfortable. But at this point, I am thinking long and hard about what must be done to all of the things that I have acquired once I am gone. I’ll keep working on keeping only the things that matter, both for now and for tomorrow. Shalom.

Smile a little

One of the worst outcomes of the pandemic and obligatory wearing of masks is the inability to see the faces of one another. In some cases, it’s probably just as well. I continue to be amazed at the number of people who choose to walk around with perpetual scowls. But for the most part, the expressions of people I see are benign at worst, happy at best.

The good news is that eventually, we won’t need to wear any more masks and we can see each other. That furnishes the ideal opportunity to conduct an experiment that I have conducted, always with positive results. When you manage to create eye contact with a stranger, smile at that person and see what happens.

Most of the time, people will smile back. Other times, they will look at you quizzically, as if your elevator never gets to the top floor or you are somehow otherwise compromised. It’s very seldom that people will ask you what’s wrong with you or why you are smiling.

One of the consequences of doing this type of smiling is that it has the potential for spreading positive energy to those you meet. If someone elects not to receive it that way, it’s not your fault. Either they don’t need one more smile, they are content with being grumpy, or they have something more pressing on their minds.

It also feels good. Think about it. Are you better when you are stern-faced and serious or positive and cheerful? Creating good is an excellent place for us and those whom we contact. Smiling doesn’t you cost anything and it has the capacity for transmitting something excellent. In our current mask-wearing status, I still smile at people. I’m not at all persuaded that others know that I am smiling but it can’t hurt. If you really want to make certain that you are transmitting good stuff, quickly pull down your mask, smile and return it to the place over your nose. You’ll never know whom you have improved in addition to yourself. Shalom.

Center

A book that I was extremely fortunate to discover was Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it Ever Over for the Next Generation, by Ruth Rotkowitz. This is a powerful, brilliant book that makes numerous impactful statements. But one that remains with me and the protagonist is the need to find one’s center.

The first question to be asked (logically) was what the need was to find her center. What is my center? Is it truth? Is it my faith? Is it what defines me? Is it a unifying force, something potentially unique to me?

Determining the importance of finding a center is illustrated best in nature. Our bodies are centered around our spinal columns. Circulation emanates from our hearts and the brain sends out signals from the center of us that is the brain. Tree branches and leaves are as if spokes of the wheel that is the tree trunk.

As I thought more about the center, I realized that the best synonym I could identify for center is essence. While I see myself as a wife, mother, grandmother, author, writer, and friend, my essence is that of an educator. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to educate, regardless of the context in which I did so. The origins of educate are the concepts of leadership and nurturance, both of which are inherent to educating.

Defining that helps clarify whatever I do, including those activities that do not immediately include others. It’s easy to find examples of educating others. I do that as a parent and grandparent, occasionally as wife, and always as educator.

But with each book, each blog and each writing project I complete, I am improving others in some way as I am also growing. If I complete research, I acquire new information. When I examine a subject as I do here, the journey toward my conclusions is marked with discovery, analysis, data collection, and development of conclusions.

In my case, I feel confident that I have been true to myself and my center. As I influence others, I hope that they can also identify their centers and organize their lives accordingly. In some cases, this will easily be accomplished; other situations may present greater challenges.

We’ve all known those who have spent their lives working in a factory, delivering mail, or doing something else, without knowing why. If you can determine what makes you content or happy or elated, there is no need to feel that something is incomplete. Find out what is your center and let nothing stand in your way  of being, doing, or living exactly what that is. Shalom.

The high road

Although life is filled with those tasks that we are required to complete, very often we have actions that can be considered optional. There are numerous examples. We can opt to recognize birthdays or not. We can make the same choice with respect to anniversaries, work anniversaries, promotions, new positions, childbirth, or copious other events. Social media has made it possible for us to post occasions that would otherwise go unnoticed, such as dog birthdays and the anniversary of getting a nose pierced.

My brother died recently and I was touched by the number of people who expressed condolences and offers to help in any possible way. While I didn’t create a spreadsheet of those who remembered him and me, I am quite clear about those who took the thirty seconds to send a note or the considerable time to mail a condolence card. At the same time, I am cognizant of those who didn’t bother, for reasons that I may or may not understand.

Have we reached a point in civilization where common courtesies such as expressing sympathy or sending a thank you note have become irrelevant or obsolete? It becomes quite easy to explain or justify the lack of basic kindness. I am very busy. She’ll never notice. She forgot my birthday. She has other things on her mind – one more card won’t make any difference.

Suffice it to say that it does make a difference. Several people, many of whom live in another state and time zone, went way out of their ways to offer support, if only through a phone call. Others did absolutely nothing. And eventually, it will become time for the birthdays of those who forgot, were unaware, or simply didn’t care enough to do anything at all.

My first instinct, one for which I offer apologies, is to respond by “forgetting” the birthdays of those who forgot me. The only way to justify that decision is to rationalize that it teaches a lesson. My second reaction is to take the high road, forget what was or wasn’t done toward me, and remember the birthdays and other events. As I frequently remark, there are never any apologies for doing the right thing. Maybe by doing so, I can communicate that the high road is a much better and more scenic path to take. Shalom.

Hollow men

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

T.S. Eliot  – The Hollow Men

For some reason, I fell asleep the other night with these lines in my head. It’s been quite a while since I studied this poem, a famous and highly reviewed one. Although Eliot wrote it during the late 20s, I find myself thinking how appropriate it is today.

Those of us who are Americans and fully understand the meaning of being an American citizen continue to be shocked and distressed at the events that took place last Wednesday in our nation’s capital. While the violence was finally put to an end, the dialogue and threats continue and most of us are looking apprehensively at the upcoming inauguration. Will we see more violence, in spite of the massive preparation and presence of thousands of troops and law officers who will attend?

As much as possible, I can separate myself from the politics of last Wednesday and focus only on the damage done to the building that is representative of our democracy and freedom. Except during wartime and in the preservation of freedom that is indigenous to war, I cannot condone violence of any type. Hundreds of millions of us revere the American flag and the buildings that populate our capitol. Seeing damage done to either hurts the core of us. Knowing that it was initiated and encouraged by one of our “leaders” exacerbates the pain and allows me to question the loyalties of those who chose to participate.

After all of the bravado, bullets, and breaking of treasured symbols, what was left? Was there a point of any significance that was transmitted? Surely not, other than that there was a contingent of bullies who didn’t care whom they hurt or what consequences ensued.

My most sincere hope is that we will not see any more violence, damage, or human suffering as this upcoming inauguration takes place. We all have the ability to encourage our lawmakers to do what they can to discourage rioters and encourage peace. I only hope that we will see the best of actions, eliminating both bangs and whimpers. Shalom.