Tag Archives: Fear

Never Again

This unassuming grate sits over a hole in the wall open to the outside, in a very special building twenty kilometers outside Munich. It was cold the day in early January that we visited, and so it was cold inside the building as well. As we struggled to stay warm in our layers and hats and gloves, I realized this was the perfect time of year to get a tiny glimpse of the misery of this place.

Dachau was a small, early prototype of what would become the Nazi’s “final solution”. Over 200,000 prisoners were housed there over its dozen year existence; at least 40,000 didn’t survive.

We walked the prison block first, a sobering place to begin. Conditions for these special prisoners were particularly bad, with harsh and cruel punishments reserved for political opponents of the Nazi regime. Next were more typical museum exhibits in the vast maintenance building. I spent over an hour reading numbing history and facts and individual prisoner stories when I finally realized that I was less than halfway through the exhibit. Overwhelmed, we exited into the bitter January sun, its angle low enough in the sky to give the courtyard where daily roll call was held an eerie reflection.

Next was a walk through a reconstructed barrack. Each long, low building housed 104 prisoners with one toilet and two sinks. A prisoner’s quote posted there stays with me still: “By midnight, the cold had chased away all chance of sleep.” Within the walled compound were 49 more concrete outlines where exact duplicates once stood, each housing their own 104 poor souls.

We walked past the three religious memorials erected on the site–Jewish, Catholic and Protestant–and then exited through a gate over a pretty little bridge and bubbling creek into an idyllic forest. Here, in this peaceful place, is where genocide happened.

“Think about how we died here.”

The crematorium was a low, rectangular building with five side-by-side rooms. Prisoners entered into a door on one end of the building. This first room was an entryway of sorts. It opened into the second room, the disrobing room. Here the prisoners removed their clothing and jewelry in preparation for a “shower”. The “shower room” was next. A windowless room, except for that grate to the outside and its twin, it was a grim place. Dark and surprisingly small and bare, it felt like evil had happened here. The door leading to the fourth room, below, was the only way out for the prisoners.

The fifth and final room was a mystery, as it served no obvious purpose: there were no more prisoners by this end of the building. With no sign explaining its purpose, and stripped of all but the shadows of the past, it was perhaps the most haunting of all.

We talked very little during our tour and took no photos of ourselves: it didn’t seem right. If I ever hear anyone question what happened here, I will tell them I’ve seen it. I read the stories of those who were murdered. I heard the statistics. I saw a tangible monument to man’s potential for cruelty and inhumanity. It’s sobering to realize that those who participated in this atrocity were little different than us and our neighbors. In today’s climate of sowing division and hatred, we have an obligation to take a stand against evil, and to forcefully and unanimously declare “Never Again”.

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” –Elie Wiesel

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” –Anne Frank

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Does that make any sense?

I’m a recovering control freak. The recovery began a few years ago when our daughter was critically ill, and I learned the hard way that the illusion I’d carried my whole life of having any control had always been a farce. I learned then that God had always been the only one in control, and that He was more than capable of handling things.

So when I made my last job change, I was determined to leave the decision to Him. As it came down to two great choices, I prayed a lot about which direction to go. Both options had significant pros and cons, and the two presented about as stark a choice as was possible. I had my favorite, but I was determined to remain completely open to where God wanted me to be. As both choices led me down a parallel path, a light kept shining on the one I favored less. Just as I resigned myself to it, signs suddenly pointed to the choice I’d really wanted all along. The whole process felt like one giant test of faith. I’d passed.

Early the Monday morning of the week I was going to turn in my resignation, a dear friend sent me a note that she needed to talk to me. As we ducked into an empty office, she told me about her own epiphany she’d been gifted that weekend. She’d been struggling with her own job choice, and I instantly recognized how closely the journey of faith I was hearing her describe parallelled my own. She then told me she’d felt compelled to share her story with me that morning and asked me, “Does that make any sense?”. I burst into tears, and told her, yes, it makes all the sense in the world. What was odd was that she didn’t know I’d made a decision to leave. She’d known I was looking, but I hadn’t widely shared where I was at in my process. Though she hadn’t known, she showed up just at the right time with just the right message.

Now I’m not the kind of person who has God speak to me on a regular basis. And I’ve never before been certain that He was having someone pass a message directly to me. Though I’d had peace about my decision before my friend felt compelled to share her very personal story with me, I was overwhelmed that God loved me enough to reassure me about my own decision to trust Him. And I learned…again…Who has always been in control.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” –Martin Luther King Jr.


Comfort Zone


I learned a long time ago that my comfort zone is like a box with movable sides. If I stay comfortably inside my box, over time it slowly closes in around me, becoming steadily smaller. I find it critical to routinely push myself outside my box, pushing the walls out with me. By now, it’s a predictable, inevitable pattern.

It’s been awhile since I’ve pushed my box out in a big way. Three years ago, the sides of my box were abruptly yanked away altogether when Megan fell ill. Every day brought frightening new experiences, and for the first time in my life, all of my energy was needed just to keep everything from flying apart. Then just as things began to calm on that front, I changed jobs; that was plenty for awhile. I’m starting to feel rested and stable…not yet too stable, but I know it’s coming. 

I always need a next frontier, but I no longer have any idea what the next one might be. I’ve got a few loose ideas, but nothing that’s grabbed me yet. Guess I’ll have to take the small opportunities for awhile and wait. Patience has never been my strong suit…I may have to make something happen. I hear you can now take tours of Chernobyl…that should do it.

“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.”  –Malmonides


Fear


A leader whom I admire said this week that we need to drive out fear, versus using it as a tool for power. We were lamenting that this has been an election of fear. I told him part of my truth, but not all of it.

I told him that my brother-in-law is terrified that his Mexican wife of 20 years, the mother of their two daughters, will be deported. I told him that my gay friends are afraid their marriages will be dissolved. I told him that a sweet, young Vietnamese friend was disturbed by a horrible racist incident on her campus in Minnesota. I shared how troubled I was at the stories of harassment of blacks and Muslim women wearing hijabs, and of Hispanic children bullied at their schools with taunts of being deported and building the wall. And this is the experience of a privileged white woman since the election. But I didn’t tell him the rest.

I didn’t tell him that I’ve lost sleep over these last couple of weeks for fear of slowly losing our civil rights and democracy to an autocrat who trades in fear. I didn’t tell him how I’ve struggled to understand how so many could overlook such overt sexism, racism, and bullying for a single issue or for politics. I couldn’t admit that I’ve been unable to watch the news or open a newspaper since the election, as it’s too depressing to think about a racist overseeing the country’s law enforcement, or an isolationist as national security adviser, or a white supremacist whispering in the ear of the man in the most powerful job in the world. I’m having trouble coping with news stories about ripping families apart through the immediate deportation of 2-3 million citizens, or how there’s “historical precedence” for a Muslim registry or even internment camps. My world changed overnight, and I’ve struggled to cope with it all. My struggle is embarrassing and shocking at the same time:  after all, I’m a 50-year old strong and successful woman. How can this have impacted me so?

But I’m my mother’s daughter, and I knew that I would eventually pick myself up. The shock and fear are starting to wear off, being replaced by determination. I’ve started taking action, and that is lessening my fear. I will fight to keep the gains women have made over these last 50 years, for myself yes, but especially for my teenage daughters. I will be vocal in support of the right to basic dignity and protection that my LGBT family and friends deserve. And, as scared as I am of the thought, if necessary I would face water cannons and prison to ensure that the freedoms of religion and speech remain bedrocks of American democracy.

My favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:38-39, and it reminds me that neither principalities nor powers can separate us from the love of God. And in Philippians 1:30, Paul invites us to join him in the battle. In my immediate reaction, I nearly forgot Who always has been and will be in complete control. But He has always needed arms and legs. I offer mine. I am not afraid.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”  –Martin Luther King Jr.


Forgive


“Forgiving is not forgetting. It is remembering and letting go.”  -Claudia Black

I’m making progress on this one. We’ve all been hurt to the quick by people in our lives. Some of these scars are drive-bys:  a passing but cutting wound inflicted by someone who’s otherwise a minor player in our lives, except for that moment when they’re inflicting a lasting wound. We remember, often for years. What they did or said hurts, generally because they poked a spot already soft and sensitive inside us. It’s hard not to internalize these reinforcements of our deepest fears. Sometimes these are one-off inflictions which scab over, but sometimes they cumulate, one on top of another, and never fully heal. Either way, we take these blows and carry whatever part with us that we seem unable to set down.

Then there are the slow motion injuries, delivered by someone not easily steered clear of:  a bully at school or work, someone in a position of authority, a family member. These long-term assaults on our psyches are a whole other thing altogether. Each one is unique, depending on the relationship, the giver’s intentions, and the relative power of each party. If we’re not careful, these experiences can erode our humanity, turning us into someone we wouldn’t otherwise be. Heaven knows, I’ve struggled with that at times over the years. 

But I’ve turned a corner. As I’ve put more years on the odometer, it’s getting much easier to let go. Not fully easy yet (I’m not sure I’ll ever get there), but definitely much easier. I’ve lost too much of my life carrying around baggage that only poisons me the more more tightly I hold onto it. I’ve decided I’d rather be happy. And so, I now work hard at letting go much faster. Sometimes that means walking away from a situation or a person or even a whole chunk of your life, if that’s what it takes to move on. But more often, it just means taking the thing in your hands, turning it over and studying it for a short while to mourn or to learn, having a good cry, and then setting it down and walking away. And not looking back.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”  –Mahatma Gandhi


Memory


My earliest memories are from when I was less than two years old. They say we don’t have memories at that early an age, but they are wrong. I was hospitalized with pneumonia at 18 months. I have only two snippet memories from that stay:  they are few, and they are short, but they are vivid.

My old-fashioned hospital room was straight out of Curious George Goes to the Hospital…a large room with 4-6 cribs and a play area. My very first memory is of my parents, grandparents, and aunt in that room bringing me an amazing gift–a stuffed bear as big as me! I loved that bear all through my childhood. I still have him, packed away in a plastic tote in the garage. He’s much smaller than I remember him, and he’s threadbare from love. Getting that bear, in that strange room surrounded by my family, is vivid memory number one.

The next thing I remember was waking at night in my crib in that strange room. My family was gone, and I was alone among the other sleeping children. I was scared and began to cry…I just wanted to go home. Except I wasn’t alone. A man was there, sitting in a chair beside a sleeping girl. He heard me cry and brought his chair over next to my bed. I remember him talking gently to me, though I don’t remember what he said. I only remember that him sitting there talking to me made me feel better. The memory then stops. I don’t remember waking the next morning, or leaving the hospital, or anything else until I was three. Just the bear and the man, both small comforts at a child’s time of fear.

I always tear up a little when I remember the man; this stranger’s kindness has stayed with me for nearly 50 years. I’ve since wondered if his daughter was ok…I’ve certainly hoped so. I now know that a parent doesn’t sit in a chair in a hospital through the night when everything is ok. I’ve also wondered if he remembers that night, whether he knows that his small gesture is remembered and appreciated. It’s a reminder that we all have the ability to make a difference in the life of another. But it’s also a reminder that even when we feel alone, Someone is always sitting next to us, ready to bring us comfort. We are never really alone.

“As a body everyone is single, as a soul never.”  –Hermann Hesse


Unsettling

   
I once spent a lovely weekend in York, England with a colleague. We were working on a two week project and had the middle weekend free. A consultant working with us chose to go to Scotland. I preferred to go there, but my colleague was a young woman barely out of college from a small town in Minnesota. As the leader of the project, I didn’t feel comfortable letting her travel alone. The seasoned consultant would be fine on her own.

York was lovely:  picturesque and quaint, like a postcard picture brought to life. We walked the length of the city wall, window shopped frilly ladies hats, and ate sweets at Betty’s, the famous tea shoppe. The finicky British weather behaved perfectly for us on that spring Saturday in March. We chose a local pub for dinner, only a block from our hotel, and looked forward to sampling the local food and culture.

The pub was busy by the time we arrived as the sun was setting, full of locals. We found our table and ordered our meals from the harried waitress. As we chatted and observed, it quickly became apparent that the gentlemen at the table next to us had had too much to drink. They were loud and paid us a little attention…any from them was too much. But after awhile, they turned their attention elsewhere, to two men sitting next to us at the bar. Unlike the drunks, these men were well-mannered and bothering no one. It took me a few minutes to realize what was going on…the comment made by the loudest drunk referring to the two men as “ladies” finally tipped me off. After a few minutes of harassment, the polite gentlemen quietly left. The loud table next to us stayed loud. Luckily, we’d finished our meal by then. We quickly paid and left, walking briskly in the dark back to the hotel. It was an unsettling ending to an otherwise perfect day.

I’ve not forgotten that meal, now over five years ago. Hate and discrimination are frightening and memorable. Members of other races and LGBT face the potential every time they leave home. Laws like those passed this week in North Carolina and proposed in Georgia are about discrimination, period. Though there is no epidemic of trans persons molesting women and children in bathrooms, 70% of trans people say they have faced harassment in restrooms themselves. These laws are as spiteful as they are unnecessary. Our Constitution was constructed specifically to protect minorities from the will of the majority…it’s the reason that America has been the symbol of freedom in the world for over 200 years. We are not this.
#WeAreNotThis

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”  –Martin Luther King Jr.