Sunday, April 23, 2017

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Zachor  זכור  -- Let Us Not Forget.

Recently I went to a talk by Ben Lesser, a survivor of the Nazi Death Camps. I listened to his story of beatings and hunger, the wailing of burning children, and ashes that fell like snowflakes. His speaking engagement preceded Holocaust Remembrance Day, which corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar—April 24, 2017 this year for many in the western world. It commemorates Shoah, an era when the Nazis displaced and murdered millions of Jews. The Nazis continued the carnage when they exterminated the disabled. They also snuffed out the lives of countless Gypsies and some sects of Christians. They permanently silenced those that disagreed with them. They invaded neighboring countries and also killed their Jews, disabled, Gypsies and those that attempted to fight them physically or ideologically.

Forty years ago when I first heard about Shoah I asked my German-born mother Ann, who was a child during World War Two, “Why did the soldiers starve the prisoners? Why did the soldiers shave their captives’ heads?” As my mother gently told me about World War Two era Germany, she dug deep into her soul, to try to give life to memories that she’d buried deep inside.

Both my mother and grandmother had what would now be called “post-traumatic stress disorder” or PTSD. My grandmother Karola disliked Adolf Hitler and despite Der Führer’s hypnotizing voice, she said, in essence, that the man was insane. Before my grandfather went off to war, he cautioned Karola to never speak out loud against Hitler—ever. It wasn’t that my grandfather was a big fan of the German Chancellor; it was that he knew speaking out could lead to death and imprisonment.  Another instance that led to my mother’s PTSD was the horrific rape and murder of her cousin by Russian soldiers.

Frequently my mother had to take cover in bomb shelters.  One time, she was visiting relatives in Mannheim. My grandparents felt that Mannheim was a safe place since it was known for its culture and arts and beautiful palace. Nonetheless, British war-planes dropped bombs, explosives, and incendiaries on the city.  My relatives sought shelter. There were people still outside the door, pounding and pleading to be let inside, and with every bomb, the structure shook as if it was inside a thundercloud. Once the “All Clear” was given, the door was opened. Some of the people were still alive. The relatives found one of my mother’s cousins outside of the shelter; the young woman’s head had been so traumatized that her eyes had hemorrhaged and the sclera surrounding her pupils were blood read. She’d also been trampled and was barely alive. There are far too many instances of air-raids and running for cover for me to remember or list. After one such night, as my mother left the shelter the next morning, she looked around in horror: people and animals hung in pieces from the shattered tree limbs.

During this era, my great uncle was arrested by SS agents after he’d gotten into an argument with them. He’d been drinking, and as he wheeled his bike shakily from the biergarten, the agents were waiting for him. They beat the poor man and put him into a concentration camp. This is just one instance of what the German government did to its own Christian citizens.  What they did to Jewish citizens was savagely cruel—but it happened.

My mother went on to tell me that during the war, there was very little to eat, sometimes no food at all for the common German citizen. Oh, most likely top Nazis fed on the best sausages and pastries, but every-day people were starving. For a time her family had rabbits. Mother and her young brother Heinz gathered weeds and grass for the little animals. Sometimes her father would cook a couple rabbits, preparing a special meal steeped in a rich cream sauce; but after a bomb fell on their apartment, there was no more fresh meat.

“None of us had food. Not even a potato. If the government couldn’t find food for its people, if markets were rubble, if there was no way for us to work and obtain food, how were the soldiers expected to feed the people in the concentration camps? I’m sure the commanders and big shots in the offices ate like kings, but do you think they would share with the Jews? NO!”

Mother continued, quietly “To answer your other question, heads were shaved because of the lice. Everyone had them back then. One time we lined up for a bath-house. It was a common practice. Many people did not have plumbing, but we were allowed to bathe sometimes in these showers; women and small children in one line and men in the other. Once, a woman in front of me let her pretty, long dark hair down. She shook it loose and I could see the nits and lice on her! Then we went through the doors to shower. After that, I had lice too, as did my brother!”  The shower could not wash off what had dropped on her body and belongings. Until the day she died, my mother could not stand the smell of hair, especially unwashed tresses.

Her stories gave me a different perspective.

Once, my mother told me of the time when she was a young adolescent. She was deathly ill from diphtheria and nearly died. In Ann’s young life, she had suffered every childhood illness known at that time, and this one was closing off her throat. Karola left the bedroom and my mother resolved to die. She closed her eyes, but opened them again. There at the edge of Ann’s bed sat “Death”. Through blurred vision she stared at him in disbelief. He was not dressed in a black robe, but wore clothes that were barely rags.  The specter gazed down upon her with pity. He looked like a skeleton. Ann could see ribs through his thin clothing. She couldn’t be sure—did the monster even have eyeballs? All she could see were black rimmed, hollow orbs where the eyes should be. Ann covered her face and peeked once more, yet there it remained, that dark angel. Death was now sitting closer to her, staring down. Ann squeezed her eyes tightly. When she looked again the apparition had disappeared. Karola was there about to spoon something into Ann’s throat. My mother tried to explain that the Angel of Death almost took her soul, but was unable to speak. Karola soothed the frightened girl and forced the medicine upon her child.

My mother told the story to only her family and closest friends. She opened up a little more in the decades following the war. In the late 1980s, Mother made one of her last trips back to Germany. She was at a party and saw a very old man she used to know and almost did not recognize him. He asked her to dance and she said, “I have not seen you since I was very little, before the war!”

The man said, “Anneliese, we saw each other afterwards, but maybe you do not remember? You were so very sick. I’d just gotten out of a concentration camp. I found your family somehow, before I even found my own. Karola asked me inside and made a special request: would I watch you while she went to get some medicine. I sat at the edge of your bed and you stared at me for a long time, then drifted off to sleep. I was not sure if you were alive until you struggled for a breath or two. When you awoke again, you couldn’t take your gaze from me. You fell asleep and soon your mother returned with the medicine.”

Ann, at that time nearing sixty herself, hugged the old man and told him her story. “I thought you were the Angel of Death! I told people that Death had come for me, but it was you!”

In her mind and from her perspective, Death was an actual creature that truly had a face. Until her eyes were truly opened to the facts, she insisted this “angel” had come to take her life.

When I was a child, I did not know that most people in Europe were starving and infested with parasites and disease–that is, until my mother told me. Again, what the Nazis did to their own citizens was unconscionable. What they did to the people of the surrounding countries was amoral. What they did to the Jewish people is truly unbelievable. Ben Lesser himself said that he and many of his fellow prisoners could not believe that a civilized, cultured people could do this to their fellow humans in the 20th Century.

I will add perspective is one thing; complete denial is another. Many people can have a shared experience and come out of it with a different story or nuance of it. Yet, there are those that deny that the Holocaust even happened. There are photographs of the dying, the dead, and the walking dead. These snapshots came from many sources: the German government, the allied soldiers that liberated the prisoners etc. There were plans and blueprints of the death camps discovered after the Allies arrived. There were the personal narratives of Nazi soldiers, American soldiers and the people that somehow survived places like Dachau, Auschwitz, Chelmno, Bergen-Belsen and others.

Yet, there are individuals and groups that state, as fact, that there was no wholesale slaughter of eleven million people. They deny that there were gas chambers, ovens, mass graves, starvation and forced labor. They do not acknowledge that there are buildings that still stand as a testament to mankind’s cruelty to man. Whatever the reason, they deny the truth. Their argument is not a “perspective” or a subjective deliberation of who actually died. These people discredit the evidence altogether. Those soldiers that liberated the victims are dying. The individuals that survived the horrors are perishing. All that is left are their stories, pictures and memorials. Please, take a moment to visit these online tributes. If you ever get the chance to see one of the many death camps that is open to the public as a standing, interactive testimony to the mass carnage and systematic execution of millions of people, I urge you to do so –
lest we forget. 

Zachor זכור . Remember.


Forgive.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Matter of Perspective

     More than a decade ago, March 15, 2006, my two daughters and their friend Jessica accompanied me down to Yuma. Arizona. It was their Spring Break, and we left a couple days after their school let out. The night was full dark since we were still north of Yuma’s city lights. Up ahead in the distance we saw an object, an orb of some sort.  We slowed for just a moment to look, and I rolled down my car window. The object that we saw in the night sky didn’t make a sound. It was not a plane nor was in a helicopter. “That, young ladies, is a UFO,” I said to them, a growing trickle of dread slowly moving down my spine. I felt very uneasy as we stared at the unmoving contraption, which was low to the ground, yet high enough that it was obviously not a child’s toy. This was long before drones. We agreed to leave the area and made a quick dash for Yuma.


(Thirty Years Previous)

     “The moon’s upside down!” Uncle Gene insisted. “Whoever sold you that there telescope is a crook. You got taken!”
     “This is a good telescope, one of the best a man can buy,” Papa retorted. “Besides, there is no such thing as upside down in outer space!”
     “What I see standing off my porch,” my uncle gasped in exasperation.  “The way I see it, the moon has a face! With your scope, it’s upside down!”
     It was the 1970s and my family was visiting Uncle Gene and his kids. My dad tried to tell his older brother that in the vastness of space there really is no up or down, but Gene would have no part of that line of thinking. From his perspective, the moon was not smiling. Nobody was smiling by that time. Both men thought of themselves as intellectuals, and they were both right. For all my uncle’s life, the moon had never been upside down! From North Carolina, to Georgia, to Guadalcanal, to Michigan, that beautiful orb of the night had always looked the same. From the perspective of Gene’s porch in Pinkney, Michigan, United States, Earth, Miss Luna continued to look down upon him, despite her moody phases, and when full, she looked down with benevolence at Gene’s family. From outer space (and Papa’s telescope) position didn’t matter. The alignment of the planets, constellations and galaxies that stretched forth for eternity, started with a big bang. Since that great event, up and down only make sense from the standards of things living on earth: the people, animals and even the plants that dig their roots into the soil and reach out to the sky for warmth and rain.

     Big bang. That was the jolt that I first felt June 24, 2011 when the train that I was a passenger on outside of Reno, Nevada was T-boned by a semi-truck. There were other lurches in the moments after the first impact and once the train finally stopped about a mile from the intersection, my family made it off. There was smoke entering our car and eventually it was consumed by a quick-moving blaze. I mentioned that a couple days after the collision and my oldest daughter insisted our train car was not on fire. From her perspective, it was never aflame. Before being ushered into an ambulance, my eldest child was laid out flat, under a blanket, looking skyward. From where I stood, I saw the roaring flames consuming the box on wheels that had carried us west only an hour before. We were both right.

     Many of you have heard of the story of the four blind men that had to describe a large animal, using only their hands. They did not know as yet that it was an elephant. One felt the tail and said “I have a rope”.  Another felt the front legs and said he was standing before trees. The third person felt wind blowing through his hair so he reached high above his head. Touching one of the pachyderm’s ears, he claimed that someone was fanning him. Yet another man holding the animal’s trunk described a large snake! They were all correct, but still didn’t know the whole truth.

     In Sunday School recently, our teacher, Brother MacArthur, told us a story about a scope that he purchased through a hunting store. It was top of the line. He’d saved for it and looked forward to seeing wildlife in detail. He lined it up and. . . there was a smear or a cloud in the way. He carefully cleaned the surface of the lens with the recommended items that were supplied with his new scope. Once again, the occlusion was there. Figuring there was a defect inside of the lens, he took it back to the store. The saleslady agreed there might be a smudge somewhere inside, but they couldn’t replace the scope on site. His guarantee covered replacement and service only if he would send it back to the manufacturer.
     A few days later, Brother MacArthur was contacted by the manufacturer who said his scope was just fine. He asked that the head of the company take a look at it and the man on the phone insisted that the CEO himself had given it a try. In the face of claims that they had sold a defective instrument, they sent out a new scope in the name of good customer relations.
     Brother MacArthur received his new scope and could hardly wait to take it out to the mountains. He unwrapped the brand new contents of his package, wiped it clean, put it up to his eyes and was treated to a view of:  scenery with the same smudge. Normally a patient man, he angrily wrapped up the scope and went home. He’d spent thousands of dollars on worthless metal, glass and jointed parts.
     The following Monday he called the company, insisted on talking to the head-honcho himself and got ahold of the man. He explained his problem and said he’d be sending the worthless instrument back as soon as he could.
     Weeks later, Brother MacArthur was at a routine eye exam and the doctor informed him that he was developing the beginnings of a cataract.  My teacher felt terrible, recalling the words that he volleyed at the manufacturer just a month earlier.
     Brother MacArthur was right; he could see a smudge. It was obscuring his view. The CEO was right, the lens was a good product and he stood proudly by his product.

     March 19, 2006 – We were leaving Yuma. It was late morning and our brief stay was at its end. Driving north as we left the outskirts of the city, we saw it, the UFO! It was a real Unidentified Flying Object, as we still did not know what it was, exactly. Yet, this time, we had no doubt it was earthly. The thing was still in the sky, tethered to a rope and was some kind of huge, lofty advertisement. It was just as real, but not so intimidating and frightening. We continued on our way and laughed at ourselves.


     We all travel different roads and live different lives. Our parents teach us wisdom and we still see things in our own way. Even though we may not have all things in perspective, I hope we may all get along and agree to disagree.




Please, Note:  In the weeks to come I hope to discuss perspective and individual beliefs in a few more posts. Until then, try to see the world from someone else’s eyes for a couple days. You may learn something about them. . . and yourself.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Death Valley, Coyotes and Snake Oil

I like to camp about twice a year. I think I’m getting too old for this torture, but inevitably I plan another trip, pack up my little Saturn and I’m on my way again. For the past couple years my daughter and I thought that Death Valley in the winter time would be a good choice.  Let me tell you, it’s still more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit during early March – and I hate the desert. 

The stars at night more than make up for the dry, over-powering heat of the day. After the sun goes down, Death Valley is a great place to see meteor showers, comets and reckless lovers. Note to couples: in the evening, sounds and sights carry in the desert. I’d like to add, that bush you’re under carries an assortment of scorpions and flea-infested, plague carrying rodents, so please, for the sake of all that is decent, go back to your tent. NOW!

The highlight for me, during our winter excursions is the group of musicians that gather at the same time every year to play music around the campfire. Mostly, there are the usual guitarists, banjo pickers, accordion players and fiddlers. The performers say that the original troupers began the tradition in the 1950s. The ones that assemble now have been convening regularly since the 1970s. This eclectic bunch comes from all walks of life. One claims to be a physician, but since the beer and vodka are flowing amongst the majority of performers, I have my doubts. Anybody present can share their musical talents. All are invited. Someday I hope to bring my electric piano, stuffed with batteries and a prayer, since my playing is child-like at best. In the past, the musicians have hosted people like the ukulele playing students who only picked up their instruments six months before joining the melody-filled evenings. The best I could do the first time we sat around their circle is give out copies of my books and read a brief passage or two. Last year we were joined by a fire dancer. The dramatic look of firelight reflecting up through the branches of the taller mesquite and salt cedar trees was magical. During those kinds of evenings I’d like to imagine that I’m at a gypsy camp. It’s a wonderful feeling.

The musicians always wind up just before 10 pm. One evening two years ago, my daughter and I went back to our tent around nine. We listened to the music, hypnotic in a way, the guitars strumming and low voices singing. Then some guy yelled at the top of his lungs, “Shut that music down!” The melodies continued, the night wind rustled a little. During pauses, coyotes could be heard singing their own songs of loving and feasting. Then a fiddle began a lonesome Irish ballad. “Shut it down already!” I was jolted awake again. This continued until ten. I guess the old grouch didn’t realize that his barking was creating more of a disturbance than this traditional, decades old jam session (music’s version of a pick-up game). Lights out. Ten PM. The coyotes were closer and they began their nightly serenade. I waited anxiously for Mr. Grouch to yell at our howling, furry neighbors, but by then I think he’d given up hope for a good night’s rest. Do what the rest of us do:  gaze up to the sky and let the blanket of stars dazzle your senses.

In October 2015, historic flooding damaged many roads and made last year’s planned trips to a couple tourist areas, including the famous Scotty’s Castle, impossible. The rain also created optimal conditions for desert wildflowers to bloom in abundance. Mostly gold greeted us on our excursions, but there were splashes of pink and purple along the way.

Most of the other roads had been fixed since the storms had washed them away, but a few were down to one lane. That gave us passengers time to reflect and talk. The subject of health came up and I said that I was a believer in the power of vitamin-C. I take it every day for six weeks during flu season and I have not caught the flu or pneumonia like other members of my family have. At one washed out path, in the back of our vehicle, one of the campers with us took the opportunity to whip out a catalogue of the health supplements that she sells. There was a parade of cars ahead of us and a line of cars behind us at least a mile long. We were surrounded by construction vehicles, and the potential of traffic heading our way until we could take our turn on the fragile pavement. I could have tried to make a run for it, but the heat and dehydration would kill me eventually unless a rattle snake struck me first. As the young lady introduced her line of vitamins, my eyes scanned the road for a poisonous snake. “Oh, Lawd, give me patience,” I thought. The young woman knew she had a captive audience, literally. A half hour later, we were on our way again to Stovepipe Wells.  Bless her heart for trying.


Days later, I was back at work with my seniors. I had a great morning with one of my favorite ladies. I fed her some breakfast and folded her laundry while we chatted. Before long, Luzi had me cornered in her kitchen, extolling the benefits of the supplements she was taking. I was blocked in by her motorized scooter, while she held up a bottle of the same brand that the young saleslady introduced to me. I couldn’t go left, I couldn’t go right. I was backed up to a cabinet as Luzi shook the container at me insisting that it was a lifesaving libation. At that point all I could hear were the yelps of coyotes. I looked at the floor and prayed for a snake.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Uncle Trump

It felt really good to be an American today. I will admit that I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. He sometimes shoots off his mouth, says the wrong things. He reminds me of that uncle. You know the one. He is always at the family reunions, or maybe sits at the far corner of the table. He tells a few off-color jokes or asks the younger kids to pull his finger. You know the man has good intentions and you love him despite all his crassness. Donald Trump has promised to bring jobs back to the USA by taxing those companies that abandoned their domestic factories and American workers. He wants to do away with the North American Free Trade Agreement. That should help. I still remember the marches against NAFTA and the WTO a couple decades ago. Trump wants to replace the flawed Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) with one that is more on par with Europe (which by the way, grates the nerves of many ultra-conservatives).  If you are reading this and hope that “The Don” doesn’t keep his word, you can find comfort in the fact that most politicians fail to keep their promises to the voters; sometimes, even covenants to their own spouses. No, I did not vote for the man, but I will be praying for him. I am an American. I believe in the American process. I see facts before me, not innuendos and speculations or even false accusations that fade away as fast as their accusers.

I actually enjoyed the closing prayer given by Rabbi Marvin Hier. I’ll admit, it was more of a statement than a communication with God, but the words were heart-felt, true and factual. I am certain that many people were offended by them because they spoke of hard-work, pride and ethics. I was delighted to see Franklin Graham, son of the Reverend Billy Graham, speaking. For generations Billy Graham led our nation in prayer and advised our leaders. For eight years President Obama turned his back on Billy Graham. Listening to spiritual leaders’ advice does not mean that any particular religion is favored over another. It means the words of a reasonable man, close to God the Father, are heeded. Instead of comfort and words of wisdom, these past eight years, too many people became divided and learned to hate. I look forward to a spiritual awakening to take place once again. Maybe we can set aside our so-called differences and remember that we are Americans first. (I would like to remind some of you before you say, “White Bread has no idea what she’s talking about,” that I come from a rainbow family in every sense of the word.)

I actually support President Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. I was aware of her before the election. DeVos believes that all children are entitled to the same educational opportunities regardless of income or neighborhood. She and her family have given a lifetime total of 1 billion dollars to charities and foundations in and around Michigan. At least forty percent went to educational causes. A large portion went to health services. Her family built the DeVos Learning Center in Grand Rapids. It’s like a field trip for the mind. I also am overjoyed that Dr. Benjamin Carson was selected to serve as the secretary for Housing and Urban Development. I knew of this great man for a few decades. He was a child in the same part of Detroit that I was born in, Delray. You can’t get much more urban than that. The appointment of at least two people from Michigan, I hope, will influence some decisions to bring jobs back to my home state.


Donald Trump is my president. He is America’s president. I will not protest. I will not whine and cry. I will support and pray for him as I have for all the presidents since I was old enough to vote, in 1982. God, bless Donald Trump. Please, bless our nation. Please guide the leaders of our world. Amen

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

All Lives Matter

I feel so full of the Holy Spirit today since reading my scriptures this morning. Specifically I studied Alma Chapter 26 which is in the Book of Mormon. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon, it is not an addition to the Bible. It is the record of a portion of some Native American tribes who were looking forward to the coming of the Great Spirit. From the ancient oral and written traditions of their ancestors, they knew that one day a Savior, the son of God, would come to our world to tell all people about forgiveness, repentance and love.)


The words in Alma Chapter 26 are truly inspired for our day!  Whenever I came across the word “Lamanite,” I mentally inserted the words “ISIS” or “Al-Qaida”. Lamanites were a bloodthirsty, violent group in the Book of Mormon. Just as ISIS beheads Christian men, kidnaps innocent girls and crucifies Christian children in the streets, some of the Lamanites tossed families of the believers into smoldering pits to their deaths. Then, as now, it was the traditions and incorrect teachings of their leaders that made them feel justified in doing these acts. They did not have a written record as did their brothers. As recently as a few hundred years ago, some Native Americans (such as the Cherokee) had a written record. Other tribes only had oral traditions. The written word does not change, but oral histories, like a phrase in the telephone game, can change.


Because not everyone has the motivation to love their brothers, we must spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ! It is as important overseas at it is here! It is difficult, I know, just as it was in the days of Ammon in the Book of Mormon. We may face scorn just as he did, or even ridicule, by merely just suggesting that we pray for these perpetrators, let alone offer them the fruits of the Gospel of Jesus.  Deep down, this is what missionary work is all about. It is not to teach those that are already faithful, but to bring about change; to turn the hearts of all people to do good. Jesus said that if we love Him we must feed His sheep. (John 21:15-17)  Jesus also said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34) The Gospel is good news!  It will change the hearts of all people, because all lives matter.


Alma Chapter 26: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/26?lang=eng                                   (Specifically verses 23 – 35.)

To teach your young Sunday School students, diversity and love on the most basic level, please consider purchasing a copy of Liesa Swejkoski’s book “As I Have Loved You,” from Schuler books http://www.schulerbooks.com/chapbook-press/i-have-loved-you-liesa-swejkoski
 or via Kindle  https://www.amazon.com/As-I-Have-Loved-You-ebook/dp/B00KMKZQGG  . 


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Independence Day

Independence Day is fast approaching. It is the time that we celebrate the declaration that the colonies would no longer be subject to the tyranny and rule of Great Britain. Many people are still under the impression that after that great statement was signed, in July 1776, there were no more battles, but that is not true. There were wars, skirmishes and burnings long before that day (and long after).

Too many people believe that history is boring. Not enough is done to teach this subject in our schools. Thankfully, there are some great dramatizations of history in a few select films. Every year, to commemorate Independence Day, I watch several motion pictures, in sequence (listed below). It helps me to remember that my freedom was well fought for and that America must always remain free for all people. The United States is a work in progress.  We have made mistakes and we’ve learned from them.

I hope that many of my audience will strive to learn more on their own than what is portrayed on screen. I would encourage my American readers to search the names of their ancestors and the places those individuals settled and lived in.


The dream of an independent, free society began thousands of years ago when great thinkers in Greece expounded the idea that all men should be free and not divided into the aristocracy and their slaves. Aristotle taught that if all men are men, then all are free and none are slaves. Hundreds of years ago in places like Germany, Ireland and Scotland, the countryside was blossoming with people who wanted to exist without the threat of kings and noblemen who would rob them of their flocks and fields, sons conscripted for armies and daughters taken by force. The New World was a land full of bounty, independence and fertile soil. It was a place of opportunity, a territory “battle born” even before the settlers arrived. Tribes killed one another for plentiful hunting grounds, fishing rights and a place to plant corn, beans and squash.

I learned that two of my women ancestors that remained in Germany during the time of one of the films (Alone Yet Not Alone, which takes place in 1755) lived in Germany under a nobleman’s rule. These ancestors are from my mother’s side of the family. At the beginning of the 1700s, these women were essentially serfs in the town of Heigenbrücken and their Burgomeister would not allow them to marry, but they still fell in love and had children, one by the town shepherd. Many of their counterparts sailed to America to worship freely and marry the men or women of their choice. These immigrants were allowed to keep the yield of their crops, not hand their hard-worked for gain to government. In another blog I might tell you more about my German ancestors’ story, but for the moment I want to continue about American history.

During the mid-1700s when the Native Americans were aligning themselves with either England or France, people were kidnapped by a variety of tribes to replenish the braves and children lost to battle, disease and famine. Parents were killed along with babies who could not make the journey to the Ohio from Pennsylvania.  Scalps were taken as far south as North Carolina. My ancestor John Wood, who was born In Ireland about 1700, was killed and scalped along the Yadkin River. He was most likely an indentured servant.  Some people came willingly to the New World, as North America was called then, and worked for several years until they earned their freedom. At the end of the agreed upon time, they could find a place to build a cabin and make a life for themselves.  There were many more that were taken by force from Scotland or Ireland; young men and women, sometimes children. Long before I learned of this history I had a very vivid dream. I will describe that dream another time, but I firmly believe it was what some scientists call a “cellular memory”. It was the horrific conquering of people wanting freedom from England, while attempting to make changes in their own lands. Sadly the rebellion was quelled and my people, like many, were shipped off to a life of servitude. There they were used, abused and sometimes bred to make more servants. Oft-times it was the leader of the plantations that fathered children, many times a strong black slave or a captured “Indian” or man from Scotland or Ireland. That was the fate of many Scots-Irish at the time. My dream took place just before the journey.  I learned the rest later.

The freed Scots and Irish began to settle and make families, establish churches and local governments. Eventually all of my father’s people made their way down the Shenandoah Valley. They farmed and married the Cherokee.

Another ancestor, Elizabeth Sibylla Scharrman Guntermann, was a child born in America of German parents: Franz Andreas Guntermann and Cornelia Keyser.  They were contemporaries of the people who came to America who are featured in the movie Alone Yet Not Alone. I wonder if the Scharrmans and Guntermanns were also under threat of having their cabins burned down to the ground during the French and Indian Wars. Later, as an old woman, Elizabeth and her daughter-in-law took water to our Patriot troops during the Battles of Cowpens and King’s Mountain. (The last military campaign featured in The Patriot is based upon the skirmish at Cowpens.)

Many settlers soon realized that England would not leave them alone to be free citizens of their own land. They were still subjects to the King of England, so wanting to be free from the shackles of tyranny, they naturally rebelled. Several of my own ancestors served in the Revolutionary War. I am proud that my ancestors served in this great cause. We are a free country, in part, because of their bravery. Recently I had the honor to become a part of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Decades after the Revolutionary War, a few of my ancestors even fought during the Civil War.

That is a very brief, condensed history of America and why there was a Revolution. I wanted to show readers how they could put their ancestors into the time frame of many of these historic events, just as I did. History may become more exciting to you when you realize that these people were living, breathing individuals struggling during tumultuous events.

These are the movies that I watch, in sequence, beginning in June. None of them are family movies so you must decide if your loved ones are mature enough to watch the battle scenes and a few love scenes.  If you have any recommendations, please let me know!

  1. Braveheart (R)
  2. Rob Roy (R)
  3. Alone Yet Not Alone (PG-13). (This one is hard to watch. Let me tell you, children are kidnapped and there is a scene where a woman is burned at the stake. Being burned alive is not a quick process.)
  4. Last of the Mohicans (1992) (R)
  5. The Patriot (R)
  6. The Alamo (PG-13) (I usually watch the 2004 film, but I also enjoy the version with John Wayne.)
  7. Gettysburg - Gods and Generals (PG-13) (usually sold together in a package.)
  8. Glory (R)
  9. Cold Mountain (R) (I didn’t want to see this movie until a very distant relative explained that this film is loosely based on the tales of our people in post-Civil War North Carolina. I'm glad that I saw the film, but I often wonder, were our people the families waiting for the soldiers or were they the Watchmen? Maybe they were both.)
  10. Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee (TV-14)
  11. Far and Away (PG-13)


Sunday, March 20, 2016

King of the Nile

(The flip-side to my other post about dying with dignity)

I have a senior friend that I absolutely adore. “Jerrold” and I get along so well that it feels like he’s become a part of my family, and that’s the way it should be with friends that you love. We take walks together a couple times a week and talk about everything from politics, weather, senior care and our respective health challenges. Despite what we’ve been told about the outcomes of our long-term wellbeing we still push ourselves to walk, read, think and do the best we can to manage our symptoms.

Recently while we were hiking in the desert, Jerrold asked, “Other than a river in Egypt, what does denial mean to you?”

I had to laugh. I hadn’t heard that reference to the Nile River in at least a decade. I thought for a moment and answered, “Well, in a rational-thinking person, one that has all his or her faculties, it’s to have all the data and yet still believe in something impossible. I don’t mean believing in a miracle (miracles do happen and that’s what makes them unique) but counting on something despite all the facts, like thinking you can fly off a balcony when you don’t have wings, something like that.”

I took a few deep breaths as dull pains moved their way up my calves. We walked past a golf course and I asked, “What does denial mean to you?”

“People keep telling me that I can’t do some things, but I do them anyway. I know my disease will get worse, but I keep walking anyway. I try to get better.” Jerrold hadn’t really answered the question, but I understood what he meant.

After a while, I added, “People don’t always think rationally. Some, like patients that have dementia, live in their own reality. Little children have their own reality, also. To them, if they say they can fly, they jump off of a pile of dirt and give it a try. Then they fall and learn not to do it next time – but look at the Wright brothers, they kept trying to fly. They kept building a better flying machine and eventually got off the ground. If not for them we might not have airplanes. Rational thinking can save our lives but denial of reality and thinking beyond what is real makes us better individuals and more interesting, don’t you think?”

Jerrold pondered this. We were getting closer to the pool where we planned to rest. “But I’m told that I’m in denial. I will never get better. I could just sit and wait at home to die. I think about moving to Oregon or another state that has assisted suicide.”

“Robin Williams had the same prognosis that you have. The same one! He gave up too early and broke all our hearts.” I silently pondered the joy that Williams had given the world with his wit. Then I remembered the heart-ache I felt the moment I heard about his suicide. The world seemed to tip just a little off its axis and things just haven’t been the same. I pleaded, “You can’t do that, please, don’t give up. You need to keep moving and getting better day-by-day!” Of course, Jerrold knows this already and that’s why he walks until the very day that his legs will no longer carry him.

We passed a pond at the golf course. It was being drained. I decided to throw Jerrold a life-line. “Like any river, the water in the Nile flows higher in the rainy season. Sometimes it’s lower during a drought, but it always flows. Reality is, if you’re in the middle of that river, you could drown. It’s still the same river despite the weather, yet we all face the power of that water in our own way. Faith is like an inner-tube. Are you going to swim? Are you going to hold on to that flotation device or just give into reality, let go and drown? What a rational thinking person does is hold onto that ring as long as he can, despite reality, yet he knows that he’s going to die! It’s like that with so many things. It’s a balance between reality and faith and it’s a balance between our own reality and everyone else’s reality. Just keep pressing forward and don’t give up.”

Reaching the pool, Jerrold said, “I like the way you think.”

Sitting there we spoke not another word and watched bathers enjoying themselves. The sounds of the lapping water were soothing. I thought about Don Quixote riding a broken down horse, battling a windmill with his lance. We all have our monsters to fight: disease, poverty, PTSD and doctors who tire of us patients asking for cures and treatments that don’t yet exist.

Maybe denial isn’t rejecting reality. Maybe denial is giving in. We know that today’s truth was yester-year’s miracle! Tomorrow’s reality is what we dream and hope for now. We have jets, cell-phones, computers, treatments for stroke, life-saving operations and transplants that were just someone’s impossible dream mere decades ago.

My friend caught his breath, stood up and was ready to head back to his home.

“Jerrold,” I said, “you can be the King of Denial. You keep dreaming and, who knows, you might outlive all of us.”

A Sideshow Journey by Liesa Swejkoski

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