Each dawn, as we shivered awaiting the count, we waited to know if we’d live one more day.  We feared this day we’d be chosen for deportation, long trip to hell, where we’d be stripped of all that is human, and forced into chambers of anguish and death.

We stood at attention in the dawn-gray courtyard.  Stood in the cold, awaiting our doom.  The commandant passed us, reviewed our frailty, then pointed his stick to mark us for death.  You had to step out, to follow his order, and nobody dared to ignore his command.

So, how did it happen that I stood my ground when his riding crop pointed my way?

My Unicorn saved me.   It took me away.  It carried me back all the way to my home.  I could taste the sweet rolls.  I could feel the warm sun.  I could hear my mother’s voice, smell the scent of warm cocoa, Mother called “breakfast,” and I was there.

So I didn’t see the commandant’s finger, didn’t know he was pointing at me.  I stood in my spot.  When he told me to go, I did not.  I stood as if rooted and lived.  He passed on.

Later my friend said, “Why did you ignore him?”

“Who do you mean?”

“Didn’t  you see?  He pointed at you.”  She explained.

“I was home,”  I replied.  “I was free.”

By Ruth Treeson in

“Green Sun in Red Sky-A collection of Short Stories and Poems” Published in 2001

 

 

January 27, 2020

I had a friend named Ruth who personally knew what Auschwitz was like from 12 to 15 years old.  When the day of liberation came 75 years ago today,  she knew it because all the Nazi guards had disappeared.  There were no liberators to tell them where to go or what to do.  She decided to start her long walk home to Poland to start her life again.  And so she did.

Although she subtitled her book, “The Long  Walk” as  A Novel, it was basically true from her own experiences.

I happened upon an old French movie called “Resistance” a few weeks ago.  I watched it because it reminded me of what Ruth had lived through before Auschwitz.   It depicted a Catholic boarding  school with kids about the age she was before Auschwitz.  They were just rather ordinary teenaged kids studying during the War when Germany had conquered France.

Two main characters became friends.  One was Catholic, and the other said he was Protestant, but was actually a Jewish boy in hiding.  Similarly, Ruth’s mother, desperate to find a way for 12 year old Ruth, and her 6 year old sister to survive, had put them in a Catholic school to hide their identity.

Horrifyingly mimicking Ruth’s story, one day a German soldier came to the school and took the Jewish boy away.  That boy, and Ruth’s own little sister, were never seen again.  Ruth was sent to Auschwitz.

After liberation, Ruth walked back all the way to that same boarding school and talked to the same nun who had been in charge the last night Ruth ever saw her sister’s arms reaching out to her in panic.

When I read that Ruth had actually seen the same nun who had turned them in to the German soldiers, I expected that she would feel rage that the nun had not tried to save them.

But that’s when I learned something else about Ruth that has stuck with me all these years.  She, much like Martin Luther King, murdered so many years later at a date close to the month he was killed, had managed to withhold rage or anger at the violent racists who wished him harm.

When I asked Ruth why she wasn’t angry at that nun, she said simply that she didn’t know what her mother had told that nun when she arranged to leave her two daughters there.  And she knew how much the Jews were hated by Polish Catholics.

Late in life, after writing her book, Ruth poured energy into talking to local high school generally underprivileged kids who were being bullied to pass on her own message that no one could humiliate her and make her feel worthless.  The teens listened carefully to her and some made her strength their own.

She never hated, and passed that on to her own children and grandchildren.  She once astounded me by saying that she had had a wonderful life.   She was a true survivor.

She died some years back before the resurgence of antisemitism in the U.S.  I assume it would not surprise her.  And it would not have changed her belief in her self-worth, or made her hate.

December 31, 2019

One of my grandsons and his mom came to visit me a couple of days before New Year’s.  They live in Montana, so I don’t get to see them often.  We went to San Clemente and had a truly incredible time.  The weather cleared up as soon as we arrived, and the sea spread blue before us.  The fish restaurant by the sea was great, as was walking on the pier amongst the expectant fishermen.

And then we walked on the beach.  Subtle, soft, pastel purple appeared on one side of the sky.  For an hour, we watched nature’s artistry unfold, seeping from one part of the sky to another.

Like lava flowing down a volcano, the red fluid filled the palette of the huge panorama in the sky, accentuating the strong black lines of the long pier.  Magnificently, slowly, sculptures of mountains, towns, cities, and rivers emerged from the layers of clouds.  A whole new world was created above us as we stood in awe beneath.

The sand of the beach morphed into a coarse covering of colorful flecks of wet brightness dancing in the sun that was left.  Excruciatingly slowly, the colors receded from the sand.  The people on the beach turned into graceful, happy silhouettes dancing on the beach on their way home.

Nature enthusiastically welcomed 2020 as only nature can!  How will we human earth creatures welcome 2020?

To You from Suellen Zima in kindness and peace

It has been a day of wondering.  Our normal southern California sun did make it out for an unusual very short time.  It also rained for awhile to remind us that we perhaps will not have to face a drought this year.

The next time I looked out my window, everything was heavily misted in fog.  Fog doesn’t come often here during the day, but always seems to fill the air with curious questionmarks.  At one point, since I grew up in snow, it looked almost like snow was lightly falling.

My mind crawled into the fog and went along willingly.  It has been a strange year for me.  I am rather remarkably still alive  after my August, 2018, heart attack.  I still occasionally see the cardiologist who recommended stent surgery and 5 major drugs for the rest of my life.  When I turned down his suggestions, he still agreed to stay my doctor without any expectation I would ever take his advice.  We get along well, and, on some level, he appreciates my self  treatment of exercising regularly and breathing with the trees.

I took on two new tasks this last year that were so new, they both challenged my aging brain.  Both involved clubs that I led.  One was the Shalom Club of Laguna Woods, and the other was becoming the founder of LWV YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard).

After a year of nurturing the new Shalom Club, I have turned it over to other capable people while I will remain in the background.

And I have propelled myself into very new territory for me — finding ways to keep myself and other Laguna Woods residents remain in the Village as they run out of money.

It’s not just a Laguna Woods problem, but also a much wider California phenomenon that is changing the fabric of California society.  Many of us can no longer afford to live in homes we bought years ago because the monthly fee keeps rising while our incomes don’t.  Residents here with deeper pockets suggest we move to Arizona, or Nevada, or Florida and leave Laguna Woods to those who can preserve its present way of life.

It’s complicated — a governor who is requiring every city to have a plan for building more housing.  But within that plan, are many loopholes and inconsistencies that don’t make sense.  We’ve had such a plan for the last 20 years, and what was done?  Nothing.  Can there be hope for a new plan?

There is a slippery slope that goes with not having enough money to pay the monthly  fee of about $700.  It involves endless fines, liens placed on your home, worrying through sleepless nights, and then being forced to sell your home and go … where?

I am taking workshops on homelessness, learning new guidelines on possible options I haven’t yet heard of, and becoming proactive in time to save myself, if not my home.

I am testing the so-called “plasticity” of my old brain to learn new things.  I am feeling active, and challenged.  And sometimes very tired.

Happy New Year!

 

 

November 28, 2019

Usually students thank their teachers, but on this Thanksgiving Day in 2019, I want to thank my students.  As I watched a tv news program of grown-up students thanking their old teacher during a reunion, I thought that was nice.  But I imagined a reunion in which I was able to thank my many students over many years and many countries for how they had changed my life and what I had gained from them.

Although I was never trained as a teacher, I luckily learned I was truly meant to be a teacher by circumstance and chance as I traveled the world and wanted to get to know the cultures I was in.  Without a shared language, I reached out to teaching as a way to teach me about the cultures I was living in.  And it worked.

Raised in the U.S., I learned about the countries I was then living in, as well as what the U.S. looked like from the outside.

Through teaching, I experienced third world poverty and the obstacles my students faced.  I learned how other cultures suffered, survived, thrived.  I was able to compare and contrast variations of similar cultures.  I was a part of the history of other cultures over the years as they matured and morphed.

I was fortunate to always have students who wanted to learn English and respected me as their teacher.  As teacher and student, we were kind to one another and appreciated each other’s efforts.

Many also became caring friends who have kept in touch with me over the years so that, on this Thanksgiving, we got in touch with one another, made fast and easy with modern technology, to give holiday greetings.

When I met them, I was middle-aged and they were young.  Now, I am old and they are middle-aged.  Their children have become my grandchildren.   And still we are in touch.

A book I wrote about my travels is in an archive at the Hoover Institution in Stanford University along with 25 years of their letters they wrote to me as China went through its metamorphosis.

If I had never become a teacher, I would have missed out on the happiest, most interesting and adventurous years of my life.

 

 

 

September 20, 2019

I started my day a lot earlier than I like,  but I knew I owed it to Swedish teen Greta Thunberg’s lead for world-wide climate change marches today.

News of the “greenhouse effect” first appeared in 1824.  The first mention of global warming in 1975 was still long before Greta was born.  It was 1995, still before Greta was born, that there was a definitive statement that humans are definitely responsible for climate change.  Three years after Greta was born, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” came out in 2006.

But the humans of the world were mostly too busy thinking about money — how to get it, how to get more, how to pillage and plunder to take what was thought to be rightfully ours as the masters of the universe and the most intelligent of all living things.  Yes, there were a few endearing characteristics of humans, but not enough to deflect disaster.

Much of nature, and many animal species continued to quietly disappear while the human population grew.  It was 1 billion in 1800, two billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1975, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999, 7 billion in 2011.  8 billion is projected for 2024.

I won’t be here to verify it, but I strongly doubt humans will outlive climate change no matter how smart we get with technology and out of the box clever ideas.

Greta’s generation may make it into middle age or beyond, but I don’t see a happy ending for humans.  But the ending of humans will be a happy ending for nature because I firmly believe in the ability of nature to reboot and thrive again minus humans.

I ended the evening by watching a science fiction movie by chance called “Knowing” with Nicholas Cage.   In it, the entire earth is destroyed by a massive sun flare.  However, aliens have taken a selection of chosen children into spaceships and transported them by twos with two rabbits to a fresh, pure land with a beautiful large tree.  As I watched the children playfully running toward the tree, I felt a tiny flicker of hope that these children would be better guardians of nature, but a dread that they would once again contaminate mother nature with human arrogance and superiority.

August 11, 2019

Picture this — a piece of cardboard on the ground and a person sleeping on it.  The caption reads, “This bed costs $100,759 a year.”  No, this is not in a far away third world country.  This is the county of southern California I live in.

The happy hobo image of homelessness doesn’t exist.  In Orange County, California, where I live, the face of homelessness is wrinkled, old, and weak.  At the last count made one night in 2019, there were 455 homeless seniors found and interviewed.  Yes, there were also other categories of homeless people found and interviewed.  But there were more homeless seniors interviewed that night compared to every other category.

I learned at a United Way Homelessness 101 lecture on homelessness in Orange County  that the cure for homelessness is putting people in homes.  And, by every comparison,  the cost is by far cheaper than the $100, 759 spent on each homeless person for the many services they use when they are homeless.

While non-homeless people have the wrong notion that the homeless in Orange County are recent arrivals because of the warm climate, the average person found in the one night survey had been a resident of Orange County for about 10 years.

There is a tornado of circumstances swirling in Orange County.   Even a large percentage of working people can no longer afford to live here because the prices of buying and renting are way beyond normal, or even good salaries.  Along with rising life expectancy into the 80’s, 90s, and 100s that can affect income, there is a scarcity of housing in the county in general, and especially for low incomes.   Plus, other expenses are rising beyond an older person’s capacity to increase income.

After my mother died, my father and I moved to a retirement community then called Leisure World in southern California.  Neither my dad nor I had enough money to buy our home, so we pooled our resources and bought a two bedroom home for $73,500.  At that time, the range of prices for homes here was perhaps $60,000 to $600,000.  But the shared cost concept with a monthly fee allowed all who lived here to share in the clubhouses, a tempting variety of amenities,  classes, and over 200 resident-run clubs.

During the 20 years since that time, my dad died, house prices went up and up, and then drastically down and down in 2008, and modestly up again.  And the required monthly fee also increased regularly.  Now, you can still buy a one bedroom home in the Village for perhaps $155,000, but there are many more homes now above a million dollars.

If you can’t continue to pay the mortgage or the monthly fee, you are eventually forced to leave the Village.  And go where?  Certainly not anywhere else in all of Orange County, and most of California.  You can become a statistic of homelessness, and some do.  And, as I’m finding out, more and more of my aging neighbors are running out of money and fear homelessness.  It’s a heavy burden of worry.

I know.  I’m one of them.

 

 

I held onto two events rather desperately last week to counter-balance  a world going wildly wonky.

Having lived in Taiwan, I like to hear good news from that relatively small, remote place we usually don’t hear about.  The news showed gay people there happily celebrating their right to marry.  The second beacon of light came from children following the lead of eloquent Greta Thunberg of Sweden in passionately, unrelentingly, continuing to demonstrate one day a week to demand the world recognize the present and future dangers of climate change.

Fifty-five years have passed since the grown-up heroine Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring,” warned us of the many ways we humans are killing our planet, and ultimately, ourselves.  Why weren’t we listening?

Last week, I remembered a necklace  I once had, but could never quite put around my neck.  It was a miniature coat hanger — the symbol of what was used to abort babies in a time when abortion was not legal.  But it seems I threw away that necklace too soon as more and more states are making abortion illegal again.

And last week I heard a compelling plea from the President of Columbia University that we must become ever more vigilant about the attacks on what Americans hold dear about our government.

And then there was another mass shooting spread across the news in Virginia Beach where it’s legal to bring guns into buildings.

I was born while the Holocaust was raging on the other side of the sea, and my father was being sent there to fight a war.  I lived through the turbulent, tumultuous 1960’s.  But now, more dangerous even than guns, is a mean-spiritedness that is taking over the world.  Sometimes it maims; sometimes it kills; sometimes it wounds slowly, but deeply.

Last week, I saw it as the insidious Ebola virus so seriously, dangerously, and cleverly depicted in “The Hot Zone” as it calmly mutates into the best way to kill humans.

In last week’s comics, Dennis the Menace talks with Mr. Wilson about the news.  Mr. Wilson explains that he likes to stay informed of what’s happening every day in the world.  But he adds, “Even though most of the news these days isn’t great news.  Boy!  I sure miss the good ol’ days!”  And Dennis remarks, “You think there’ll be some good ol’ days left for ME?”

And I think, “Maybe not, Dennis.  So sorry.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 21, 2019

It was an emotional evening for me watching the movie, “I Am Somebody’s Child:  The Regina Louise Story” about one black girl who suffered through 30 foster homes and years in a psych ward before the age of 18.  By the power vested in authorities, she was denied the right to be adopted by a social worker who loved her.  Why?  Because the social worker was white, and Regina Louise was black.

How could I not be brought back emotionally to my early 20s as a social worker for foster children in the care of the state of Massachusetts?  I had also loved a mixed racial toddler who I was determined to adopt if I could not find a permanent family for him.  In those days when babies were preferred, 3 years old was “over the hill” for adoption, especially when there were so few black or mixed families adopting children.

I did in fact manage to place him in a foster family with a white mother and a black father who, after 4 years, would be allowed to adopt him.  Although I moved away before that time, I kept in touch with the mother until she confirmed that the 4 years had passed and he would be legally adopted.  Whew!  He would not have to suffer through the all too often string of foster homes that foster children, like Regina, had to endure.  I finally was able to say goodbye, and wished the family well.

But I never forgot that beautiful toddler who captured my heart.  So, a few years later, when it came time to become parents,  my husband and I applied to adopt what was then called a “hard to place” child.  We did not specifically request a mixed black child, but these were the majority of the children who were lingering long waiting for an adoptive home.

The quirk of timing put us into a very small window of opportunity when California began transracial adoptions — mostly white families adopting black and mixed black children.  We quickly became parents of a beautiful honey colored 16 month old toddler of our own.

Not too long afterward, the black social workers of California fought transracial black/white adoptions and brought them to an abrupt end.  Why?  The black social workers said that white people were not capable of properly giving black children a black identity.   They compared  it to “genocide.”

Many years later, in yet another quirk of circumstance, I was living in a retirement community in California where I met a black social worker who had been one of the movers of bringing transracial adoptions to an end.  To this day, she insists that it was the right decision because white people are not capable of giving their black adopted children a sense of black identity.

For better or worse, the times and law did change so that transracial adoptions once again became possible.  And, already more than 40 when they found one another again, black Regina Louise was finally legally adopted by the white woman who had never stopped loving her.

 

April 6, 2019

Remember the best job you ever had?  You adored playing on the internet until you could break it.  It was your job, your fun, and the best salary you ever made.

Well, tonight I chanced upon the movie “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”  So, of course I immediately thought of “Bennett Breaks the Internet.”  I watched it remembering your fascination with the internet in its early days.  You tried explaining to me how the techniques of animation were developing rapidly.  You made me at least aware and appreciative of what I didn’t understand about animation.  Disney characters came alive in more modern ways.

In those years, people didn’t take formal courses in computers.  People like you with technical brains just worked it out informally.  The computer and you were natural friends.

And, suddenly, at 46, living right there in what became known as Silicon Valley, you died.  And I was left an only child against my will.   It wasn’t fair.  It wasn’t right.   But I couldn’t change it no matter how much I cried for you to come back.

That was in 1996.  For many years, I purposely went to at least one movie a year for “you” to see and appreciate the latest computer technology in movies.  I cried because you weren’t there with me when the credits rolled on and on and on with hundreds of names that easily showed  a diversity of names from other countries of origin, and job titles that only made me question what their jobs actually were.

I was 6 years old when you were born, but your generation had an obvious advantage when it came to understanding computers.  And I can only imagine that your innate sense of both intelligence and humor would have shown up if you had lived long enough to contribute to the rapid progress of the internet.

Once again, tears flowed as I both laughed and cried watching “Ralph Breaks the Internet” while learning  more than I ever knew about video games and social media and thinking of my dead-too-soon brother Ben breaking the internet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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