The Silberfarbs left Ranshofen, since it was closing, in 1948. They went to another nearby DP camp. Lea, based on Bernie and Sofia’s wish to go to Israel, was trying to make arrangements, but was not yet successful. She was also corresponding with her husband’s family in Cuba. Two of Samuel’s sisters, Busha and Mary, had settled in Havana with their respective husbands, Nachum and Solomon, before World War II.
Lea wrote to Busha and Nachum, explaining her predicament. The children wanted to go to Israel but she was unable to secure passage. Nachum, in response, wrote a heartfelt letter offering to sponsor them in coming to Cuba. He reminded Lea how difficult life would be in Israel, as a widowed mother without family to help. He suggested that they try life in Cuba, if in a year they didn’t like it, he would arrange immigration to Israel. He made the point that it would likely be easier at that point to immigrate, as post-war tensions eased, and the newly created State of Israel got on its feet. The Silberfarbs were touched by Nachum’s letter and generosity, and swayed by the soundness of his argument. They agreed to go to Havana.
During the conversations about their plans, Paula kept silent. In her heart, she wanted to go to Cuba, thinking it was her chance to see David again. But, she didn’t think it was fair to try and influence the family decision based on her burgeoning romance. She was beyond delighted when things fell into place.
Meanwhile, the Silberfarbs bided their time at the DP camp. Paula was back in school. She was grateful for the opportunity. She particularly liked math. A fellow survivor, a man who was an engineer by training, taught arithmetic and geometry. He was a volunteer at the makeshift school. He may not have known much about teaching, but that didn’t trouble Paula. She loved the precision and logic of the subject and took to it naturally. In addition to the academics, Paula took sewing. An organization, ORT, set up vocational training opportunities in the DP camps. Paula took full advantage.
The Silberfarbs were slated to sail to Cuba from France. They left the DP camp only to find that the ship wasn’t there. With the assistance of another organization, HIAS, which helped with paperwork, and with additional funds from Uncle Nachum, the Silberfarbs flew from Paris to Havana. Flying was unheard of among the survivors! It was another act of generosity by Nachum.
They arrived in Havana to a warm welcome. Paula’s aunts and uncles had set up a furnished apartment for them. Paula began working, first in Uncle Solomon’s store and then in Uncle Nachum’s. She liked the responsibility of work, completing her tasks to the best of her ability, and she treated the stores as if they were her own. She felt a loyalty to her uncles who continued to be so supportive of her and her mother and siblings. They settled into life in Havana, picking up another language, Spanish, along the way.
Paula resumed her correspondence with David, now that they were both settled. David was in a rooming house in Brooklyn near his Uncle Willie and Aunt Rose, and had a job at their pickle company. They agreed he would come for a visit. He saved his money and he went to Cuba in November of 1949 to see if they might have a future together.
Note: Much of the information for this post comes from Paula Bakst’s Shoah testimony. On August 17, 1995, Paula, David, their children and grandchildren (myself included), went to the Pines Hotel in the Catskills to be interviewed and taped as part of Steven Spielberg’s project, following the making of Schindler’s List. Paula and David were interviewed separately. Although Paula’s dementia has made it impossible to ask her questions now, we are fortunate to have her story recorded.
Paula’s journey to Ranshofen was quite different than David’s, but harrowing nonetheless.
Paula Silberfarb was born on February 15, 1931 in Serniki, Poland, a small town in the northwest corner of what today is the Ukraine. It was a landscape of forests, meadows, marshes and rivers. The Stubla River ran along the side of the town and provided her father’s livelihood. It was a primitive town: there was no electricity or running water in their homes, no cars or trucks, the roads weren’t paved. They didn’t have a movie theater and only one family had a radio (and Paula never heard it). They lived an insulated life.
Serniki was made up of Jews and Gentiles, and though they lived peaceably before the war, they didn’t mingle, and they lived clustered on different streets. They spoke different languages: Jews spoke Yiddish, the Gentiles spoke a combination of Polish/Ukranian and Russian, though they were able to communicate with each other. They didn’t socialize, though they did have business connections. The cultural and religious separation became important in the crucible of the war.
Paula was the middle child, with an older brother, Bernie, and a younger sister, Sofia. Though middle children are often attention seeking, Paula was not. She was shy and obedient. If Mother gave her a chore, she did it. If she was told not to do something, she didn’t. She left the troublemaking and risk taking to her older and younger siblings.
Paula described herself as coming from a nice, loving home. Their house was made up of three rooms: one large bedroom, where they all slept – her parents (Samuel and Lea) in one bed, Paula and Sofia in another, and Bernie in his own; they had a separate living room and kitchen. They also had a large apartment next door – one room divided by a curtain – that they rented out. A beautiful flower garden adorned the front and side of the house; a vegetable garden in the back. Further behind the house, they had a field where they grew potatoes and wheat. They hired someone to help with that field. They brought the grain to the mill. Lea baked her own bread on a daily basis.
Paula felt cared for by her mother and father. Her mother, Lea, was the primary caregiver, she provided guidance and nourishment, in all senses, to her children. Her father, Samuel, was a boat builder. The boats were made of wood and powered by oars. Farmers used the boats to get their produce to bigger markets across the Stubla River. Samuel purchased parcels of forested land from farmers, logged it and brought the lumber to Serniki to build the boats. When a boat was completed, the children would gather to watch it launch. It was an event. The business took a great deal of Samuel’s time, he wasn’t home much. When he was home, Paula fondly recalls him sitting on the side of the bed she shared with Sofia, before they went to sleep, telling them stories. He told tales based on Jules Verne’s books. Samuel was a learned man, he had gone to university in Kiev. He was in partnership with his father, Gershon, in the boat business. (Gary is named in memory of Paula’s paternal grandfather, Gershon).
Gershon lived in his own home, bigger than Paula’s family home, near the market in town. He shared the house with one of his sisters; his wife, Paula’s grandmother, died when Paula was two. Paula described Gershon as having an aristocratic bearing, with a square little beard. She characterized her family as middle class, while her paternal grandfather may have been wealthier. Other family members, aunts, uncles, cousins, both maternal and paternal, were scattered throughout Serniki. The various locations of their homes became relevant when the Nazis invaded.
Paula’s life was made up of family and friends and observance of Jewish rituals. There was one Orthodox synagogue in town. Samuel went Friday nights, and the whole family went Saturday morning to shul. The men sat downstairs, the women upstairs, looking down at the men through small windows. Though some men in Serniki were bearded, Samuel was clean shaven. He was a modern man. After services, family and friends would come by the house, similar to the routine in David’s town. Samuel played chess while the children ran around outside.
Paula recalls playing with her friends, who were all Jewish. They played hopscotch and a game with sticks that involved tossing them to see who could throw one further. She also particularly liked walking barefoot in the mud and puddles. Paula had fond memories of one neighbor friend, Chaya. One time Paula stopped by her house and Chaya’s mother was making pancakes. She offered Paula one, and she readily accepted. Paula was served the pancake on a fine piece of china, not an everyday dish. It made her feel special and was the kind of thing Paula noticed and appreciated, even as a youngster and even 60 years after the fact.
Though she remembers being frightened of the Russians, Paula was eight when they invaded, her day-to-day life went on largely unchanged. She wasn’t very aware of how it impacted her father’s business. The one major change in her life was school. In addition to attending cheder, to learn Hebrew and Torah, Paula went to public school. The public school had been run by Poles and Paula had already completed first grade when the Russians came. Though Paula’s father had taught his children the Russian alphabet and to read, the authorities made everyone repeat their grade, so she had to begin again. Paula resented it. She completed second grade in the Russian school. It was during her third year at the school that life as she knew it completely changed.
In early summer of 1941, a father and son arrived in Serniki, on the run. They told the story of their town which was to the west; of being marched to stand at the edge of a ditch and then the Germans shot them in the back causing everyone to fall into the ditch. The father and son fell in just as the shooting started and were not wounded. They lay, feigning death, amongst the bodies until nightfall when the Germans had left. They climbed out over the corpses and ran
The Jews of Serniki didn’t believe the story. They thought it was a plea for attention, for sympathy and for help. Paula’s mother, Lea, though, believed it. Lea said, “It is too terrible for a human mind to make up. A normal human wouldn’t make up such a thing.” This was the first Paula had heard about the atrocities – she thought it was possible that the adults had heard things before, but as a child she was shielded from it.
It was a good thing Lea believed it – that belief made a difference.
I try to imagine how it would feel, but it just isn’t possible. I can’t put myself in his shoes. It is important to try, though. The more I learn, the more astonishing his story is.
We were sitting in a luncheonette in Saugerties, Gary, David, my father-in-law, and Paula, my mother-in-law, as part of an ordinary Thursday afternoon visit. We lingered while Paula painstakingly ate her cream cheese on bagel. The rest of us had long since finished our lunches. But, I felt no impatience. David was telling us about his childhood. David grew up in the vanished world of the shtetl, in a town called Iwie (pronounced Eve-ya), in what was then Poland (today it is Belarus, and the spelling of the town varies).
“It was a beautiful youth,” David explained. Almost like the scene from My Cousin Vinny, I ask, “Beautiful what?” David repeats the word, then asks, “That’s the word, right? Youth?” All these years later, he still questions his English. “You said it perfectly, I just didn’t hear you,” I replied with a smile.
I hadn’t given much thought to what shtetl life meant to them. We have had many conversations over the years, but it mostly covered things like: Did you have running water in the house? (No) Did you have electricity? (yes for David, no for Paula). Those kinds of things are interesting tidbits, but don’t paint a picture of their lives. This conversation offered more insight, perhaps because Gary asked, “Did your father think about leaving for the United States earlier?”
David’s parents, Berl and Rachel, were comfortably established in Iwie. Berl’s brothers left for America in the 1920s. They appealed to Berl to come with them. He declined. His business, making and selling leather shoes, was growing. He was making a name for himself based on the quality of his product; he was becoming more and more successful. He was providing a good life for his growing family. David was born in 1922, another son, Eliahu, was born in 1925 and two daughters followed.
Perhaps as important, Rachel’s family lived in Iwie, too. Every Shabbos, after services, aunts, uncles and cousins, came to the Bakst (spelled Bakszt) home to visit. The adults schmoozed and talked politics, the children ran around outside. There was warmth and affection – there may have been arguments, too, but nothing serious. Berl was to the right politically of some of his family, a supporter of Jabotinsky, while others were more mainstream Zionists. They enjoyed the give and take.
David observed, “The family was close. Not like what I see in America. It is different here.” I said what he described sounded a lot like the family I grew up in (minus the observance of Shabbos) – with aunts, uncles and cousins coming in and out of my grandmother’s upstairs apartment. But, I had to agree, it probably wasn’t typical of American families.
Without saying it explicitly, the picture David painted made it clear why Berl didn’t leave in the 1920s. And, it would have been up to Berl, as the head of the household. David was in awe of his father. “I thought my father was the smartest man in the world,” he said, with pride all these years later.
David’s idyllic youth ended September 3, 1939 (he remembers the date), he hadn’t celebrated his 17thbirthday yet. After the Soviet Union and Germany signed the infamous Non-Agression Pact in August of that year, Germany invaded Poland from the west, the Soviets invaded from the east. The Russians took over Iwie.
A lieutenant and a captain in the Soviet army commandeered rooms in the Bakst house. Their shoe factory was confiscated by the state. Their passports were stamped ‘capitalist.’ Berl was permitted to work at the factory, but he could no longer claim ownership. They were persona non grata in the communist system.
As bad as things were under the Russians, it got worse when Germany violated the Non-Aggression treaty and made their move to invade the Soviet Union. The German army invaded Iwie in June of 1941.
It was far too late to decide to emigrate to America, it became a question of survival for Berl and his family.
Note: I will continue the story in future blog posts. If family members have more information to add, please do. If I have gotten anything wrong, please correct me!
As we drove up to Temple Emanuel in Kingston, NY, I wondered how the day might go. Linda and I were about to bring my mother and my father to see their brand new great granddaughter Evelyn (Evey, for short). Our wonderful son Daniel and his wonderful wife Beth became parents on May 31stand we had already been down to the city to see the baby (and them) twice. The first time, it was just Linda and I, and the following weekend we brought Linda’s mom, Feige, to see Evey. Those visits had gone quite well.
This visit presented some significant challenges, challenges we spent considerable time fretting over. The biggest issue was my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease. She has been living with it, meaning we as a family have also been living with it–my father most of all–for more than a decade. The disease has done what it does. It has gotten inexorably worse as her memory, and so much of what made her a brave, kind, thoughtful, bright person, have been stolen from her. The ability to manage money, to cook and clean and participate in meaningful discussion gradually disintegrated.
And it left someone behind who is at once my mother and, at the same time, certainly not her. Anyone who has a relative with this cruel disease understands what I just wrote better than my poor ability to communicate it. In her case, my mother will become incredibly fixated on things that worry her. This is perhaps a consequence of her underlying psychological makeup and, of course, her experiences during the Holocaust, in addition to the disease.
But she will ask, “where are we going?” “where are we?” “who are you?” “where is my mother?” and similar questions relentlessly. You cannot answer the question enough times; it just keeps getting repeated. She cannot retain what is said to her. I find it fascinating that she has no trouble remembering what she is worried about. Something works deep inside there, but not the ability to remember what was just said to her. Never.
Taking care of her and my father has been a team effort among my siblings, but like all teams, this one is not made up of equal players. I have done my part in terms of managing the medical side of their care. But that is, frankly the easiest part. My sisters and brother have done much more than I have in terms of managing their lives overall. My two sisters in particular, Ro and Dor, have been beyond wonderful and selfless in all they have done.
Before we left Albany to pick my parents up, Linda and I made signs to put on the back of the seat, in front of my mom, reminding her where we were going, who we were going to see, who was in the car. While it didn’t work perfectly, it actually worked quite well on the way down to the city. Given her other deficits, it is interesting that she can still read English and Hebrew.
Linda picked up sandwiches which we brought in the car and gave them to eat on the way down to the city. They were both dressed up for Saturday morning services, something they attend weekly. In Florida, they attend synagogue three days each week since the daily minyan is no longer available. While in Saugerties, the pickings are slimmer and they just go Saturday mornings, but they both still enjoy services. In Florida, my dad serves as gabbai (the person who calls people up to the Torah) and often davens (sings/chants) the prayer service, something he is quite good at. Up here in New York, they are just congregants and that seems to be plenty good by them too.
As we drove down, there was pleasant conversation with my father and my mom seemed reasonably satisfied, responding well to cues to read the information on the seat in front of her as needed. We were particularly concerned about the effects of being away from her familiar environment but she really did quite well on that ride. The weather was glorious and there was no traffic to speak of.
Eventually we made it to New York City and to Dan and Beth’s apartment in Harlem. Their building is lovely and their one bedroom apartment is as spacious as a NYC one bedroom apartment gets. They have room for Evey’s crib and a chair to hold and feed her in the bedroom. And their cat, Hamilton–a three legged cat–seems to have behaved reasonably well with the presence of a new lifeforce in his space.
In the apartment, Great Grandpa was in his glory. He was holding Evey and speaking to her and explaining that she knows that he is her friend and she seemed quite pleased as well. This was the reason for all of the effort. For David, getting to see a generation three removed from his own, his own progeny, getting to hold and speak to and be with that great granddaughter, was nothing less than a miracle, the fulfillment of some sort of cosmic justice.
The fact is, he never should have been alive to witness this amazing moment. He was supposed to have been killed long ago in northeastern Poland. The nazis had more than enough resources devoted to making sure he died. There were ss everywhere, there was a ghetto and plenty of anti-Semitic Poles ready to turn Jews in to the Germans. The statistics are startling. 80% of Jews in Poland before World War II did not survive to the end of the war. 98% of Jewish children were killed. The nazis did not want anyone young enough to reproduce to survive and special attention was paid to youth.
David, my dad, lost his mother, his sister and his brother. His father died shortly after the war, while in a displaced persons camp, just before they were scheduled to leave to America. All of the cousins and friends and neighbors he knew were in the same boat. Of the approximately 4,500 Jews in and around Ewier (his hometown in Poland) in 1939, between 50 and 100 lived to see 1945. David had done amazing things and overcome incredible odds to reach America and build a new life.
Although, she is no longer aware of much of her own history, Paula, my mom, went through similar difficulties. I am less certain of the numbers in Sarnik, but there have been mass graves uncovered there and the numbers are similarly grim. Her mother, Lea Silberfarb, was beyond bright and brave and I am so proud that my daughter wears that name so well. Lea rescued her three children against all odds, unable to even get word to her husband who was killed by the Germans.
So now, 73 years after the end of World War II, having overcome all of that and having built a new life in a new land, learning a new language, having experienced all of the illnesses he has accumulated, here was my dad, 95 years old, holding the next generation. Those who came with an army to kill him are gone. He remains. And his legacy lives on in a new baby’s bright eyes.
He was glorying in her, loving her and loving the experience. We have had our challenging moments and Linda has been kind enough to provide this forum for me to discuss them before.
This was a very different moment. This was the reason to endure all of those other moments. He understood that. Linda understood that. Dan and Beth understood that. And all wanted him to have that moment. It was a form of pure joy that is hard to put into words.
After that visit, Dan showed Bobe and Grandpa the view from the patio of his building and we said our farewells. We stopped at our apartment and they got to see it and to use the facilities before we headed back upstate. We were to meet my brother Steve along with his family for dinner, his wife Shari and their amazing children, Laura and Jordan. The prior evening, we had seen them at Shari’s retirement party and I was so impressed with her, Steve and their children as they each spoke so eloquently about Shari’s remarkable career managing a large part of OPWDD, the state office tasked with caring for people with developmental disabilities.
We did not have as easy a time driving up. My mom was tired and did not respond as well to the sign on the seat. She was not as easily comforted and the relentless questions were rapid fire. Linda worked hard to keep her engaged, comforted and oriented, but it wasn’t easy.
We arrived at the Harriman exit and made it to the restaurant where we were meeting my brother’s family. They came out to the car as we pulled up and grabbed my parents, giving Linda and I a breather.
We had a nice meal, I had a cold beer, Linda enjoyed two glasses of sangria. After dinner, we drove the remainder of the way to Saugerties where we dropped off the parents to the care of their aide. With all of the things that could have gone wrong, there were no unfortunate events.
We had a successful visit and my dad has subsequently spoken joyfully of that day.
It is not every day that you can give your parent that kind of gift. Of course, Dan and Beth were quite essential to that. They are incredible people, kind and loyal and already clearly outstanding parents.
It was a wonderful Father’s Day gift and a rewarding day. The following day, actual Father’s Day, Linda and I didn’t go anywhere. I did some yard work, also known as my therapy, we grilled and relaxed.
Note: I wrote a post previously that included portions of this story (here). I wanted to write about it in a different way, explore it further.
I met Mindy before we even moved to Canarsie. I was a month shy of my fifth birthday. In the twilight of a warm August evening in 1964, we drove across Brooklyn to see our new home. After we got out of the car, my mom took my hand and led me up the stairs of the next door neighbor’s house, and rang the doorbell. A woman answered. “Hi, let me get Mindy,” she greeted us in a husky voice. “Mindy!” she yelled, “Come down and meet our new neighbors!” Apparently, Mom had, on a previous trip, introduced herself and our visit was expected.
I stood on my tiptoes to see over the solid part of the screen door. In the dim light, I could make out the shape of a girl, who looked to be about my age and size, coming down the stairs. We waved at each other. The screen door opened and our moms talked while we looked at each other.
Mindy was olive-complected and skinny. Her almond-shaped brown eyes didn’t line up exactly right – neither did mine. In the coming years, we would share the experience of wearing an eye patch to correct muscle weakness. We bonded over being neighborhood outcasts. We also enjoyed pretending, making up elaborate games involving playing school or imagining we were pirates.
Since only a narrow alley separated our houses, we would talk from our respective windows. We had a lot in common – we each had a brother named Mark (her’s spelled it Marc) who we complained about. Our mothers were teachers. We each shared our houses with extended family. Her aunt, uncle and two cousins lived in the downstairs apartment of their house, while my grandparents and two uncles lived upstairs from us. We were both sports fans. As we got older we talked incessantly about our beloved Knicks. We obsessed about our crushes on particular players (me on Dave DeBusschere, her on Henry Bibby).
There were some important differences. Her mother was a screamer. I could hear her yelling at Mindy, even calling her names, from inside my house. Though my dad was the one with the temper in our family, he never resorted to name-calling.
Her mother would come home from work and lay down to rest, insisting on quiet in the house, before she made dinner. Mindy and I would do anything to avoid disturbing her. Mrs. Schiff’s anger was a thing to behold. If we couldn’t play outside because of the weather, we used my bedroom or basement. I was rarely invited to her house.
Mindy was my best friend. That is until my friendship with Susan blossomed at the end of third grade. Susan and I were in the same class; Mindy was never in ours. Things got complicated because Susan and Mindy weren’t friends.
One day, Mindy and I were deep into pretending that the narrow strip of dirt and grass between our two houses was a ship. I was the captain; she was the first mate. We were busy battling pirates when Marguerite, Johnny, Susan and Mike showed up. “You stupid, skinny idiot,” they taunted. I was relieved – they weren’t jeering me. I stood silent.
Not only was I silent while the taunts rained down on Mindy – after a while I joined in. I knew it was wrong, even in the moment. But, it was too tempting; it was exhilarating to be part of the powerful.
Mindy and I didn’t speak for months. I would lay in my bed staring out my window, looking at her house only a few feet away, feeling guilty and ashamed. I couldn’t stand it. I went to my mother and told her what happened and asked what I should do. She said there was only one thing to do, apologize.
“But what if she doesn’t accept my apology?”
“She may not, but you have to do it. You’ll feel better, even if she doesn’t.”
I couldn’t bring myself to do it immediately, but I knew she was right. After a few days, I got my courage up.
I spotted her in front of her house, getting ready to get on her bicycle. I called to her, “Mindy! I’m sorry,” I blurted it out. She turned to look at me, warily. I came down my steps and approached her, continuing, “Can we be friends again? I promise never to do anything like that again.” She gave me a small smile and said, “It’s okay with me, but we need to talk to my mother.” “Okay, whatever you want,” I said, relieved, though the thought of facing Mrs. Schiff made my stomach turn over.
At a pre-arranged time, I rang her doorbell and Mindy answered. She ushered me up the stairs. Their apartment was the mirror image of my grandparent’s place next door. Her mother was seated at the kitchen table, taking a break from making dinner. I told her I apologized and it would never happen again. She told me, in her sand-papery smoker’s voice, in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t bully Mindy and I couldn’t treat her like a second fiddle, or else I’d be in trouble. “You can’t play with Mindy only when no one else is available,” she warned. She nodded toward the pot of boiling water on the stove.
Maybe I imagined that she gestured to the boiling water – but I believe she actually did. In my memory she said, “I will boil YOU in that pot if you mistreat her!” Whether she uttered those words or not, I clearly got the message. Almost 50 years later Mindy and I are still friends. I learned my lesson.
I have always prided myself as someone in touch with their feelings. I can usually pinpoint the source of my emotions. Frustration with a relationship, disappointment in an outcome, anxiety about a challenge, excitement about an upcoming new experience – I can usually identify what is going on. Lately that ability seems muddled – I’ve had more free-floating anxiety than usual.
I was driving south on the Thruway the other day, heading to New York City for something like the 5thtime in a month (I’m usually excited by the prospect of time in the city). This time I just felt nervous, my brain flitting from one thing to another, I was having a hard time concentrating. Thankfully I was able to focus on the road – it would truly have been a really bad sign if I got lost. I can make the trip on autopilot at this point. I tried to think through what has been going on, why this unease? Why have I been feeling more overwhelmed than circumstances seem to warrant? Since I was alone in the car, I took the opportunity to try and sort it out.
I am well aware that I am very fortunate, my life is an embarrassment of riches. I try to keep gratitude in the forefront, but, oddly, I find that the more I have, the more I fear losing it. I’m not referring to things (though I do have a confusing relationship with things, I like them more than I should), but to people. Readers of this blog know that our daughter-in-law is expecting a baby any day now. I think humming along in the background of my brain has been an awareness of the risks involved for everyone. I am also well aware of the fact that I have no control over how things will go. If only I could wrap up my loved ones in a cocoon to protect them! Obviously, not an option. So, maybe one contributor to my heightened level of anxiety is anticipation of this big event.
It’s funny in some ways because we spend so much time wishing for things (both tangible things and situations/events) and then when they happen, you realize it isn’t quite what you thought. There are strings attached.
You hope that your child finds a partner in life. But when they do, it changes your relationship (in all sorts of ways, many positive, some unanticipated). You look forward to being a grandparent, but that brings new worries. You look forward to a trip, but then you deal with the aggravation of delayed flights or turbulent weather. You want the luxury of a swimming pool in your backyard, but then you have to deal with the maintenance (a seemingly never-ending source of aggravation in our case). These may seem like wildly different ‘things,’ but there is a theme. There is a cost that comes with the things we want. Perhaps that is obvious, but it makes me stop and think. There is virtue in simplicity. Maybe I should consider Buddhism! The way I understand one of its central tenets is that you shouldn’t become attached to things or ideas – you need to let go of expectations. I don’t know if I can do that.
Or maybe I need to figure out how to not let these things get to me; figure out a way to acknowledge the worry, but then set it aside, especially when there isn’t something to be done.
But, it is so easy to lose perspective. Over the last couple of months, we have been enmeshed in the process of buying a condo in NYC. That’s the reason for so many trips to the city. Filling out the paperwork for a mortgage and shepherding it through the process felt like a full-time job. How blessed am I that making this purchase is even an option? But it is also a source of anxiety. It is a huge investment, the numbers are scary. But then I would remind myself that if it fell through, there was no real loss. And, if we successfully closed on it, and it turned out to be too big a financial commitment, we could sell it. So why did it feel so stressful?
In part, I blame Trump. You may ask, what is the connection? As I was driving down the Thruway, mulling things over, I realized that another large piece of my anxiety came from worries about our country’s future. I happened to be reading a novel, Ready Player One, set in a dystopic future that was all too imaginable to me. I have no faith in Trump, he has appalling judgment and is intent on sowing seeds of hate and fear, and Congress isn’t willing to take him on. The threats of climate change, of civil unrest rooted in the growing divide in this country, of America losing its footing, are all too real. Not to mention the tragedy of gun violence. Making such a huge investment in a time like this feels like a leap of faith, but my faith is shaken.
This unsettled feeling about our future was reinforced by an experience I had on that trip. On the day I was driving, a video went viral of a white guy going on a rant in a New York deli because the employees were speaking Spanish. It is the type of thing that seems to be happening a lot more in this age of Trump and ubiquitous cellphones. One of the reasons I was making the trip was to be at the new apartment for the guy to install cable and wifi. The guy arrived, at the appointed time, and, as is often the case, it took quite a bit longer than expected for him to successfully get things running. He was there for a couple of hours. At one point, while we were waiting for technical support people (he was on hold with his office) to try and fix things on their end, his personal phone rang and he asked me if I minded if he answered it. “If I do, I will be speaking Spanish,” he explained. “Of course you can answer your phone,” I responded. He shrugged sheepishly, as he answered. I moved toward the kitchen to give him space.
As I reflect on this interaction, I realize that I would feel differently if he had been in the middle of explaining something to me, then it would be rude to take a personal call, regardless of the language he spoke. But at that point we were just waiting awkwardly. I had no problem with him taking his call. I thought it was a sad commentary that he felt the need to explain that he would be speaking Spanish. It was a personal call, it wasn’t my business to understand his end of the conversation anyway. When he got off the phone I said we had come to a sad place if he needed to ask if it was okay to speak Spanish. He gave a small smile and another shrug.
During my 2 ½ hour drive and as I continue to think about my state of mind, I have come to a better understanding of what’s been going on. Not surprisingly, most of the issues are out of my control. I decided I need to focus on what I can do to manage it.
These are the strategies I came up with:
Avoid reading dystopic novels (at least for a while).
Reduce the number of times I allow myself to look at Twitter and Facebook to two times per day. Look at blocking some of the more vitriolic sources from my Facebook feed.
Find an organization or campaign that I can volunteer for that is in concert with my values. (Or, alternatively, assuming Dan and Beth will allow/need, help with the baby!)
Devote more time to productive activities, whether it is clearing clutter in my home, doing research for my memoir or talking to friends, spend more time doing constructive things so I don’t dwell in worry.
I hope that isn’t too ambitious. It doesn’t seem like it should be. If you have suggestions, please share. I’ll report back.