Happy New Year!


I sincerely wish that 2008 will be a very happy year for everyone! I’ve set aside some grapes for you, more than enough to have one for each month. Don’t forget to make an affirmation as you eat them, one-by-one. (Affirmations are better than wishes!) You can bring the champagne and we can watch the fireworks from the balcony. Happy New Year, Everyone!

P.S. For a translation, visit Wikipedia and read entries for Ecuador, Mexico, Spain and Venezuela.

(I am going to wear red.)

Iowa Caucus Musical

I just couldn’t resist sharing this! It’s a 3 minute CNN video report on the new Iowa Caucus musical running in Des Moines until January 13, 2008, called Caucus!The Musical. I hear that there is something in the works for the New Hampshire primary, too.

View the video clip here

Airline Delays: From A Child’s Point of View

On my recent flight back from Iowa to New York, I sat on an airport runway in a small plane, along with 49 other passengers. There were at least two infants on the plane, plus several young children. Since it was the day after Christmas, most people had a lot of carry-on luggage and the compartments were completely full. Many had to check their carry-on luggage at the gate, as is often necessary when there isn’t room for larger pieces which don’t fit at all in the compartments on small aircraft. The fact that the plane was full forced many to gate check luggage that, under different circumstances, would have normally fit.

When we first knew we would be waiting for at least an hour, I vowed to myself to stay positive. The woman in front of me was the mother of one of the infants on board and she remarked to the flight attendant that she hoped it wouldn’t be too long, as she had the baby’s formula in her carry-on luggage, which she had to gate check as there wasn’t any room. She said that her baby would be waking up soon and would be hungry.

Around me I could hear faint chuckles of other passengers and I could just read their nervous thoughts of enduring a screaming, hungry baby if we didn’t get off the ground and to our destination soon. Next to the sleeping infant was a young girl, who had just turned seven years old on Christmas Day. I will call her Emily. Emily was traveling with her father, a non-custodial parent, to see her grandparents in New York, along with her younger sister, age 5.

Our delay ended up being three hours. Although we weren’t doing any flying, the time seemed to be, as I ended up talking with Emily’s father about life after divorce, being a non-custodial parent, and the upcoming Iowa caucuses. For much of the time, his two daughters slept, their bodies curled up and twisted like human pretzels in the small seats.

During the last hour of our three hour wait, the baby woke up and Emily immediately “shared” her doll with her, distracting her for a bit from the hunger pains that soon would follow. The flight attendant was able to give the baby water, which also helped to delay the inevitable. Only in the very last twenty minutes did the baby really start to fuss. On top of it all, we had been served all the liquids that were available on the plane already and there was no water in the bathroom, plus one of the air conditioner fans was not working. So it was hot and stuffy on the plane, which is enough for anyone to feel uncomfortable.

Emily’s playful, positive spirit got a lot of us through those three hours. She said the most amazing things with the innocence of a child, with a touch of “let’s pretend I’m older” thrown in. After all, she is the older sister. Her father told me how she told him it’s only 6 more years and she’d be a teenager! We laughed at the thought, although I think he’s a bit nervous about having two teenage daughters in six to eight years.

During these three hours, Emily could have also been cranky, as some children might get, but she didn’t even go there. Her joyful presence was contagious and most of us around her were smiling and chuckling from her positive spirit.

When they announced that we were returning to the gate, Emily grabbed her doll and questioned why we had to be on the plane so long and asked, “Was this a practice?” I laughed and said, “Yeah, it’s like a practice airline boarding drill; just like the fire and tornado drills you do at school.”

She just smiled and gathered her things with no complaints and no fuss. We all de-boarded the plane to find out that most people (myself included) would have to wait another day to fly as the weather was bad in many places.

I smiled a lot that day, thinking about Emily and especially her idea of a “practice” with airplane boarding and delays. I thought about how different our reactions to airport delays would be if we all took her attitude of “just practicing” to heart and exercised a bit of patience. We wouldn’t be expecting the plane to take off, so we all might just go with the drill without complaining! The added benefit would be that if we had more practice at this, we would learn to get it right all the time. After all, practice makes perfect!

Change Is The Prelude to Growth

I thought this video was particularly appropriate for this time of year. Enjoy the images and their messages as you reflect upon 2007 and look forward to 2008.

Bird Watching

When I was a kid, I used to love watching nature, and particularly birds. It was a strange love affair really, as I also had some bad experiences with several birds as a kid and a teenager. I was attacked by a blue jay while I was riding my bike because I unknowingly came too close to her fallen nest, and several years later, a trained crow perched itself on my back when I was on a high school Spanish class trip in Mexico. The experiences left me with a feeling of keeping my distance from those types of birds and I never wanted nor asked for birds as “pets.” (I preferred cats and dogs.)

Yet I’ve always been fascinated by birds, mainly preferring the large, majestic birds such as hawks and eagles or the tiniest of birds such as the hummingbird and small Jenny wrens. Aside from blue jays and crows, I absolutely loved nature and being outdoors and used to spend hours on end just observing the hawks in the sky with their wings spread out wide, gliding through the sky like an artist painting a new masterpiece, or robins in my yard searching, pecking for worms as food for their young. I was a member of the Audubon Society and used to be able to correctly identify birds from my studies as a kid. I would spend hours looking for birds and trying to find as many different types as I could.

Then city life introduced me to pigeons. I have to admit that I was not particularly fond of them, as I had often heard that they were like “rats with wings,” and carry disease. At the same time, there has always been something intriguing about them as they reminded me of doves, which are symbols of peace to me. I’ve since learned that pigeons are related to doves and have often been referred to as “rock doves.” Still, you won’t find me feeding them as I don’t really want them to get that close, just in case.

A couple of days ago I was walking across a university campus where there is a small space as a memorial for the victims who died on September 11, 2001. Two pieces of the Twin Towers form part of that space. Next to the towers on the grass were a group of pigeons. Before I could look away, they immediately took off in flight, together, in unison, swooping over my head twice, circling around the trees, their tight unit sounding like shutters that ever so gently knock on the windowsill as if to say, “Will you please let me in?” At one point in their dance, two of them split from the group, surrounding the flock on either side, as if they were the grown-up chaperones on a school field trip, keeping everyone in line so that no one gets lost or hurt. In an instant they then quickly moved back into the crowd and became part of the flock again.

It was a very moving, precious moment. I stopped in my tracks, along with my colleague who was walking with me, and we looked up to admire the beauty and inspiration of it all. The fact that they flew out from where the pieces of towers were made their impact profoundly touching. We instantly stopped talking as they swept over us twice, dancing as if they were performing a private screening of their newest ballet repertoire just for us, all in flight, in perfect unison, swooping and turning, soaring and diving, then moving quickly along to another tree, around a building, until they were no longer in our sight. I wanted them to come back! It was absolutely mesmerizing.

That day on the campus, next to the tiny remnants of the Twin Towers, the pigeons got my attention. Having been a witness to seeing the plane that hit the second tower on September 11th, I’m still pondering the pigeons’ message to me. Perhaps it was a reminder to “stop and smell the roses” again. After 9/11, I know I was particularly grateful that I was late for my meeting that day, as it probably saved my life. I am forever grateful for my loving friend, who I was talking to that morning, and chose to stay in the presence of our conversation rather than get to my breakfast meeting that beautiful morning.

After the terror of 9/11, all New Yorkers seemed more appreciative than ever of the circumstances and people in their lives. It’s now 6 years later and I wonder how many stop to think about what is going well, who we love, and what is good with our lives. Sometimes the stress of life gets in our way of noticing the positive. How many of us stop and say “thank you?” Do we appreciate our blessings?

The experience with the pigeons reaffirmed my belief of how we need to take the time to stop and observe the beauty around us, particularly from other forms of life on this planet. Although I was fortunate to grow up in an unpopulated, rural area, with nature all around me, we can see nature no matter where we are living. In a city such as New York where I currently live, there are many opportunities. All we have to do is pay attention.

Perhaps the pigeons were spreading a message of peace; peace not only for the world, but peace within us. With the holiday season among us, some people get very depressed: depressed over unresolved family issues, loneliness, their perceived lack of money, or the inability to live up to the “images” of the “perfect” holiday gatherings. When we look inside ourselves for peace, instead of trying to live up to someone else’s standards or expectations for us, we are doing ourselves a big favor!

So after watching the beautiful pigeon dance, I know that I won’t look at them the same as I had before. I am at peace with sharing this urban habitat with them and appreciate the message of appreciation and peace they brought to me a few days ago. (I may even start bird watching for crows and blue jays, too!) The pigeons gave me a wonderful Christmas gift in their reminder to stay “present” and take time to appreciate all that’s good in my life. What a wonderful Christmas present indeed!

In honor of the pigeons’ dance, I’d like to share a video I found of a flock of blackbirds in Montana. The videographer set it to music. I hope you take the time to stop and watch it. Enjoy the bird watching!

The Flock

Civic Responsibility

I recently was talking politics with a group of colleagues and friends. Having just returned from Iowa (my home state for those that haven’t yet figured that out from my writings), I am always “pumped up” with politics on my mind since everywhere you turn now in Iowa the focus is on the upcoming Iowa Caucus on January 3.

In the United States, one often hears that there are three major topics of discussion that people should avoid: religion, sex and politics. It’s a funny thing, because when I was growing up, I was encouraged to talk about two of those controversial topics: religion and politics. (Being a boomer with parents from the pre-boomer age, we didn’t do too much discussion on sex!)

Of the two, I probably spent more time talking about politics than anything else. There are really many reasons why this was so, and the fact that I lived in Iowa had a lot to do with it, as well as the fact that my dad and his family were always very opinionated!

I am very grateful that I was exposed and encouraged to participate in our democracy. That meant that there was never a question whether I would vote when I was legally able to do so. But before voting, I needed to be informed on who I was voting for and why. It was my civic responsibility to learn what the issues were, to look inside myself to identify what issues were important to me and to vote for my candidate of choice.

This process was as necessary for me back then as it is still vital for all of us today. Yet how many of us are really informed of the candidates’ positions? How many of us don’t bother to vote at all, because we’ve become apathetic to the political process? Are you the kind of person who strategizes about how to vote based on what you think the country is “ready for?”

I was surprised in my conversation today with a colleague to hear him strategizing about whether the country was “ready for” a black President, a woman President or a Mormon President… He commented that he was not going to “throw away his vote any longer.” I guess he felt that by really voting for his candidate of choice, (which is often who he perceives to be the least likely to win), he was “taking away” a vote for “the most likely to win” candidate in that same party, thereby resulting in the opponent from the other party winning the election.

Wow, I thought, this is a sad way to look at our democracy and our role in it. On what basis are we determining the one who is “most likely to win?” And at what point in the process? We all know that the polls change and that the only thing that really counts is our vote! What if the majority of people approached voting this way? What if their “real” choice was the one they perceived to be the least likely to win, and thus, vote for the second, third or even fourth “best option?” If all of those people really voted for their first choice, the result may be entirely different! We might actually get what we want for our country!

If you are one of those U.S. residents or citizens who has decided that your vote does not matter, or that the country is “not ready” for the candidate you support, I urge you to think again.

Become pro-(name of candidate you really want) versus anti-(name of candidate you don’t really want). If you are not sure who you want, try a new approach. I believe that we can apply the law of attraction to politics, just as we can apply it to our everyday lives. Just as you can create change in your life by focusing on the outcome you want to create, you can envision a nation the way you want it to be. You can imagine it in its ideal state, visualizing the change you desire, the future that you want for yourself, your children and your grandchildren. Focus on the outcome and the ideal candidate for you will become clear to you as you sift through the maze of speeches, articles, debates, podcasts and websites with their platforms.

I did that and my candidate is Barack Obama. I’m ready and looking forward to the change for my country and for the world.

EFT

EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Technique. It’s also commonly referred to as Tapping. I have been studying this method of healing and plan to become an expert on using it, both for my own personal reasons and in my work. I invite you to keep an open mind and take a look.

Reflections of a Holocaust Survivor

Last night I was invited to a Hanukkah celebration. I am not Jewish and didn’t grow up in an area with many people of the Jewish faith, and had never been to any Hanukkah celebrations before. So I was very excited to go and learn more about it.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself there. Everyone welcomed me and some spent time explaining their traditions, their faith and what the holiday means to them. At this party, there were a lot of like-minded spiritual souls and I could feel the energy in the room. We ate, drank, sang, danced and read poetry. It was truly amazing and I was honored to be there as a guest.

What I wasn’t expecting was the opportunity to talk with a Holocaust survivor. I had never before met anyone who had survived this terrible tragedy and I was touched beyond belief by this gentle, sweet man who told his story to me off and on throughout the night. We talked in between poems, prayers and songs and since I wasn’t taking notes, some of the details may be a bit fuzzy. Each time we spoke, he added more to his story. The evening soared as if I were reading a suspense novel, as I couldn’t wait for the next break to hear more of his story and how he escaped with his life when so many did not.

So what follows is my recap of his complex experience. It is a complicated story, as I imagine many of the survivor stories are, and he spared me from those horrific details. The images from history and the media can write between the lines in this story. All I could do was listen in amazement at the fact that he got out alive. I may have some of the sequencing of events listed incorrectly, as he was telling his story in bits and pieces, throughout the night. So look for his story in the future as he has recorded it for one of his sons to share with the world in the future.

His name is Alex and his ordeal lasted three and a half years. He was born in what he referred to as “ex-Czechoslovakia.” He was a young adult when he first went to a concentration camp in Russia. While there, he escaped being killed three times. He had grenades thrown at him and still lives to this day with pieces of that in his body. On the third occasion where he escaped death, the soldier had a gun pointed at his head and asked him his name. He was spared in that moment because he had the same last name as the soldier!

Miraculously, he escaped from that camp and found some Hungarian army clothes that just happened to fit him perfectly. He was 22 years old when he escaped. This landed him in the Hungarian army for one and half years, where he “pretended” to be Hungarian. He said he had bright red hair, and people were suspicious of his way with words and his speech and he even had a commanding officer ask him once if he had Jewish family. He said the officer remarked about his intelligence, his educated conversations and that’s why he asked if he had Jewish roots. He told him he didn’t know.

This man was able to pull off passing as a Hungarian during that time. He speaks many languages. He described having to go to Catholic mass every Sunday and how his knowledge of Russian helped him through that time as he could read what to do and say by reading the Russian. He also quickly learned to cross himself as the Catholics do and to kneel at the right time.

When his battalion was relieved of their duties, he returned to his home at the time. In this community, all the Christians lived at the bottom of the hill in the village and the Jewish families lived on the hill. Upon his return to his community, one of the men in his unit asked him where he was going, as he saw that he was headed up the hill. Alex told him he was going home. His “secret” was out and no sooner had he returned home than was he locked up again, as the Marshall came looking for him almost immediately. He had a chance to run for it at the time, as he was warned of the Marshall’s coming, but he didn’t run because he knew that they would make his family suffer, as this was the standard practice at the time. So Alex was arrested, being accused of killing the Hungarian soldier who once owned the clothes that this man used to hide behind.

He was court-martialed by the Hungarians, and described seeing huge black candles during the court-martial hearing. He remarked that he had never seen black candles before. He told the authorities that he did not kill the Hungarian soldier, that there were always plenty of clothes and other things lying around during wartime and that he only put on the clothes. He said that the officials believed his story, so they “only” sentenced him to six years in prison, which he described as bearable since he wasn’t expecting to get out of that situation alive.

Since the war was being fought with greater tenacity during that time and there was a lot of fighting going on in Budapest, the prisoners were being forced to move their location from one side of the river to the other. There was another young, Jewish man with him on that occasion. They seized the opportunity that presented itself before reaching the other side of the river to escape once again.

Traveling together, this time they knocked on the door of an unsuspecting older couple, who were initially scared that there were two strange men at their door. But their fears subsided when they heard that the two men were looking for some food and drink. They explained that they were Jewish and were running for safety. The couple took them in, fed them and provided support so that they could hop a train in Budapest to continue on their journey. They didn’t have any money, but were assured that no one was checking on the trains at that time, since there was so much war activity going on and people were coming and going, and few were paying for tickets.

Alex got caught again and ended up in the camp, Bergen-Belsen (which is also where Anne Frank died, I have since learned). While there, he was selected in a line-up of men to be a guard, which I believed is called a Capo. He spent some time telling me how he was known as a nice Capo, because many of the Jewish guards were not nice with the power they were given. (Capos must have been in a particular moral dilemma as they were prisoners themselves, yet placed in what must have been impossible situations by their SS “bosses.”) Alex told me that he would let cold prisoners sneak into warm buildings to warm up, while he lied to the German soldiers when asked if everyone was accounted for. He would let others sneak past the spotlights at night,helping them with the timing so they wouldn’t get discovered while getting much needed supplies. He said it took 30 seconds for the next round of lights to reach a spot, so prisoners had to get down very low and move fast.

One day, the Germans came in and ordered all the men to leave. Their excuse was that the men were going to be transported somewhere else “to work.” He said they all knew what that meant. They herded the men up and packed them onto a train. The train reached a particular crossing point in Germany and it stopped. At this point, there were American soldiers waiting in the bushes to ambush the train. He said that the American soldiers didn’t know what they were capturing: only that they knew it was a German train. When they opened the doors to the train, they saw all the men, huddled together. He said he heard that one of the soldiers accidentally shot one of the men, although he personally never witnessed it. He described seeing a man bowing repeatedly at the feet of an American soldier in appreciation for his freedom.

He described how the other former prisoners eventually hoisted him up in the air and paid a tribute to him as the “Czech Capo” who was nice and kind to them. (Many of the other Jewish guards were not so nice, so there was some backlash towards the Jewish prisoners who served as Capos.)

So the war was ending but the men were sent back to a rehabilitation camp before being released in Belgium. He described the day when they entered Belgium as an extremely joyous one, where the women had sandwiches for them, just as they had for the American soldiers. His eyes lit up as he described the warm reception they got that day from the Belgian people.

It was there that he met his wife, I believe. He described that setting, as she told him about and pointed to another man at the far end of the room who had taken a keen interest in her. She said he was a doctor or dentist and that he really liked her. When Alex asked her if she wanted to be with that man, she kindly remarked that she did not. She said she wanted to be with him and the rest is history.

To hear him talk about his wife was the most touching, moving display of love and devotion that I have felt and heard in a long time. She died some 7 years ago, I think he said, and it is obvious he misses her so. They were married 54 years.

One would imagine that surviving a Holocaust would be the worst event in the life of a person. Yet I got the feeling from this survivor that the Holocaust wasn’t the worst in his mind as he mentioned often that at least he was alive. He would recount story after story, with a statement and a sentiment of optimism because he was still alive. But when talking about his wife, he became sad and you could sense the loneliness in his eyes. He misses her so much. She was his life-time companion, his friend, the woman he knew would be with him from the moment he met her. It was the loss of his wife, his soulmate, the love of his life that he mourns for now; the void in his soul where her daily expression of love used to be and the loneliness without her that makes him sad. He gazed off with sad, sunken eyes when he spoke about losing her. He showed me some old photographs of himself with her when they were younger. What a handsome couple they were!

The love that he had for his wife can be expressed and illustrated by one of his simple, yet profound statements about making latkes, the potato pancakes eaten for Hanukkah. He told me that he used to make the best latkes. He talked about how even his wife used to beam with pride that her husband made the very best ones. But since her death, he says they just don’t taste the same. So although the recipe is the same and he knows how to make them, they are not the same without her.

So in this Hanukkah time, my wish is that we all may be so lucky as this Holocaust survivor to have the love of our life with us for so many years, to fill our lives with meaning and purpose. Love is the recipe for happiness. And may we never forget. Happy Hanukkah!

For further study on other survivors:

A Project from Louisiana

Oral Histories from University of Michigan-Dearborn