When my mother was a young child the Nazis occupied the Netherlands.
When I was a young child I longed to be a writer. My dream job.
She watched them take away her sailor-philosopher father.
She helped her mother hide other Jewish children. They lived.
Her father was eventually released from the camp. He lived too, though forever changed.
I think about survivor’s guilt sometimes. And wish I had asked my mother about that before she died.
My mother lost her first born child at age 8. He drowned.
My oldest son is 8 now.
I am terrified of my children drowning.
My mother lost her first born daughter, too. She died in child birth. A preventable outcome.
I cannot write these words with dry eyes.
As a child I felt afraid of the deaths that wove themselves into the fabric of my mother’s being. My fear muted all the words. I listened and sometimes looked away. Though I had questions I never spoke.
I am a mother now. I too have lost babies. I am no longer afraid to feel her pain, sense it intermingling with my own. I cannot look away.
The questions do not matter anymore. Besides, every answer is a lie.
My mother left the Netherlands to start a new life shortly before my brother and I were born, in Canada. She was, as I understand it, desperate to start over. To pass go. To collect $200. And to leave across the pond that unspeakable grief. To stop seeing all the reminders, I imagine. To forget.
We never forget.
But my mother was a pragmatist.
I suppose she had to be. What else was there? She was the oldest of 3 girls when the occupation began and her father was stolen. Her mother had a small business to run and children to save. Pragmatism meant survival.
“You will starve” she said of my childhood literary aspirations.
We had some lean years while I grew up. Nothing like what she or my father had experienced, mind you. But enough to frighten me.
I grew up believing her. I would never make a living as a writer. I needed a real job.
I make a living writing now. But not literature.
I write for judges. I write to and on behalf of clients. I write to other lawyers. Sometimes I am a decision maker; I write decisions.
I am not starving.
Though sometimes I hunger.
Sometimes I wish I had not worked so hard to prove my worth to others.
When she died, my mother loved me. She saw me. She respected and trusted me.
We did not start out there. Generations of trauma and institutions founded on power and hatred made sure of that.
I have wished, on occasion, that I wasn’t the good daughter my mother never wanted. Yet I hold fast to having become – finally – the good daughter who was wanted when she died.
I feel pathetic for a moment, making these admissions. An ounce of pragmatism might cure that ill.
2020 was a catapult. The sort you might find in Angry Birds. (Does anyone still play that game?)
Sometimes it takes a lifetime to unlearn the effects of tragedues that predate our time on earth.
Committing to non violence is not enough. Words are not enough.
I have traveled a long road to find love and respect for myself. To trust me.
Even though in times of distress I still act as though the only person to do what is needed, the only one I can count on, is me.
This, too, is a learned behaviour.
I have learned.
Trauma and fear of abandonment are educators. We may not like their teachings. That is irrelevant.
We can unlearn.
I spent 2020 unlearning.
Words – in my head, on a page, in a therapist’s office (or, 2020 style, over Skype, Zoom, name your poison) – and the spaces, the silence, between them let loose my spirit from the shackles of mortality.
Words are free. They cost me nothing. I owe them everything.
Words are my super power. May I use them wisely.
Here you are, 2021. I have been waiting for you. It is about time.
I am ready.
Me and my words.