Nie Wieder. Never Again.

This semester I am taking a class called The Holocaust through German Film, Literature and Art. Yesterday was the highlight of the semester. Dr. Susan Cernyak-Spatz talked to our class. Dr. Cernyak-Spatz is a 96-year-old Birkenau-Auschwitz survivor.

She came to talk to us because she knows that she doesn’t have forever on this earth, and she doesn’t want her story and the truth of the Holocaust to die with her. She said that she wants us students to be her legacy, and so I will pass along her story.

She is very concerned about modern anti-Semitism, both here and abroad. And she warned us about allowing something so atrocious to happen again. She talked about the Wannsee Conference, when, on January 20, 1942, 15 high-ranking Nazi Party and German government officials gathered at a villa in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee to discuss and coordinate the implementation of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.”

15 people.

That was the point she drove home repeatedly. It was the decision of only 15 people that determined the fate of millions. She warned us to be careful what we believe and how we become persuaded.

And most importantly to never forget.

From Teresienstadt to Birkenau-Auschwitz

In 1941, she and her family were sent to Teresienstadt concentration camp in the Czech Republic. They remained there for a short while until they were sent to Birkenau-Auschwitz in 1942. Upon arrival, she saw the chimneys of the gas chambers billowing with smoke, the guard towers, the machine guns and a sole German ambulance. The ambulance, she said, was a part of the cruelty of the Nazis used to play a psychological trick on the prisoners to seem like they could — or even would — help. But she came to learn that the ambulance transported the Zyklon B canisters to the camp and hauled away the empties.

Upon entrance, the sickly, the very young, the older and the weak were separated immediately. At this time, Susan was 21 years old and in good health so she was able to avoid the first selection.

Her mother, however did not. She was gassed in one of the five gassing chambers housed in the camp within hours of arrival. There were five gas chambers that could hold more than 10,000 at a time. There was a selection of at least this many prisoners every day. For three years.

Next, Susan was then shaved, given the clothes of dead people and issued a rust colored metal bowl that was to be used for “both input and output.” She lamented that this was the most dehumanizing part.

She learned quickly from the other prisoners that she should sleep on a top bunk to avoid spilled bowls, how to wash her hands without water (dirty hands got you killed immediately) and which of the block leaders were “halfway human.”

When she pulled up her sweater sleeve to reveal her tattoo, I was struck. It was the first Holocaust tattoo I’d ever seen. I wasn’t unaware, I’d just never seen one in person before, and now I was seeing it from three feet away. Almost the length of her forearm. Her number, followed by a triangle to denote that she was a Jew — so that the SS officers wouldn’t mistakenly take a non Jew to the gas chambers.

She spoke a number of languages at the time, including: German, English, Spanish, French and Slovak. This skill proved valuable throughout her time in camp. Not the least of times was when she met a Slovak block leader with whom she had a friend in common in the Czech Republic. The block leader got Susan a job on the inside of the camp.

Susan said that this was the only way she stayed alive. Her job was to type names, numbers and ages of the prisoners brought in. Books filled with lists of names. Inside the camp, she said life was different for her and 14 other workers. They had access to showers, actual toilets and better food.

At one point, Susan became ill. She was hospitalized and because she came from inside the camp, she was treated well. She had a bed to herself, she got all the medicine she needed and, in about 7-10 days, she was healthy again and returned to the offices. Her job had been given away, but she was moved to Kanada Kommando where the sorting of the possessions of the Jews brought to camp took place. This is where Susan worked until 1945.

She remembers the three SS officers who were in charge of her and the other workers. She said they were sort of protective of the women. They gave the workers advice and helped them out when they could. She believes that in order to avoid being sent to the front, the officers used the women in the offices as an excuse to appear necessary and therefore keep an easier command.

The Kanada Kommando was between the 4th and 5th gas chambers and so she saw the prisoners who were selected to be gassed brought in every day. She said she couldn’t let herself get emotionally torn down. She just did her job and she lived.

To Ravensbrück

When the Germans were sure they were losing the war, they sent the prisoners on a death march. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum explains the death marches like this: “Prisoners were forced to march long distances in bitter cold, with little or no food, water, or rest. Those who could not keep up were shot. The largest death marches took place in the winter of 1944-1945, when the Soviet army began its liberation of Poland. Nine days before the Soviets arrived at Auschwitz, the Germans marched tens of thousands of prisoners out of the camp toward Wodzislaw, a town thirty-five miles away, where they were put on freight trains to other camps. About one in four died on the way.”

Susan said that when the orders of the death march came, the three SS officers in charge of the women in the office told them to find the warmest clothes and the best shoes and the most food. Susan didn’t know why, but she did as she was told. After days of trudging through knee-deep snow without rest, food or water, she made it to the train platform, where she was advised by an SS officer to get into an open coal car. She didn’t understand why, but upon arrival at Ravensbrück, the closed cars doors were slid open and everyone inside had died.

From here, she was left stranded, wandering, wondering where to go and what to do next. When they saw a Jeep come along the road, they were so happy and she spoke to the GIs in English. “Where do I go now?” she asked. The American soldier looked at her and said, “Go back to wherever you learned English, I guess.” She is still baffled by the soldier’s lack of understanding that she had nowhere to “go back” to.

She asked the officer, “How do I know that I’m actually free?” He said, “Go ask those officers for their submachine guns.” The SS officers handed them over to her and she still remembers how heavy they were. She said that as she walked along the road she realized that she’d been under guard for three years and suddenly, she could do whatever she wanted. “That was liberation,” she said.

Eventually Susan was taken to a Displaced Persons camp where she was fed, clothed and interviewed about possible family members. She soon discovered that her father was alive and they were reunited.

Susan later met and married an American man with whom she has spent her life here in the US. She earned her PhD and taught in the Department of Language and Culture Studies at UNC Charlotte. She is a mother of three.

Q&A

I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Cernyak-Spatz a question at the end of her talk. I asked her if she has forgiven and if so, whom. She said that the country of Germany has done the most to repair the relationships with people of Jewish faith. She said that she has many German friends of the younger generations but that she won’t talk to the Germans of her generation. She said she has no way of knowing what their involvement in the Holocaust was but that many were complicit or enabling. She said that she doesn’t forgive them and she doesn’t know how they forgive themselves.

Privately, I asked her a question about being called a survivor and if that was OK with her. She thought I was nuts for suggesting she might not be. I explained that in cancer treatment it’s a term that is thrown around a lot and it’s always made me uncomfortable. She said that cancer is a horse of a different color. With cancer, patients are helped and cared for. They are wanted to live and expected to. She said that the Nazis didn’t want her to live. They tried to kill her. And she survived and she’s very proud to be called a survivor.

I think that drove home the point to me of why it’s not a term I identify with. Yes, I am alive while many who have had cancer are not. But when I hear “survive” I think of things like car crashes, gun shots and concentration camps. When I think of my experience with cancer, I think of healing and being well, but not narrowly escaping certain death. I’m glad I asked her. It cleared up a foggy area for me.

 

 

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To everything (turn, turn, turn)

Lately, I’ve been dealing with two issues that are arising in my life: change and perfectionism. I’ll start by talking about change.

It’s fall. The season has changed, the leaves are changing, the weather is changing, and soon the clocks will change. For me, it’s a wonderful time of year. Perhaps, my favorite. I love everything about it.

When in the midst of many changing circumstances, it’s easy for me to get a little “whipped up.” Caught up in the excitement. Scattered. There’s a lot going on for me. And it’s all good stuff. That’s exactly why I want to slow down and savor. Relish. Enjoy. I want to drink in the season, the learning, the new opportunities, the new friends.

Most of all, I want to not only change over time, but to grow. I want to fully experience opportunities and not simply allow my environment to change around me, thereby mistakenly thinking I’ve changed. Since embarking on a new learning, and therefore career, path, I’ve been beyond concerned with growth. I’ve been aspiring to it.

You see, change is inevitable. But growth? Growth is intentional — in both constructs of the word. It is both “on purpose” and “a conscious mental state directed at an object or belief.”

Growth is something that must be allocated effort, time, energy, consciousness, willingness and desire. It is lasting. It is real. It is the act of becoming.

Which brings me to my next topic: Perfectionism.

I don’t think I’m perfect. Heck, I don’t even think that ideal exists. However, I put pressure on myself to try to be. Crazy, right?

I don’t do it in every aspect of my life, in fact, not in most. For instance, I love to run. And I’m a slow runner. I’m OK with that. It’s not the speed that matters, it’s my commitment and my fitness. I don’t run to beat others. I know that I’m not running the same race as others. I am the only person on the race course in my shoes, literally and figuratively. You know what they say about comparison? It’s the thief of joy.

I have been reminded recently, however, of one very important place that I am affected by perfectionism: academically.

It’s a strange phenomenon, perfectionism. It creeps in quietly, and before you know it’s there, it’s taken up residence. I don’t set out to be perfect. Recently, this scenario happened: I thought to myself: “I’ll go do that homework now before I get too tired.” And I did. Then, on the last assignment, the computer did a strange thing and deleted all of my answers. I was frustrated. And so I zipped through all 12 questions at lightning speed, annoyed for having to do them a second time. I finished and hit send. My score? 72%. Now I was really mad at the computer, because the first time I had done this assignment, my score was 90-something%.

That night, I lie there in bed, not able to forget about this assignment. I reassured myself that it’s only one of many, many assignments. And that all of the homework added together is worth only 15% of my total grade. Until I fell asleep, I had that general uneasy feeling that something was wrong.

Friends, this has seriously got to stop!

What am I so worried about? Nobody knows about this assignment. Moreover, nobody cares. But I’m struggling to stop caring. It’s part of the reason that I hesitate to talk to native German speakers in German. Better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and prove it, right? No. Clearly, wrong in this case. It’s a must. I must make mistakes to learn. I must make them aloud and often.

This is real growth opportunity for me. I want to not only change my attitude, but grow into a new mindset about letting go of needing to do things perfectly instead of trying my best and knowing that that is always enough … that I am enough.

Autumn blessings

Ohm so ham.

On this Harvest Moon

Tonight is the Harvest Moon. What a great time to moonbathe. If you’re unfamiliar with the practice, look it up. It has myriad benefits. I’ll be out there tonight, just before bed, drinking it in … and listening to Neil.

 

 

September is the new January

I recently heard someone say that September is the new January. She meant that the school year is akin to the calendar year for beginnings and fresh starts. I hadn’t thought of that before in those terms, but I do love fall. I love when the kids go back to school. And it’s not because of the silence around my house. It’s because I love school. I do as much today as I did when I was a kid.

And as a bonus, I got to start school myself this year.

I returned to school at UNC Charlotte to begin a degree in German. I have a previous degree in Public Relations, so getting the second degree is much more expedient. So far, things are going great! I enjoy my classes very much. I am older than my professor (she teaches both classes) and I’m far older than the other students — even the other “non traditional” ones. It feels a little weird but really it’s OK.

It’s mostly weird when I’m asked if I’ve joined German Club or if I’m coming to Kaffee Klatsch. I’m all about the academic side of my degree, but socially …? Well, it would feel weird to go to Stammtisch at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery with kids who are my daughter’s age. So I’m working my way toward feeling comfortable enough to attend some of the extra curricular activities around the German program.

Right now, I’m far more apt to have a conversation with a professor than a student. We have more in common. Their kids are my kids’ ages, they have husbands and jobs and houses and commutes. Plus, they’re welcoming and helpful and understanding.

I’m gonna master the stairs! I am the Stair Master!

As if getting a degree in German weren’t enough, I’ve now decided to apply to Graduate School. My application and recommendations are underway as we speak.

I’m planning to obtain a Master of Arts in Teaching so that I can teach German at any level, including community college or university. I will work on both degrees concurrently.

The nice thing about the structure of this program is that I can complete my German degree and 18 hours of the MAT program, then begin teaching. Once I’m employed, I can continue the next 18 hours of the MAT and finish with the Master’s qualifications.

It’s all so exciting. Because I’m going to Germany next summer to study in an intensive program at Goethe Institut, I will be able to finish my German degree by December 2018, if all things go according to plan. And I’m hoping to be able to start my student teaching by January 2019.

Book, interrupted

I’ve been occupied lately. (You know how I dislike that word “busy.”) My life is full. So I haven’t written a word of my book since returning from Germany at the end of July. I’ll get back to it.

I have had a recent spark of inspiration after talking with a new friend who is currently dealing with breast cancer. She’s an amazing person that I’ve connected with on a deep level and have so much in common with besides cancer. She lives in Ohio and so, we’ve not met face to face yet. But I’d love to someday, and I’m giving her an anonymous shout out for being awesome. Get it off your chest, girl! 🙂

In talking with her, I’m reminded that my information can be helpful. Honestly, I’m happy that my mere existence can be all that’s needed for others to see that people make it through treatment — and beyond — to fulfill their dreams.

Sometimes self doubt creeps in. Do I really have something important to say? Who’s actually going to read my book? Will it be any good?

Silence!

Book writing is just like any other undertaking. I don’t have to worry now about any of those things. I just have to write.

Forrest Gump

For those who know me well, you know that this is probably my most favorite-est movie ever! (or one of them) When I first saw it back in 1994, I was not “wowed.” I thought it was good, but now I think it’s a masterpiece.

I was only 22 when I first saw it. And I think that I wasn’t aware enough to “get it” entirely. But since then, I’ve watched it so many times. Every time it is on TV (which is a lot, actually), I watch it. I even watched it in German this summer while in Germany. “Lauf, Forrest, lauf!” Every time, I get something out of it and I fall in love with Forrest over and over.

We discussed the movie in one of my yoga classes earlier this year. My teacher pointed out that the beauty of Forrest is that he has no expectations. He doesn’t set the goal of meeting the President of the United States (again), or of being a war hero or of being a father. He simply lives his life and always does his best and his life unfolds.

He also doesn’t expect Jenny to love him back. That’s true love. It’s unconditional. He doesn’t love her because she deserves it or because she loved him first. He just loves her. Period. No expectations.

I strive to be more like Forrest; living without expectations. It sounds kind of unrealistic, but I think of how blissful life would be if I were to simply always do my best and expect nothing in return. I think that it’s those people who truly live in abundance. It’s those people who want everything they have instead of striving for everything they want.

So I’m adopting the attitude of Forrest while writing my book. I’ll write it to the best of my ability and then what will be will be.

 

Parents these days

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of criticism of parents by other parents. It’s a hard time to be a parent, I think. I mean that globally, and I mean it personally.

A few days ago, in Nextdoor, my neighborhood online group, a trending post made me furious. A mom was posting that she saw a high school boy zipping through traffic in a BMW, presumably his parents’, and was causing havoc. She wanted the parents to see the post and know what he’s doing when they’re not with him. I get it. I’d want to know too. The problem isn’t with her post per se, it is with some (many) of the comments.

People took the opportunity to bash these unwitting parents. I understand, reckless drivers are maddening. But it’s not the parents’ fault. I fought the urge on several occasions to respond with, “Do you honestly think that the parents have never told him not to drive like that?!”

Parents can’t be there 24/7. At some point, we have to turn over the keys and trust. Is it stressful? You bet! It’s also worrisome, sometimes angering and at its worst, it can be heartbreaking.

I suppose I take special exception to these blaming comments because I have two teen drivers. One is in another state and, she has been driving for a while. The other lives at home and has only a permit right now. He’s a good driver. A very good one. He loves cars and so there’s a component to his driving that I didn’t have to deal with when teaching his sister. In a word, it’s performance.

He cares about horsepower, gear boxes, acceleration time, handling, cornering and suspension. All of which I couldn’t care less about. Our cars work. Enough said.

He spends a fair amount of his free time researching engines, watching Top Gear, and reading about the latest Bugatti.

Now, we don’t own sports cars. So it’s not like I’ve given him a Nissan GTR with a twin turbo-charged, 4.2-liter engine or an Audi R8 with a Lamborghini V-10 to zip down the tree- lined streets of Matthews in. (I learn things on our drives.) But there is a marked difference between our Lexus and our Honda Crosstour. And he notices them. And … he likes them. “I love getting the Lexus up to speed on Hemby. It happens so fast.” Thanks, bud. Hadn’t noticed. (As the adrenaline practically drips from his fingers around the wheel.)

Sometimes on the highway, he’ll say, “Mom, don’t you ever feel like just punching it?” And because I try not to lie (and because he knows me better), I say, “Only always.”

I do. I want to drive it like I stole it! I want to drive like I’m on the German Autobahn while the rest of Germany is occupied watching the national team playing in the World Cup finals. I want to drive like Matt Leblanc on the Top Gear time track.

But, I don’t because I also want to live and let live and not get motion sick in the process. So I keep it in check. But it’s not always easy. Driving fast is fun. I get it.

So I’ll take Zach back to Germany when he’s licensed and let him open it up. Once he feels what 100 mph+ feels like, maybe it’ll quench that thirst. Or maybe it’ll be a taste of the good stuff, and he’ll want more. I don’t know.

But I can’t change my son. I can impress upon him that driving is serious business and that there is a time and a place for everything. I believe that. I try not to say, “Well, I never!” Cuz, I probably have or would given the chance. Because I’m human.

So when I read that post about the teenage boy driving like a bat out of hell, I don’t condemn the parents. I don’t even condemn the kid. I sympathize.

When Zach gets his license very shortly, he’ll be driving our Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. And I’m happy about that. He hasn’t started driving the Jeep yet because it’s a stick, and we decided that he would learn to drive on our other cars and complete his full sixty hours on an automatic before switching over.

While the Jeep can do some fun stuff, speed isn’t one of them. It’s a six speed. And getting it up to 45 mph on Hemby takes some doing. It requires at least four gear shifts on probably the most difficult manual transmission to be found in a passenger vehicle. It’s not impossible. I do it all the time. It’s just not a “punch it” kind of experience. I’m hoping that his curiosity with the gear box and his fascination with the convertible and doorless experience will be enough.

I’m sure that it’ll be pretty soon that he’ll want to go off roading and see how the suspension works over boulders. And he’ll want to see first-hand why reducing tire pressure helps gain traction in sand. And so we’ll teach him how to do these things safely.

And that’s all we can ever do. Teach our kids. We give them the tools, and we teach them how to use them, but whether or not they ever pick them up and use them on their own is entirely up to them.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’ve never judged another parent. Who hasn’t? We’ve all thought, “What a brat. She should…” I’m trying to be less so.

We can’t control our kids. Any belief that we can is an illusion.

I’ve always tried to let mine be independent. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes they aren’t ready, sometimes I’m not ready. But even when we manage to get it right between us, “they” weigh in.

“Has Zach been wearing his retainers? Has Zach been doing his PT? Has Zach been doing his homework?”

I could answer, but why should I? He’s sitting right beside me. He’s 16. They’re his teeth. His bones. His grades. And he’s old enough to take responsibility. But when I’ve said this to people, they say things like, “Well yes, he’s 16 but you know how much they still need their moms!”

Umm no, they don’t need their moms to nag them. The directions aren’t difficult. They understand. They simply learn to rely on mom.

You can read a zillion articles that blame us parents for coddling our kids and making them dependent on us.

I know I’m doing the right thing. I just wish the judgment didn’t come from both sides.

Damned if you do or don’t.

Parents these days.

White privilege

Yep, it’s everywhere, including health care.

I’ve been tapping away at my book again, and I had to take a hard stop. I was suddenly aware that my experience drips of white privilege. Or maybe just privilege because too many white people don’t have (good or any) health insurance either. So I have to take a new tack.

It’s easy for me to talk about accessing alternative treatments like acupuncture, Chinese herb therapy, physical therapy, lymphatic drainage and psychotherapy because I could afford them. I have laid out complete tirades on this blog before about how I paid $17,000 for out of pocket for treatments that made a huge difference in my ultimate outcome. Outrageous! But you know what? I did it. I paid it. Every last cent. We didn’t go into debt over it. We still had food. We still paid the mortgage. Hell, we even still took trips and ate at fancy restaurants. No one went without shoes or Netflix (the horror!).

It was just inconvenient for us. I would rather have put that $17,000 toward upcoming college expenses, but it was diverted. Because it was there to divert.

But what about people who work their butts off, have (inadequate) insurance but struggle to meet all the bills? What are they supposed to do? What about people who work and have NO insurance, what the hell are they supposed to do when cancer strikes??

This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this. I thought about it A LOT when I was undergoing treatment. I heard plenty of stories about women who had to continue working while getting treatment, and my heart just broke. I continued to remind myself to be grateful for what I had.

My treatments were so powerful that they left me utterly spent. Who wants to talk about the truth of cancer treatment? No thanks, it’s much prettier and socially acceptable to wave pink ribbons and talk about how to “rock” short hair. But the truth is that cancer treatment left me drained, in every way that a person can be.

I had diarrhea so bad that I lost 20 pounds (and I’m thin to start with). My doctors had a very close eye on my weight and my diet was very strictly regimented so as not to upset my precariously balanced digestive system that could easily be tipped in favor of the dreaded fiber and start the cycle of diarrhea all over.

I couldn’t leave my bedroom/bathroom for about ten days after a chemo infusion. During that time, my family brought me food. But the extreme nausea kept me from eating most of it. I’d try. And sometimes it agreed. I could get it down. But it tasted like nothing (at best) or, more typically, like someone poured disinfectant in it.

After about ten days of that, my body was rid of the excess of chemo drugs. By then, I had broken out in burning, irritated red skin eruptions, my muscles and bones ached yet a little more, I slept a few hours here and there thanks to legal marijuana, I had a literal hard knot where my pancreas lay, I wore a path to the toilet, my hands and feet got a bit more numb and tingly, and my heart pounded in my chest from simply rolling over.

One cold dreary day in February, a good friend of mine, in a thoughtful and caring attempt at comforting me, said, “Just pull on a cozy comforter, stay warm and sleep.” It made me cry. Not because it was so thoughtful, but because it was so impossible. If I could’ve pulled up a blanket and slept my way through chemo, I would’ve done it in a chemo-paced heartbeat. But sleep was out of reach due to the high doses of steroids (stimulants). And my stomach burned with acid. And my intestines gurgled with the lurking possibility of an eighth diarrhea episode. And my hot flashes made me kick off the covers every few minutes while dripping with sweat only to be so cold the next minute that I was shivering.

But, after these 10 days, I was ready … to come downstairs.

For the next 11 days till my next treatment, I ate white fish, white rice and a few (about six slices of) vegetables for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Those delicious meals that people sent? Thank god for them! But they weren’t for me. They were for my family. I was typically the meal planner, shopper and cook — yet more duties taken on by my husband and sister. I would sit outside on my deck for a few minutes but the sun was intense and rose my heart rate quickly. It felt like I was running up a hill but I was just sitting on a chair in the sun. It was a strain.

I tell you this not for sympathy. Nor to scare you. I tell you this because I was one of the lucky ones. And I know it. I didn’t have to go to work during this. My sister was able to work a flexible schedule so that she could fly to Denver and help. I honestly don’t remember how many times she came out. It was a lot. And, my husband had a job where he worked from home, and so he was able to care for me and our kids. He worked a great job, in fact. He earned a high salary, he had flexible hours and he had a kick-ass employer sponsored health care plan. It was so good that even my healthcare workers would remark that they never see them that good.

It was so good that I find myself now grateful to have been under that plan at the time and not our current one. We still have employer sponsored health care, but it’s with a small, privately owned company that’s German. And the Germans? Well, they don’t need employer sponsored healthcare because the government picks up the tab. (See the next segment for a side-by-side comparison.) With only about 10 American employees whose families who need coverage, there’s considerably less buying power.

During that time, I can’t imagine having had to get up and go to work. Cook meals for my kids. Drive. And most of all, worry about how we would afford all of the treatment and still keep our house. Our cars. Food.

It’s a crazy, messed up system!

You know why Donald Trump doesn’t care about how to fix healthcare? Because he doesn’t have to, and he’s just selfish enough to not care about the rest of us. He’s the worst kind of person. The privileged kind who thinks he’s not and just doesn’t care enough to understand that he didn’t get where he is by hard work alone. I understand, loan from his dad turned real estate mogul and Harvard and blah, blah, blah. Well, we might as well wipe our asses on that diploma for all the good that premium education has done for this country!

My husband and I didn’t grow up rich. I am the youngest of nine kids. I come from a small town in Ohio that thrived on the pottery and steel industries. My dad was a steel worker for 32 years. When I was about 12, the mill shut down and that was that. Fast forward 34 years and you can find our little river town on the front page of the news with heroin addicts passed out in the front seat. I know what happened in the rust belt. I grew up there. I always had a house, clothes, food and healthcare. But I knew many who didn’t. I went to college at a state school on Pell grants and loans. But I went. And in a few days, I’m going back for a second degree. I was raised with an appreciation of education and health. My mom taught me how to cook real food. And my dad loves to read. I had advantages. I get it.

My husband came from a family of two kids, raised mostly by his single mom with help from his grandma who lived next door. His mom was a nurse who worked shifts. So, grandma was a godsend who opened her heart and home to help out however she could. Michael’s mom was educated and worked hard to get out of shift work and become a VP. And still, she sewed clothes, polished old shoes and budgeted carefully. When it came time for college, my husband took it upon himself to sign up for military service so that he could qualify for GI Bill benefits after serving his time. Michael didn’t end up in the military, though, because his grandmother wasn’t having it. She marched down to the recruitment office and gave the officer a good “Whatfor” and voila! Michael wasn’t going to the military. (That poor recruitment officer didn’t know what hit him). He went on to college and is now gainfully employed. He had help too.

My point is this, while we had less than some and more than most, we know what it’s like to be dangerously close to going without. We have grown up appreciating what was given to us. And I’m still grateful for all the care that allowed me to heal.

But…

enough of this “there but for the grace of God go I” bullshit!

It’s not the grace of God that provides healthcare. And good jobs. And a sustainable supply of affordable and nourishing fresh food. It’s the government. It’s the ability of people (no matter their skin color) to get a small business loan. It’s the farmer who can make a living growing ethically raised chickens and not be forced into factory farming because he can’t afford the open space for fewer chickens.

I am not trying to get into a religious battle here. I’m simply saying that it’s not always the will of God that makes things like they are. Sometimes it’s corrupt governments, racism and greed.

We are all equal in the eyes of God, right? It’s only our own creation of a class system that has screwed things up so royally.

If we all stopped fighting each other, then we could focus on the important things like affordable healthcare, climate change, clean water, healthy food.

Hell, even Jon Snow, who knows nothing, knows enough to convince Queen Danaerys and Queen Cersei to drop the fight for the throne long enough to unite to fight the force that will kill them all — the Army of the Dead. We could learn a thing or two from Game of Thrones, here, friends.

Simply put, human rights are not in limited supply. If one groups gets equal rights, it doesn’t mean less for the other groups. Humans are a greedy bunch, though. I had a friend tell me that he voted for Donald Trump because he feels that white men are becoming marginalized in our society. I’ve given that statement a lot of thought. And I’ve decided that it’s just not true in the slightest. What’s happening is this: white men are given equal (I could argue still greater than equal) voice to women and people of color for the first time in history instead of the hugely disproportionate weight their voice has previously been given. In the past it’s worked out pretty well for the white man. Women and POC? Well, that’s another story.

Germany wins at more than soccer and beer

Earlier this summer, my family and I spent time in Germany. One of my family members developed an eyelid problem. It was one of those funky things that even in our own country we would’ve looked at each other and asked, “where do we go for this? The eyeLID doctor?” It wasn’t a vision thing, but when you mention eyes, everyone says “You need an eye doctor.”

So we started trying to figure it out in all the usual ways: Front desk recommendation from the hotel, internet, map and as a last resort (eye roll) … calling the infernal insurance company. In the end, we went to Universität Klinikum. It’s equivalent to our university hospitals but has walk-in clinics.

First we went to the emergency department. There, the Canadian triage nurse spoke enough good English that my feeble attempt at German was quickly met with “Oh, that’s not an emergency. You need to go to Building 101B. That’s the eye clinic.”

Skeptical as we were to be turned away, she was right. We walked in to the eye clinic, muddled our way through a German/English intake and an eye exam. Two doctors later, it was diagnosed as an allergy and we were given a prescription to fill at the Apotheke (pharmacy) around the corner.

Upon checkout, we were told that we’d have to pay upfront and ask our American insurance for reimbursement. We held our breath for the bill. It was 71 euros, which is about 84 bucks. What a relief! But the really refreshing part was that the bill had each service that that clinic offers itemized with a correlating pre-printed price. A fixed price. For everyone. Regardless of whether you’re American, insured, or not. They didn’t have a price based on your “negotiated” or “contracted” amount. It just was what it was. Consultation = 11,95, Refraction = 14,25, Microscopy = 15,65 and so on.

Then once at the Apotheke, the pharmacist stood at the register, punched in the number of the medicine and it was dispensed through a vaccuum tube. She talked to us about frequency and duration and known allergens, etc. And then she said it would be 17 euros or about 20 bucks.

We marveled at the ease and affordability. We marveled at the care and concern. We marveled at the competence. We marveled at the expedience and efficiency.

And now, an American experience.

After returning from Germany, my kids got a skin rash and felt sick. We were thinking chicken pox but wanted to be safe, so off to the doctor they each went. Zach in NC, Aspen in Denver, CO.

Zach’s appointment was uneventful. I paid the $35 co pay at his Pediatrician and got the prescription filled for $12 and that was it.

Aspen however, doesn’t have a regular doctor in CO. At the time we were moving, our doctor was closing up shop. And in that year, she hasn’t needed a doctor. Being young and healthy, it wasn’t top on our priority list.

So she needed a doctor. After looking for two days, it became apparent that one cannot quickly “get a doctor.” It would be weeks, if not months. So I told her to bite the bullet and go to Urgent Care. We’d pay the higher co pay ($100).

She asked me which is best and we agreed on the one we knew and off she went.

A little while later, she texted me that the co pay was $500! I was incredulous. She further explained that the place we decided on was an ER, not an Urgent Care. And our (aforementioned) insurance plan has a $500 co pay for an ER.

I asked her when they told her that the co pay was $500. She said that they told her once she was already being seen and in the exam room while the doctor stepped out to write an Rx.

So I called and asked the intake person why she didn’t explain to her that they’re not an Urgent Care and send her away? And her response to me was “I was very clear to say, ‘What brings you to the ER today?'”

I was so mad, I saw stars. So I did what I always do when idiocy runs rampant: I got snarky. I told her that I was certain that she did whatever she needed to legally do to cover her own ass, but that a decent person would inform a 19 year old that she’s in the wrong place. (We’d been there before for minor stuff. I don’t know if it changed or we just had better insurance at the time.)

The intake person further explained that she assumes that all patients understand the ins and outs of their insurance, and it’s not her job to make sure that they do. She added that perhaps my daughter could benefit from my teaching her the difference between an ER and an Urgent Care.

God forgive me for what I thought next.

So now, we are stuck with a $500 co pay AND whatever bill they throw our way for “medical care.” BTW, Aspen ended up telling the doctor what Zach’s doctor diagnosed and he just wrote that down and then proceeded to ask her what medication he was given for it. She texted me (mid-appointment) to ask for the medication name so that her doctor could write the prescription.

If you read this and think that you’re smarter than this and it wouldn’t happen to you, maybe you’re right. Maybe this scenario won’t. But something will. Our system isn’t geared toward ease and affordability. Or toward care and concern. Or toward competence, expedience or efficiency. Our healthcare system is designed to do one thing: appear to be providing healthcare while making insurance companies richer and richer.

The sad thing is, that lady at the front desk? She doesn’t even realize that she’s being used in their scheme.

Who’s so smart now?

 

 

 

 

Today, I’m shredding!

I wish that I meant this in a cool way. Any of the cool ways, really — guitar playing, snowboarding, skateboarding, or even in the gym. But right now I mean it — conspicuously — literally.

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Last year, before we moved in June, Michael and I sorted through our paperwork and realized that we had gobs. Mounds. Tons. Way too much. So we (mostly he, but I did a little) used his document shredder to create 7 or 8 lawn-n-leaf sized bags of shredded papers. And then we moved.

Once we were here, we discovered plenty more that could’ve/should’ve been disposed of. So we did what all responsible adults do. We sorted it out, stacked it up neatly and carefully moved the piles into my office closet and shut the door. Done!

Every time I looked in that closet, the pile stared at me. I just couldn’t bring myself to the task of shredding again so soon. So, I did the right thing and stopped looking in the closet!

Fast forward to this week.

On Sunday, I decided that with my University classes starting soon, I wanted to rearrange my office by bringing in a different desk with more space to study. So Michael did the heavy lifting and then left me to finish the job. What started as a desk swap quickly became The Purge.

For the first time since moving in, I was taking a hard look at my office. It had become a dumping grounds. Gift wrapping, boxes and bags, paperwork, baskets, bins, the list goes on. This kind of clutter bugs me. Deeply. So much so that I rarely use my office. But if I hate it so much, why do I do it? Why do I hold on to things? I’ll get to that.

First, I started to clean up this overcrowded excuse for work space. I began with the desk drawers, which led to bookshelves, then to the filing cabinet and ultimately … the dreaded closet.

Last summer on vacation I read Marie Kondo’s book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and it was life changing, in some ways. I came home from that vacation and pared down and tried to follow the “rule:” keep it only if it brings joy when you touch it. But it wasn’t that simple.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Marie is single. And without kids. And lives in a flat in Tokyo without a basement or garage. Because this rule is, in a word, impractical.

Also impractical is her advice to daily unpack your purse, briefcase, backpack or whatever personal items you carry about to work, school, the gym, etc. Literally daily. She believes that items that stay in use break down too quickly. So, daily, she recommends that you come home and take the contents of your purse out of the purse and store them (and the purse) in a designated drawer. Then repack your purse the next morning.

Marie simply has too much time on her hands.

You see, my screwdriver set does not bring me joy. And as far as my purse goes, it has a hook. There. Handled. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

This book did help me get rid of some material clutter, but it was more helpful in allowing me to get rid of mental clutter. It led me to a year of introspection. And I’ve made some observations.

I’ve been stuck in this “just in case” mindset.

And it has served me well. For decades, had there been a basket emergency, I would’ve been a real hero. I’d fly to the scene with a wide variety of sizes and colors to offer. Some could hang on the wall. Some could be stacked. No matter the job, I’d be there to save the day!

It really is about that silly.

It turns out that I feel like “stuff” makes me resourceful. After all, it’s useful stuff. But, alas, a stack of baskets in the corner is useful only to spiders and dust.

What I’m realizing is that I am enough without my material backup. I am resourceful on my own. I am creative. I have good ideas. I am capable.

So my car is now full of a giant load to, well, unload.

I read a guideline once that says: if there is an item that can be replaced in less than 20 minutes and for less than $20, pitch it. And that sort of works, particularly in the baskets and bins arena. But there’s one place that it markedly does not work: my kids’ memorabilia, and my reason for holding on to it is altogether different.

I did a first round purge last year before moving. I went from five large 20-gallon bins down to two — one for each kid. But I need to do more.

Some might say, what does it hurt? They’re just bins in the basement. The answer is that the bins aren’t hurting a thing. But what they represent is: living in the past.

No amount of adorable drawings will make my Zachy 5 again. And no number of soccer group photos will bring back the days when Aspen wanted to be the next Mia Hamm.

Now, there’s no harm in holding onto a few reminders of what Picassos and Peles they were, but the best reminder of the kind of kids they were is seeing the kind of wonderful people they are today. And the person I am today. And the family we are today.

Letting go is necessary to live in the present. I’ve written about it before. Letting go is hard, but today, I’m shredding it!

On Children

Be like Fernando

I have a book called Guiding Yoga’s Light. I do this thing where I take the book and fan through the pages till I stop on a page that feels right, no peeking allowed. Today, I landed on a page about learning to be peaceful. It couldn’t have come at a better time, and I am certain it was no accident.

Just yesterday, I was ready to pull out my hair in frustration over the things I’ve had to do this week. None of it was particularly difficult, there was just a lot of it. We were on vacation for five weeks and then Zach’s birthday came so it’s been since mid-June that I’ve been regularly attending to matters.

I had a large stack of mail to sort through, tuition to pay, medical bills to address, and more. The majority of tasks went well. But there was this one that made me crazy. I ran into a bunch of “not my department” people on the phone. Over the course of four days, I got passed around, given bad information and generally lost faith in humanity.

But, why?

Why did it bother me so much? I mean, I wasn’t ready to jump off a bridge, but it got my panties in a bunch in serious way.

It’s the lesson I’m continuing to learn: patience. Part of me sometimes thinks that you’re either born with it or you’re doomed to be challenged by it. I’m in the latter group.

So today, I meditated on it. I breathed in “I am peaceful,” and I exhaled “I am calm,” silently, in my mind for 15 minutes. On the Peaceful/Calm Spectrum from Dali Lama to OCD squirrel, my mind is closer to squirrel. But I didn’t judge. I just came back to the breath each and every time my mind wandered — which was a lot in a short 15 minutes. Each time, I breathed in, I thought “I am peaceful” and when I breathed out, I thought “I am calm.” And that will be my mantra for remaining patient when I start to lose my shit.

It’s funny how when big things are happening to me, I’m very able to keep my cool. I can quickly and effectively sort out the important from the banal. Friends, you want me on that island with you.

But when that on-hold music blasts in my ear for the third time, I could break something. And that’s not good.

I have this frog statue in my yoga/meditation space and I love him. I’ve written about him before, when Kerrianne gave him to me. His name is Fernando. He exudes peace. He has no cares or concerns. He has no stuff. He’s just Fernando. And I could learn a lot from him.

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Now we’re cooking!

Lots of good news!

Yesterday I took the Language Placement Test at UNC Charlotte. This test assessed my current level of skill in German, and scored me based on a scale of 5 classes. Each course has a point level associated, and that’s how they determine the course I should first take.

I scored into the third level, aka Intermediate German I. That means that as long as I get at least an 80% for the semester, I will receive credit for Elementary German I & II as well.

Upon further scrutiny this morning, I now understand that I scored moderately high for level 3. The range is 343-424 for level 3, and my score is 404. I’m feeling pretty confident and comfortable with this placement. I am sure that some parts will be review and other parts will be new, which puts my mind at ease. I feel like I’ll be learning new things without being in over my head.

The second bit of good news is that I found out this morning that the University has opened two new sections of the classes I need: German Int. I and The Holocaust through German Literature and Film. And they’re offered on Mon/Wed, back to back. Score!

Secondly, the Holocaust class is taught by a native German speaking woman who works with a 95-year-old Auschwitz survivor who will be a guest in class at times during the semester. A first-hand account is something I feel privileged to receive. I’m beside myself.

Classes will start for me on August 21. So I have plenty of time to get my books, parking permit and squeaky new shoes. I gotta say, I am still a school nerd. I showed up for the test half an hour early, brought my German grammar book and studied in the lobby. I made sure to bring all of the info I’d need to log into the test (student ID#, student email and password), and I sat up front. I’d like to think that I can chill and not be so eager, but who am I kidding? Some things never change.

Doctor’s appointment

I had my check up with my oncologist last Friday. Because of my status as having a complete pathological response to chemotherapy (grateful in perpetuity for this), scans are not something I need (grateful in perpetuity for this, as well). I do need to be followed and examined regularly, however.

That all went great.

My doctor is very happy with how I am progressing. She’s even quite surprised by some of my progress. She did hear a minor decrease in breath sounds on my left side so she ordered a chest x-ray which I had done immediately following the appointment.

I got a call from the office this morning saying there is an opacity in my lower left lung which indicates a previous inflammation that is healing. I haven’t had pneumonia or any chest infection (that I’ve been aware of). But it’s there nonetheless. She said it’s not concerning and that she will follow up with another x-ray at my next appointment to make sure that it completely resolves.

Also at this appointment, we discussed changing my appointment frequency from every four months to every six months. All positive signs that things are heading in the right direction.

I feel fantastic. I’m energetic, eating well (understatement of the century) and moving freely. My resting heart rate is normal again, and I can exercise like I want to.

Sweet sixteen

Zach turned 16 on Sunday. It was a fun weekend in Asheville for all of us. Michael did his second Spartan Super on Saturday then we celebrated Zach’s birthday with gifts, dinner out at Haus Heidelberg and followed up by birthday treats. On Sunday, my bestie joined us for hiking, sushi and Ashevill-ing.