Rampant Stupidity

Dear DD (Distracted Driver):

I saw you the other day from my car on the way to one of my many errands but you didn’t notice me.  You couldn’t have.  You were too busy talking on your cell–and it wasn’t even hands-free–when your attention should have been on the road.

May I ask you a question? What were you thinking? More specifically: Are you thinking?

Perhaps you believe you’ve got the uncanny ability to balance the responsibility of a potentially dangerous machine with your everyday activities.  You don’t. No one does.  According to Distraction.gov, several states have banned hand-held phone use and texting for all drivers.  Stricter rules apply for novice drivers.  (http://www.distraction.gov/content/get-the-facts/state-laws.html)

Pricey traffic tickets and points on your license may not deter you.  I cannot understand why possibly being responsible for a disaster wouldn’t.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that in 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving distracted driving. In the same year, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes also involving distracted driving. Each day, says the CDCP, at least 9 people are killed and more than 1,060 people are injured in crashes where distracted driving is responsible. (http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/distracted_driving/)

I have to drive for two when I think you aren’t paying attention. Once I see you on the phone (or texting or eating or otherwise doing something other than driving), my defenses are heightened, knowing yours are compromised.  I implore you to leave your ego at home and put maturity and sense in the car with you.

My 17-year old will be on the road soon with a freshly minted driver’s license.  When she walks out the door, I cannot keep her safe.  It’s a level-orange fear a parent has for her child. Please don’t contribute to an already scary world by creating an unnecessary danger and a risk that needn’t be taken.






After 70 Years: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

If you were to ask me when exactly I knew about my father’s experiences as a survivor of 1940s Europe, I couldn’t tell you.  Though I was too young to know the facts, the war’s impact on my father—and by extension, on me–was unmistakable.

As I was growing up, I came to know my father as a determined worker, single-mindedly fixed on making a living for his growing family as a design engineer.  He loved us, sure, but kept himself on the emotional periphery. The war years had trained him in the practicality of survival. Feelings had no place in his fight to get out alive. They needed to be suppressed, pushed way down. Vulnerability was too risky.  His life and that of his mother and sister were at stake.  Emotional release, in whatever form, would have to come later.

Dad’s formative years in Debrecen, Hungary were steadily defined by the growing victimization of that country’s Jewish residents by Hungary’s fascist government. His father had been conscripted into Hungarian forced labor service in 1942 and was separated from the family.  His Jewish grade school was closed down.  All Jews were required by law to wear the yellow Star of David as they went about life in their town.

By the time he turned 16 in 1944, 70 years ago, the Nazis had taken over Hungary and began to apply their “final solution” to the area’s Jewish population.  In June of that year, Dad, his mother and sister were herded, along with thousands of other Jews, onto one of Adolf Eichmann’s trains to Auschwitz headed toward likely death. Instead, in a stroke of circumstantial luck, a politically connected negotiator, Rudolf Kasztner, successfully secured the train’s new destination (Eichmann, a major Nazi leader and organizer of mass murder, proposed trading Jews for Allied trucks. That plan failed).  The Auschwitz-bound train was then sent to Strasshof labor camp near Vienna where he and his family were put to work until liberation in 1945.

I’ve summarized my father’s story into a basic sketch, leaving out immense detail. There’s so much more to know (see: tinyurl.com/oqtg6da). As a teenager held at Strasshof, he suffered beatings, risked his life in ghetto escapes for food, and once daringly fought back by sabotaging ammunition production. Miraculously, Dad’s immediate family survived intact. My grandfather survived as well and was reunited with his family. Most of Dad’s extended family, aunts, uncles and cousins were killed.

In many ways, my father’s story isn’t a new one.  We’ve all, no doubt, heard countless first-person accounts, read books and seen movies. The common thread here is the impassioned plea Holocaust survivors have made to the world to not simply “not forget”, but to remember what evil can do. Over the years, Dad has expressed fear that history could repeat itself–anxious that the lessons taught by bigotry and discrimination would be lost. Dad wonders if he, his family and 6 million other Jews will have suffered in vain.

Thirty-six years ago I volunteered to have Dad talk about his experiences for a college class I was taking on the Holocaust.  My professor never let him go.  Dad was subsequently connected to the then-burgeoning Holocaust Resource Center (now named The Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives) at Queensborough Community College (CUNY) in Bayside, New York. He’s been a sought-after speaker ever since.

Prior to his becoming involved in public speaking Dad’s emotional safety valve had been weakening. He had no outlet to express this part of his life. The opportunity has been, ironically, a lifesaver. He feels heard. He thrives on feedback he receives from the schools and the students.  Their rapt attention time after time has given him hope. He’s made a difference.

There is a concept called muscle memory–a continuous repetition of motor tasks we may engage in until we are able to automatically repeat the movement without thinking, like playing a piano, punching in a phone number and my favorite, choreographed dance.  It’s far easier to embed when we have had first-hand experience.  The age-old question is, how do we transmit the lessons of history effectively? Is it even possible? There are many different ways to repeat a lesson. Books, movies, museums and survivors’ accounts are important.  However, we receive the information passively.  All theory.  Practical application, I think, is our big test: Have we sufficiently impressed upon our youth the importance of using our own actions to counter hate?  What structures have we put in place?

On a more basic level, we’ve got to wonder if we’ve planted seeds of compassion deeply enough for empathy and grace to take root, where goodness not only becomes second nature but becomes the ultimate memorial.

Refresh Button

The days may be longer, the birds may be singing and I finally may see the post-snowmelt grass on the front lawn. But what really excites me these days is the prospect of spring cleaning.  I know–you can think of several other activities that get you hot and bothered.  So can I, but stay with me here.

I hate clutter. Despise disorganization. I am a ruthless purger of junk and items long-forgotten since the second Bush’s first presidential administration. I get my thrills winnowing closets, hauling out garbage bags filled with unworn clothing and throwing out collections of broken appliances idly amassed in the garage. Prepping for the upcoming Passover holiday where many people engage in radical cleaning spurs me on. Knowing that everything has its place helps organize my thoughts. It creates space not only in my house but also in my head.

I’ll admit to you, these days there’s not too much left for me to oust. My junk-purging is a regular part of my routine. Now it’s just maintenance. And, yes, it’s not only the concrete act of cleaning out unwanted and unneeded items. This practical act cleanses my soul as well.

Sounds corny?  For me, it works.  I believe if our minds are cluttered, there’s a good chance our lives are too.  What is most difficult is re-evaluating parts of life that are no longer working. I ask myself “cleansing” questions constantly: Am I happy in this job? Do I like spending hours with these people? Are relationships reciprocal, trusting and satisfying? Can I still enjoy myself despite negative group dynamics?  Finding the answers may not be so simple. The search may be a struggle. But I’ll work to get that clutter–that internal mess–to finally sweep itself up and make room for what matters.

Starting Out

Will you sign my petition to move New York to the south? If you live wherever the temps have barely been above freezing these past three months, chances are, like me, you are “seasonally fatigued”–exhausted from relentless snow and frozen limbs, perhaps traipsing to twenty-seven stores in the unsuccessful hunt for suburban gold: a measly bag of rock salt.
I unequivocally do not do well in the cold. I wear gloves indoors. The early darkness depresses me, and the cold plucks everyone off the streets making suburbia’s isolation worse than I think it already is. Sure, the winter season can be pretty for about an hour and a half. After that, temps under 45 degrees get old fast.  For my own good, I need constant assurance that the mercury will rise.
 Luckily, while I’m waiting for nature to correct itself, flower arranging has come to my rescue. My interest in flower design has bloomed this past year. I’ve taken a couple of classes where I’ve learned how to cut and care for these beauties, placement techniques, and how to match containers to certain types of blossoms. I created my design gradually, building it layer upon flowered layer.  The transformation was quick and yielded beautiful results.
I read up a bit on my new hobby and began to pay more attention to creating small arrangements at home.  I try to work on one or two bunches a week, placing them around the house where they’ll be in my frequent line of vision. The flower’s various colors and textures have a soothing, happy effect on me and can be an effective stand-in until spring arrives.
What do you do to remind yourself that spring is just around the corner?
“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
―  A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young
X, S