Thoughts on Holocaust Memorial Day

‘Tell me there’s a heaven
Where all those people go
Tell me they’re all happy now,
Papa tell me that it’s so.’
Chris Rea

Holocaust survivors have returned to Auschwitz to lay wreaths to commemorate the 1.1 million people who died there during the second world war.

Ninety percent of those murdered at Auschwitz were Jewish.

This year Holocaust Memorial Day marked 75 years since the mass murder camp was liberated by Soviet troops and 7,000 prisoners were freed. However, almost half of these people would die as they were too ill, starving or exhausted to survive.

Ahead of the liberation, the Nazis blew up the last of the furnaces/gas chambers they had used so monstrously at Auschwitz. They then moved 60,000 prisoners westwards to other camps. Many of them died on these Death Marches. The Nazis knew that the arrival of the Russian Army was imminent and were trying to destroy evidence of their heinous crimes.

Last night I watched the UK Holocaust Memorial Day commemorative ceremony which took place at Westminster Abbey and was televised.

No matter how many times I read or hear about the atrocities that occurred during the holocaust I cannot comprehend how people could commit such evil deeds. And it is right that I cannot understand. No one who loves their fellow man ever could.

Survivors now are in small numbers. But last night I watched and listened as some of them who were able to attend the service spoke so movingly. One particular reading from a Second World War Veteran broke my heart. He spoke about a young boy of eleven years old who arrived at the camp, was separated from his family and left amongst unknown prisoners in that most terrible place. One night, he lay in a bunk with only a stranger’s feet to cuddle. In the morning it was found he had died in the night. As a mother and a grandmother, hearing this was almost too hard to listen to and the tears poured down my cheeks. But how could those who witnessed losses such as this cope with such unimaginable pain? We cannot know of all the individual suffering, the desperate fear and hardships, the hunger and illness, the waking and wondering if this would be the last day they would glimpse the sky.

Today, I CAN go outside, I CAN look up and glimpse the sky. I can breath the fresh air, smell the newly mown grass. But I can’t guarantee life will be like this forever. I can be hopeful and even assume I will be able to live out my days in safety, without fear of invasion or worse. But how can we know for sure? Nobody really knows what developments could be around the corner.

We have to rely on our memories so that we can try and protect our world and question our leaders. Just because we have supposedly intelligent leaders it doesn’t mean they always get things right as we all know. But what is memory? It is an empathetic mingling with other people’s stories, where you allow their stories to affect you in such a way that you are changed; your mind , your heart, your nervous system. You are changed in such a way that you cannot ignore the suffering of others. And because you cannot ignore the suffering of others, both from the past and in the present day, you can learn to educate people in a positive way.

Time and time again, when hearing the stories from survivors, their pleas are that we move forward but that we never forget. No matter how hard it is to be reminded of man’s inhumanity to man, and even writing about it is hard, we must never forget. Yet in the Jewish tradition, mourning death really takes place in the service of  choosing and celebrating life. There is a place for mourning and grief and a place for encountering dark places in history, but that place always returns to life – that is human nature – what we do to celebrate life helps ourselves and helps others. We need to think about how we can make the world a better place for today. Our lives are better made up of the small things that really are the big things – being free to watch the sunset, dance in the rain, to bake a cake, to laugh out loud. Life is made of moments and choices we share with our beautiful families, our friends and communities. We need to make our choices good choices.

I have never met any holocaust survivors but I have listened to many of them being interviewed and listened to many telling their own individual stories. It seems to me that there is a strong thread that connects them. They have encountered unimaginable evil, they had walked through the valley of the shadow of death, yet they have had an incredibly tenacious hold on life.

As people who have seen the dark side of humanity they are an example of the human spirit’s ability to adapt, rebuild and recover.

So if any of us encounter dark or traumatic times, we can learn to keep going, to draw a sense of hope when all seems bleak, and reach out to those who need us. Most of all, we can remember, and comfort those who are alone.

 

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Settling for a Quiet Life…

Do we try to get off the merry-go-round of life from time to time?

 

I read an article recently where the subject was about settling for a mediocre life. At first, I thought ‘hmm, this is going to be negative,’ but as I read on I realised what the person was trying to say. Sometimes in this tumultuous and changing world we just want to settle for a quiet life. We don’t want to strive and put ourselves out there and scrabble around on the ever rotating ‘hamster wheel’. We may not want to rush around trying to improve our minds even though we seem to be instructed to do this on a regular basis. Sometimes we may yearn NOT to have to strive to meet targets, not to keep up with the latest fashion or the latest upgrade in technology. Maybe we even want to escape the ‘health police’.

If we are prone to anxious feelings, feeling we have to adhere to all sorts of ‘performance rules’ may not do us a lot of good. When we are trying to get by and working at being positive we don’t really want the extra burden of guilt – the sort of guilt that comes from somehow feeling we are not doing all we can to help our well-being.

There seems to be a lot of judgement about, whether it be fiercely or kindly meant it can still unsettle us. I once listened to a medical person talking about diabetes. His theory was that diabetes 2 was largely brought on by neglect and leading a sedentary life, and that it should be renamed ‘the non-walkers complaint’, or something similar. In other words, he seemed to be saying most people brought this ‘complaint’ on themselves by following an unhealthy lifestyle. He may be right in certain circumstances, but I feel this is a dangerous sort of judgement to pass on a person who may have reached a distressing state of health by all sorts of circumstances. Who knows what leads any of us to a state of ‘dis-ease’? Do we start banishing patients from the hospital waiting room if they don’t meet certain criteria or if they have put on a few stones in weight? Most of us like to eat a healthy diet when we can, and take some exercise, but do we need to become so engrossed in studying the latest health craze that we forget to enjoy our food? The media bombards us with information about what we should and shouldn’t eat, what vitamins/shakes/woo-woo berries we should consume, the mantras we should chant and the mindfulness we should embrace. Most of the time I find it interesting but sometimes I want to run away crying ‘show me the chocolate cake’!

Some days I long for calm. More and more I think about peace and ‘going with the flow’. I imagine a new sort of shop that plays gentle soothing music as I buy my groceries or my new jeans, instead of playing mindless, loud music that grates on the nerves. I think about walking in the woods instead of driving on the M25. I think about putting my feet up instead of going to sit in a draughty hall where I am shown how to contort my body and put my leg behind my right ear.

There seems to be too much going on around us for us to spend time worrying about how we should be living our lives; whether we should conform, expect our children/grandchildren to excel in every walk of life, live in the most stylish house, travel the world; whether we should be swinging from the chandeliers every night, (great if you have the energy!) and generally leading an exemplary life.

It’s interesting too, to notice that one can be too religious for some, and not spiritual enough for others. I find this crops up quite often in my life. I have come to the conclusion that everyone forms their own opinion of me and will stick to it whatever I do. So I just have to be myself. And do my best. Besides, sometimes I feel very spiritual, other times I want to question every belief I hold dear. But mostly I get by. I want to change my mind sometimes too. I want to be able to be objective, see all points of view. Not always easy but worth aiming for.

I used to be a nurse, and I count myself lucky that I was one once. I learned that everyone in life has a story, a past, but not always a future. It is easy to forget this in our busy world. And it is sometimes easier to forget than think of it. I am grateful that most of our carers and medical staff that treat us look at us as a person needing love and care and on the whole do not judge us, for how would that help?

When we weigh up everything, and come to the conclusion that searching for the quieter life sometimes, following the calm and slower path sometimes, and taking time out sometimes, leads us to appear mediocre, then I am all for it. Besides, we will have more time to spend loving our family, and what could be better than that?

 

Sometimes it’s in the quiet that we hear the loudest things’.   Anonymous 

 

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Embracing the Lead-up to Christmas.

How do we deal with the pre-Christmas rush?

I first wrote this blog a few years ago. Re-reading it, I realised it is probably even more relevant today when there are many anxiety inducing factors around. Unstable political parties, global warming, over-stretched health systems…I could go on…. More than ever, we need to stay grounded, to remember that most of us just want to do our best; to be peaceful, calm and happy, and go with the flow. Peace is high on my list for sure. I am determined to switch off regularly, to step out into the frosty clear night and look up at the stars. Somewhere out there in our amazing universe lies the answer to all our questions and fears if only we could trust in that….

It’s the time of year when there is a lot to think about. Perhaps more than usual. If you are prone to anxiety, the thought of coping with Christmas plans can add to your anxious feelings or to the feelings of someone you love. While for many, Christmas is nothing but exciting, this is not always the case for those who suffer from anxiety, depression and conditions such as OCD.

Do you find yourself caught up with the stress of the pre – Christmas rush? The build up seems to start earlier each year and before we know it we are bombarded with all sorts of smart advertising containing supposedly endearing stories and mini films with the ‘ahhh’ factor, that are really there to entice us into spending money in the big, well- known stores.  The media paints a picture of wonderment and happiness; we would all love this of course, but for some people this is not how Christmas is for them. The world is not perfect all of the time and we need to hold on to that thought and remember we are not the only ones who get anxious this time of year. For some, loneliness can be a real problem, perhaps because of the loss of a loved one, and the sadness of loss can certainly feel desperately raw at this time of year.

Christmas parties, whether it is with colleagues or old friends can be hard to cope with at the best of times, but add anxiety to this and before you know it you may dread the social scene. You can be out of your comfort zone having to speak to people you don’t know well and worried about having to impress – maybe a new boss or confident looking colleagues. With parties closer to home, it may be a case of meeting new neighbours or friends you haven’t seen in a while.

Food shopping is something else to negotiate – for some reason we feel the need to buy massive amounts of extra food this time of year; ok we may have people coming to stay or extra mouths to feed at Christmas Day, but even if not we tend to buy stuff we wouldn’t normally buy – think big tins of biscuits, the Turkish delight, the boxes of dates and the mountains of Yule logs and mince pies. I know it is good to have a treat this time of the year, but perhaps we do get tempted to buy too much. Then there is the alcohol too – would we dream of drinking chocolate liqueurs and mulled wine (often not even worth drinking) or egg nog any other time of year?

Apart from the fact we end up spending a lot more money on food and wine this time of the year resulting in a negative effect on our bank balance; eating and drinking extra calories and rich food this time of year can make anxiety levels worse and again have a negative effect on us, this time on our health.

Buying presents is something most of us get concerned about. Of course, we want our loved ones to have something they like to open on Christmas Day , especially the children, but for an anxious person, the results of spending a lot of money in a short space of time can seem very scary and worrying. Money aside, the crowds, loud jarring music and queues can make Christmas shopping seem unbearable.

So okay, the above situations are those which most of us have encountered at sometime in our lives and I am painting quite a grim picture of what should and can be a magical and completely enjoyable time of year. Because it really doesn’t have to be such a stressful time of year. Who makes it that way? And why?

Going back to the advertising, we are taught from quite an early age what we can expect Christmas to be like. But it cannot apply to us all. We are not all the same. And we are all coping with our own personal situations. What may be wonderful for one person may not be right for another. What do most of us remember when we look back down the years? Piles of presents around the tree, huge amounts of food and big parties? Or do we remember the excitement of hanging the stockings at the end of the bed and the thrill of opening the small gifts in the early hours, so lovingly and haphazardly wrapped by a caring parent.  Or sadly, there may be memories that are not quite as happy, and that may be another reason Christmas evokes pain and stress.

Maybe this year  – with still some time ahead before Christmas is really upon us, we can decide to take a different view and look at what is really important. One thing that always strikes me every year, and I always comment on to my husband without fail every year, is that the build up to Christmas is huge; we all rush around trying to get things done, caught up in the whole rush and excitement and then suddenly we arrive at Boxing Day and hear murmurs and mutterings of: ‘well that’s that for another year’, and: ‘where are you going for your holiday this year?’ It seems to be indicative of the society we have become: always looking for the next thrill, the next celebration or occasion before we have had time to enjoy and digest what has just occurred. So this year how about making a decision not to get too ‘wrapped up in Christmas’? Have a year where you do not make too many commitments. Be honest with people and say no in the nicest possible way if you don’t want to do something. Do most of your present shopping online and do it in your own time. Book an online food shop well in advance if it suits you, and apart from the convenience you won’t be so tempted to buy lots of unnecessary goodies (which aren’t really goodies at all). Also, explain to everyone that your Christmas this year may be a little more low key and that includes your present giving. Offer loved ones time instead. Time is the most valuable gift of all.

Decide a few things in advance to help keep your anxiety at bay. Plan to eat healthily and avoid too many stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. Have plenty of rest and not too many late nights. Cortisol is the body’s most powerful stress hormone. It causes a number of changes in the body, including increasing stimulation and the perception of fright. Getting regular good rest and sleep can keep cortisol production to a minimum and reduce the feelings of dread.

If you reduce your expectations about the holidays you will not be disappointed when things don’t always go according to plan; likewise if you are feeling calm you will be more able to enjoy things and ‘go with the flow’. Good things that do occur can be received with joy and thankfulness. Do things you like to do too, like walks in the clear, crisp night when the stars are out and the world is peaceful. Spending time doing the things you love and want to do is a great way to celebrate the Christmas season and you will feel better for it. This isn’t being selfish but just being your true self. Having healthy boundaries is essential when you are prone to anxiety.

A good tip is to think and act a bit more like a child at Christmas – have you noticed how children don’t run around getting stressed about Christmas? Far from it! They just enjoy the time while it is there.

So now that the lead up to Christmas has started remember that every day is special and also has it’s own challenges and delights. When the events of the holiday season threaten to overwhelm you, breathe deeply, take time out until you feel calmer, and look forward. Look forward to celebrating in your own way and until then remind yourself there are no rules to follow for a good Christmas break!

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Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Finding Strength

For those days when the worry monster lurks in the shadows….

 

There is no doubt that we live in a time of doubt, fear for the future, uncertainty and economic frustration. I worry about the state of the world and indeed our country. But most of the time I can cope with worry from outside because although it gives concern  (and is even totally baffling at times when one sees the behaviour exhibited by those who are supposed to lead us!) it is possible to shrug my shoulders, offer a few expletives, close my door, light the fire and feel secure in my own patch.

Sometimes, though, the sands shift beneath my feet. When someone close to me is suffering and I can’t find a way to make things better, I experience doubt on a gut level – the kind that can punch hard and bring me down. So one thing I have to remember is when I ache to my very bones with stress, I have to find a way forward. Negativity is contagious but I have to remember that we cannot take care of others if we don’t look after ourselves and look forward.

Remembering we have love and we have hope is so important, especially when things seem a bit grim. When we are consciously keeping a loving heart we can share it with others and help make both theirs and our own immediate world better.

These are some guideline I try and follow when things are getting me down. Hopefully, they can help you too:

Keep Trying

If you make yourself keep going, even when it is the last thing you feel like, you will eventually get stronger and closer to where you are heading.

Be Grateful

Remember what you have. We all have something or someone to love. Even when I am fearful I know I have wonderful things in my life. You do too I am sure. Write down tonight all the things you feel grateful for.

Think Differently

Change your words. It is easy do be dispirited and make remarks like  ‘ I knew this would go wrong’; instead, how about saying ‘ah well, maybe that wasn’t the best result but next time will be better’.

Take Care

Be kind to yourself. Don’t blame yourself when things go wrong. You have tried your best and you will continue doing your best. If you do make a mistake, own up to it, learn from it but then put it behind you. Very few of us actually want to treat anyone or anything badly and those that do can’t be our concern. Continue doing your best.

Avoid Ideals

Let misconceptions go. Look at things differently. Try not to be governed by past ideals or be ruled by others who want you to continually fit into their expectations of you. I really struggle with this one. It is natural to want to please people but sometimes you just have to be yourself, and that takes courage.

Be Proud!

Celebrate your accomplishments. Think of all the good things you have achieved. Trust me, it is a lot, and often it is the smaller things, the gentle kindnesses or actions that don’t always propel you into the limelight, but are more important than anything famous and showy.

Speak Carefully

Remember how words affect others. Sometimes when we talk, less is more. Listen, then choose your words carefully when advising others.

Exercise

As usual I will mention the outdoors. Any worry will lessen slightly when you are outside and at one with nature. Breathe deeply. Look at the trees standing strong and firm. Shred the anxiety of the day, even just for a while. There is a natural world out there which can take us away from the laptop for an hour or more.

There is always a but….

As I am writing this I think there are times when any advice can seem trite. So many times we hear well-meaning phrases trotted out. We are supposed to nod sagely and take heed. It isn’t always what we want or need.  I am aware that there are days when sorrow gathers round like a heavy cloak or fear takes over. Those are the times we may just need a hug or just to sit quietly with someone we feel really understands. I do not want to make light of anyone’s pain and how can we ever know entirely what another person is going through? All I can add is that somehow, at least for me, onwards and upwards is the the only way. And the odd bit of advice may just be enough to allow a little glimmer of light in.

Whatever you are going through, you are deserving of love and care. Take it easy out there. In the never ending love of this universe, you are a small, yet very precious thing. You are worth everything.

With love …

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climbing the Hill to Enlightenment…

Do you sometimes find yourself heading back to square one?

 

Or if at first you don’t succeed…..

Have you ever had times when you get disillusioned or feel that you can’t get where you want to be? You aren’t alone – I know there are times when I think I’ve ‘cracked it’, and have found my way – but then – wham, down I come to earth. But I guess if we had life all fathomed out we could become complacent or even a little smug. There is a reason why there are so many self- help books out there. People are always searching to find a new way of dealing with life; a new angle that might just make everything become clear. It’s a big industry, but I’m not knocking it. I have found several books and audio tapes over the years that have helped me through rough times, and are still helpful today. I’ve followed some inspiring gurus too. ( I loved to listen to the late motivational speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer, who always sounded warm and friendly and came across as a lovely man when I attended some of his seminars.) Sometimes just reading or hearing one illuminating story can offer up a ‘light bulb ‘ moment that gives us the answer we have been looking for.

Here is a story of one man’s quest for enlightenment…..

There was once a man who wanted to find the meaning of life. He spent many years listening to all sorts of gurus, and read many ‘self-help’ books. He tried yoga classes and quite enjoyed them and soon learned how to ‘Salute the Sun’. He learned how to meditate, and once he had stopped his busy mind wandering off and thinking about what to eat for his supper, he more or less got the hang of it. He ate an amazingly healthy diet with only a few slips-ups (he had rather a liking for donuts). He took plenty of exercise and breathed in the invigorating fresh air in the woods behind his cottage. He gave up his stressful job and decided to live simply and he put on sandals.

But with all this to help him there were still times when he felt he hadn’t quite ‘got it’.

So the man went up to the top of a mountain, made himself a simple camp, and stayed there for five years. He contemplated his life. He relaxed and completely ‘chilled out’. He prayed for peace in the world. He felt at one with the universe. Occasionally, the odd climber or two came up the mountain and he smiled at them most benignly, bestowing calmness upon them. That felt good.

One day he woke up and thought ‘I’m ready to go back and face the world and nothing will phase me now.’ Gleefully, he set off down the mountain. But he had forgotten how steep it was and by the time he got to the bottom, his feet were a bit sore and he was thirsty and tired. He walked into the café at the bottom of the mountain and asked for a bottle of water. No one heard him. He asked again but the staff were busy and ignored him. After five more minutes he felt the anger boil up inside him and banged his fist on the counter, and demanded to be served. A waitress rushed over and nervously placed a bottle of water in front of him mumbling an apology. He grabbed the water and drank it down without a word. From a table in the corner and old friend spotted the man and walked over to him. He asked him how he was getting on with his quest for enlightenment. Without a word the man turned and walked out of the café. He headed back up the mountain.

This is just a reminder that we can all fail from time to time no matter how far we think we have come. But it is okay. It happens to us all and it is never too late to try again. The man was just human like we all are. And remember – nothing good is ever lost.

‘Today is a new day; there is no need to focus on yesterday’s mistakes. Just as the pathway will sparkle again in the sunlight, so will you sparkle again too’.
Lyn Halvorsen

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Love That Knows Our Name…

 

To know you are loved or have been loved is more than uplifting, it is at the core of everything.’

Having recently experienced loss, I entered an all encompassing tunnel of sadness where daylight seemed all but obliterated and the sound around me was literally muffled. Life was put on hold except for all but the most necessary of tasks and the most basic needs. Time seemed to be suspended and yet the days passed quickly; the world going by my window and the morning light still throwing shafts of sunlight across the floor every morning whether I liked it or not.

But going through the motions of daily life I came to know more about love and kindness than ever before. People I knew well showed great kindness and kept me going, but what also surprised me was the outpouring of love and kindness from neighbours, from waiters in coffee shops and even people on the end of a phone that I called to report the loss of my dad to for clerical purposes. And I wondered why often it is not until we feel deep pain that we also find the most love? When we are in a ‘normal’ state; on an even keel and just following routine, we don’t always stop to notice the small but profound things that are ever present yet not on our radar during the bustle of everyday life. But in a state of grief life changes; normal and trivial irritations lie unnoticed, worries about work deadlines, so important last week, stay in the ‘in-tray’ tucked at the back of our minds, and the cloak of regularity falls from our shoulders.

Most of us are lucky enough to have friends and family that love us; maybe we even take it a little for grated at times; sometimes complacency can come with familiarity, but perhaps when we are sad or in pain, even if we are not always vocalising what we feel or are going through, our vulnerability opens us up to others and their natural and inbuilt   ability to reach out. And if we do open up, even to strangers, more often than not we are treated with a compassion we were not expecting, yet in reality is never far from the surface.

Think about times of adversity, tragic terror attacks or emergency. We help each other, open our homes, give money we can’t really afford, offer the coat from our backs even….then we retreat back into our safe world again for a while. Maybe there is a comfort from day to day routine where we just focus on our own world, but we all seem to have an inbuilt mechanism to bring our love and compassion to the forefront. And there are times when we show that and are shown it just when we need it.

There cannot be many parts in our day that are not touched by love in one form or another; it may not always be obvious but it is there. It is waiting in the wings – an unceasing energy and in limitless supply. Even when doing a mundane job like housework, chances are you will have the radio on in the background and before long you will be humming along to a love song. In the coffee shop you may see a mother absently plant a kiss on her baby’s head, or hear a dad shout ‘love you’ out of the car window as he drops his child off at school – (they may be embarrassed but they will remember).

When we love deeply there are no boundaries. The heart finds a way to love when the time is right and knows when to give love out. Sometimes we need courage to reach out, but when we do we are rewarded a thousandfold. Love can be gentle when it needs to be; it can be held in a reassuring wink from across a crowded room, it can be in the gentle squeeze of the hand or the fragrance of a bunch of primroses. Love can be bold too. It can be shown by standing up for someone against the crowd, it can be in the giving of a chance of life to another, or it can be shown by knowing when to let go. And most of all, love is unconditional.

Having said this, there are still times when we feel alone; times when we feel no one understands what we are going through. Perhaps we are floundering, perhaps we are ill or have been treated badly or unfairly. Perhaps we are thinking ‘why me?’ These are the times that we find it harder to reach out, but these are the times we need to remind ourselves that we ARE loved, even in darker times.

I have to remind myself now, especially having experienced loss, that love is borderless. There isn’t a set number of times you can tell someone’s you love them. There isn’t a set amount of love to go around. Love has a bottomless pit. And love can encompass us even in times of immense sadness and get us through. So many people who survived the terrible atrocities of the holocaust emerged to live again in the light and found the courage to give and receive love.

We learn how to live and work and grow and play in the material and physical world and yes we need to do that, of course. The world is our resting and our doing place. For now. As Professor Stephen Hawking is quoted as saying – ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love’.

Love is all around us and is a natural spiritual state, but what happens to the love we felt for someone who has departed this life? I believe love crosses realms. It stays with us long after a loved one has departed. In fact, it never leaves us; it sits in our memories, it stirs us when we least expect it, it appears in our dreams and it runs through our veins. It is part of us; both our past and our future and for all time.

If love is energy then surely it cannot be extinguished by death.

 

A Trace of Me

Love is part of who you are,

A vital speck sent from afar.

And sometimes when you close your eyes,

You see from the past, familiar skies.

And you will know, and one day see,

That somewhere, there’s a trace of me.

                                                                                                          (C) Lyn Halvorsen