I’d been casually chatting with my father about my growing orchid obsession. He looked at me a little funny – nothing out of the ordinary there – when he dropped a bomb, “You know, your grandfather grew these orchids.”
No, no I didn’t know that. I’d remembered the greenhouses from my early childhood. Every other weekend, I recall, we’d go to a certain greenhouse or another, which is why the smell of that good green growing earth makes me nostalgic and warm inside. I remember being a toddler, spending hours at the rose garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden, listening to my family plan my future wedding there. I cannot tell you how sorry I am that I did not marry there.
My grandfather grew roses – beautiful roses – always puttering around with them, lovingly spraying them with this and that, warding off all potential pests and coaxing out the most beautiful, heavenly-scented blooms.
When I grew my own rose garden, lovingly spraying them with this and that, warding off potential pests, and coaxing out the most beautiful, heavenly-scented blooms, I’d think of him. Not at first. But eventually, I felt as though he was right there beside me, helping me identify pests and apply the proper fertilizers.
The orchids, though, they threw me through a loop. Until I found this:
That’s an orchid bloom in my curls.
My grandfather is with me always, it seems.
He is my hero.
And not just because he grew orchids and roses like I do, but because he lived the sort of live I hope to live. It was a life less ordinary.
He graduated from Johns Hopkins medical school at nineteen and became a doctor at the same age that my life hit a crossroads. I’d always planned to go to medical school myself, and life found a way. I became a mother.
He worked as the sort of family doctor that made housecalls, his forceps and stethoscope always in his medical bag, ready to deliver a baby, diagnose rubella, or treat a broken arm. It was during these housecalls that he was exposed to tuberculosis and spent many months at a TB sanatorium in the mountains, missing out on his first son’s – my father’s – early life.
Before that, though, he was a doctor in the United States Army. He was the first on the scene when the Allies liberated the concentration camps. He was the first medical personnel to treat the concentration camp victims. He never spoke of those days, what he saw, the atrocities of the Nazi’s, and what he had to do to help the survivors, although I know they weighed on him.
By the time I rolled around, he’d given up his medical practice and became the head of pathology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
The apple of his eye, his granddaughter, he spent as much time with as he could. Weekends roaming the botanical gardens. Nights at Ravinia, on the lawn, under the stars, listening to the magical strains of Saint Matthew’s Passion and The 1812 Overture, eating fried chicken on a picnic blanket. Those were the best days of my young life.
An adult with children of my own, my grandfather long-passed, I have the vain hope that one day, my life will, too, be remembered as less ordinary, if only by myself. That because of the choices I’ve made, the people I carry in my heart, the people who now (however virtually) walk by my side, the experiences I’ve put behind me, that my own life can be as far from ordinary as his.
I’d say that I miss you, Grandpa, but I know you’re always with me.
Today we remember the six million Jewish people, as well as millions of other minorities and disabled people, killed during the Holocaust during World War II
Today we remember the people that were ruthlessly torn from their homes and transported to concentration camps in an effort to eradicate them.
We remember that 1.5 million children were among them.
We remember the parents, helpless to protect their children. We remember the old, young, sick, healthy, teachers, doctors, lawyers, shopkeepers, and so many more that were killed for fear.
People turned against neighbors for fear of the other. For decades, the chant has been never again
. Never again will we allow children to be separated from their parents. Never again will we allow people to be locked away for wanting to live free.
And yet, we are here. We are witnessing the rise of hatred and fear.
We are watching as families are torn apart. As we fail to reunite these families.
And we are forgetting the stories of those people who came before, that tried to help us to learn how never acceptable this is.
This year’s theme is “torn from home”. While it is unlikely that any of us lived through the Holocaust, it is very conceivable that at least one or two among us has been torn from the only home we’ve ever known and thrown into the terrifying unknown.
Today, we will honor the stories of those who came before us and lived long enough to tell us about it. Love and light today and every day.
This weekend marks the 36th year of celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. I could tell you that people lobbied for the holiday since his assassination in 1968. I could describe the countless city streets named after this iconic hero. But it wouldn’t do justice to the fact that racism is still alive and well. I’m not even bringing up the overt racism of Neo-Nazis and the KKK, although there’s a special place for them in the afterlife, but of the implicit bias of our white society.
From the accidental slip of a micro-aggression, “The crows are so negative because they’re black,” to the doll test where African American children choose the white, blue-eyed baby doll as good over the brown, brown-eyes doll, we are right from a young age that white is good, and black is bad. Call me an SJW. Mock me for trying to be “woke,” but the crux of “Political Correctness” is not being an asshole; be kind to your fellow humans.
And that’s when I found the book “Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness,” by Anastasia Higginbotham. It’s part of a series called “Ordinary Terrible Things,” which sums up the theme nicely. I ordered it from Amazon with some trepidation, although I knew it was important that I have this conversation with my seven-year-old, and on previewing it before reading I said oh.
“Who is that with their hands up? Why is that policeman screaming at him?
Oh crap, what have I gotten myself into? How could expose my seven-year-old, who has never even heard 2/3 of the creative swear words the English language contains, to this violence?
Oh, I see.
It’s definitely part of my privilege as a white person to try and shield my children from it. Children of color are exposed to police brutality on such a large scale that the mistrust of police begins in preschool: “Then daddy threw the chair at mommy and the police took them away (actual quote from a four-year-old).” Being mistrusted by the police stems from old biases that African descendants are lazy, shiftless, uncooperative, and unintelligent. Why else would they have such problems with the law?
…No. the law is an attempt to make this land safe for its inhabitants, to support democracy, and to set a code for behavior in the different aspects of our society.
As a white person, I have a duty to show my children their privilege; to let them know that the “I have a dream” speech wasn’t a panacea that solved the problem of racism in the U.S.A., that people are stilltreated poorly because of their skin color, and that color blindness is nothing more than an ostrich, it’s head buried in the sand. Higginbotham explains this by saying “When grown-ups try to hide scary things from their kids…it’s usually because they’re scared too.”
So I sat my seven-year-old down and we read the book. She wasn’t as visibly struck by the police shooting element as I was, but she hasn’t been exposed to gun violence. We read about how racism still lives, that we are allowed to combat it by saying it’s not our idea, and that all the evil behind the mask (dollar-themed) sells to us is an illusion of power that could be taken away at any moment.
She didn’t really understand the concept of racism at first, but by reading through the book we began a conversation that was needed for her to fight for justice in this world. She agreed that if she saw a person in need she would help them, but the question of how else she could use her voice to fight for justice remains.