Saturday, October 6, 2012

To Give Light

I woke up way too early this morning, like every morning. Once I wake up, I remember my reality, and I can't fall back asleep. So I just lay there, glad that my husband and kids are still sleeping soundly, orienting myself to the day ahead, and thinking about what I could get up and write about.

This morning, I lay there for a while and nothing really came to me. So I decided I was going to take the day off. Instead of writing, I decided I would clean out my email inboxes, something I have told myself I would do for weeks. I knew there were emails I needed to find and reply to, and also ones that instructed me to upload receipts if I wanted to be reimbursed for health care expenses. So this morning, I was going to be productive on my To Do list. No blogging.

I rearranged my personal emails by sender and started to categorize and delete. I hummed along, feeling good about being productive at five in the morning. Then I got to my "A Word A Day" emails, many of them unopened. I started to open them and got a bit distracted as I listened to pronunciations of new words and read the quotes at the bottom of each email. Some of the quotes caught me, and I moved past those emails without deleting them. But then one quote gripped me, stopped me square in my tracks. I read it over and over. Then I couldn't resist returning to this space and clicking, "New Post." I had something I wanted to write, and it was bursting to flow onto my keyboard.

After I typed the preceding three paragraphs, I returned to the email with the quote that had detoured me from my To Do list and to my blog. Now, I sit here with the hair on the back of my neck standing up. Because as I went to copy that quote into this entry, I glanced at the date of the email. August 9, 2012. The day after my mammogram; the day the doctor called with the positive biopsy results. The day I officially learned that I had cancer. Still, I have the chills.

The quote from the August 9th email is by Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), who Anu Garg describes as an "author, neurologist and psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor."

"What is to give light must endure burning." 

First, similarly to when I quoted from Nelson Mandela, this quote needs a huge disclaimer. By no means do I compare my bout with cancer to the Holocaust. That would be ridiculous. But I do think that I can, and perhaps even should, learn from people that have endured the most horrific of life experiences, despite that I wish those experiences never came to be.

I have already written about my failed efforts at Whole Foods earlier this week and how that trip led me back to Shaw's. As I waited in the deli line at Shaw's, I immediately recognized an older couple next to me. I am so ashamed that I don't remember their names, but I met them in my first or second year of teaching World History at Canton High School. In our unit on the Holocaust, I decided that I wanted to find a Holocaust survivor to come speak to my students. I don't remember how I found this man, but he had survived time in a concentration camp during the Holocaust and now lived in Canton. 

Sadly, I also don't remember lots of details about his particular story. I remember his wife accompanying him and introducing him to me as if she was his proud agent, not only his proud wife. I remember being anxiously concerned that the cafeteria full of high school sophomores behaved respectfully for our guests. I remember the number tattooed on the man's forearm. And I remember thinking how truly remarkable it was that someone could not only survive the horror that he survived, but even more, that he had the courage and the strength to stand up in front of a group of strangers and talk openly about it. 

As I stood in the deli line waiting for my turkey and cheese, I told myself that I should say hello to this couple. But I doubted that ten years later they would remember me, and I didn't want to bother them as they placed their own order. Now, I regret that I didn't say hello. I regret that I didn't ask them to remind me of their names. And I regret that I didn't tell them how much their courage and strength meant to me then, and even more, how much it means to me now. 

Regret is a terrible feeling, so really, I should just do something about it. I've seen this man work as a crossing guard in my town. In the next few weeks, I'll take a walk by where he helps kids cross the road. And I'll ask his name, and I'll thank him for coming to talk to my classes almost ten years ago. 

Now that I think about it, there seems to be something almost magical about the fact that this Holocaust survivor helps kids cross safely to the other side of the road. I bet they have no idea what he has endured, and in a way, I'm glad that they don't. But I do hope that they see the light that he gives off. Because even from the deli line at Shaw's, this tiny, shy, slightly hunched over older man provided me a huge bright guiding light, and he doesn't even know it. Yet. 

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