Leap of Faith

Image by Marta Cuesta from Pixabay

My mother witnessed the horrors of World War II firsthand and in all of the 56 years that I knew her, I estimate the length of time she spoke about her wartime memories equals a total sum of thirty minutes, and that’s pushing it. Erasing most of her past was a self-protective mechanism for her. If she stepped into the harrowing memories for too long, she would have toppled over in the rubble of grief and loss. Of the few things she revealed was, when she was 16, her home and the region surrounding it in Minsk, the Capital of Belarus, was destroyed.

“I looked back, and all I could see were flames.”

(I recently read that during the WWII German occupation, the major towns of Minsk and Vitebsk lost over 80% of their buildings and city infrastructure.)

The aftermath of the destruction she experienced left her with two choices: run back, dodge the flames and risk her life to locate her, most likely, deceased family and friends or take a leap of faith. Forward she went. I’m not clear if she simply hid in the streets for a period of time or if the Nazis snatched her up and immediately kidnapped her to Germany. I did learn that she eventually became “forced labor” for a German family. In actuality, I later learned the appropriate term was “slave labor.”

On the internet, it describes the compensation that was awarded for the sad set of evil circumstances: “Between 1992 and 2006, Germany and Austria jointly paid compensation to surviving Polish, non-Jewish victims of “slave labour” in Nazi Germany….”

Although my mother, at this point, an American citizen for decades, qualified for the compensation stipend as described above, she could not reexamine the horror of war and bring herself to apply for it. She opted to continue doing what she always did: focus on her daily, routine chores that provided her with an outline for living, one that created daily order and organization and, in effect, great solitude and, in essence, a compensation for a painful, traumatic life that could not be improved in any monetary way.

Washing dishes, sterilizing counters, watering her precious ivy, tidying closets, today, her routine ways shadow me along with her poignant words she once shared. You see, my brother, Michael, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran and her eldest son, died at 55 years old from a sudden stroke. For about five years, she was in deep emotional sorrow and distress. Nearly ever day, I drove her to the family’s cemetery plot and each and every time, at the end of our visit, I found myself peeling her weeping, petite body off the ground where my brother was laid to rest. Suddenly, the day arrived, and it was as if she were emotionally drained — forever. My mom never mentioned my brother’s name again. In fact, it was as if she wiped clean every memory of him. Erased him in the same manner she erased the war memories.

“Why don’t you talk about Mike anymore?” I asked her one day.

“Some things are best forgotten.”

And so I carry those words as part of my survivor’s backpack on my own personal grieving mom’s journey, because now I have a fuller understanding of what it means to be left behind feeling like a sole survivor still standing. Like my mother, I am not sure I have it in me to acknowledge the weight of it, because by doing so I may cave under the rubble of personal grief and loss. The only way is not to take a leap of faith forward. Instead, accept that an inch ahead is a monumental accomplishment.

Faith Muscle

12 thoughts on “Leap of Faith

  1. wow…my Dad was a survivor of the Irish Industrial Schools and he and my mum would say ‘least said soonest mended’ and
    ‘never speak ill of the dead’…in our stance this was compounded by the English fear and hostility of the Irish in the 70s when I was a teenager…. this is what I saw *trigger this contains swearing and is still a politically sensitive issue today because of the bodged exit from Europe*

    Fuck off Irish Bastards,
    was Painted on the Wall,
    The Words,
    Big and Tall,
    while I,
    young and small,
    was taught to speak in English with a little bit of French,
    Having an Irish accent implied wrongful intent,
    They pulled out all our teeth,
    They plugged us into the mains,
    They said it’d cure the problem,
    They said it’d cure our illness,
    Instead they fried our brains…

    So for sure saying nothing about anything became the lesser of evils. *the Irish were more likely, statistically speaking, to be detained under the Mental Health Act and given ECT than other population groups*

    As for me, and ever being persona non grata, did say something and brought a successful case, by proxy, against the Catholic Church and won. It was the only case of its type at the time. The case premised on a single attribute ie living in the conditions that create and cause harm is, also, harm. Its based on the law of tort which supercedes but includes the more arduous liability of neglect of the duty of care. My Dad on receiving his apology said “that’s my boi…now tell me what medicine I need to take these voices away”

    Since, then Mam and Dad have both passed.

    Both would, though, be appreciative of the move towards compassion and trauma informed treatment and care. My own legacy bringing into sharp focus an auto-ethnographic perspective ie my lineage is tied into the Irish Uprisings in 1916. So, I can see why saying nothing was also about break a family line with violence and bloody violence.

    I am now the eldest living grandson of a formerly fighting clan, called the O’Fearchair and dating back to the Irish White Boys, so called because of the colour of their smocks, but with only peace in my heart.

    The song Zombie by the Cranberries captures the mood very well.

    Telling stories is important for the young in a family. It is important to allow them to find and know the truth and equally important that it is shaped by forces good and evil.

    As someone, who’s name evades me (maybe Levi or Adorno) said, ‘we are only a hairs breadth away from this happening again… all of the time’

    Thank you posting your heart wrenching story… I share mine as together we not only give release but create a real opportunity to stop such tyranny happening again. There’s Power in Strange Places… long as we are not strangers to each other.

    • I am always humbled by your brilliant writing. I actually read this comment THREE times, because it is packed with so much information. I am sorry to say that I had NO IDEA of such atrocities. Now, thanks to you, I am on a new learning adventure! My heart goes out to you having to endure so much and your dad too! I am glad, though, you did not lose your voice! And won! Also, I listened and watched the Zombie video clip. It’s spellbinding. I do have a question for you, if you don’t mind. I do believe it is important to know the truth, speak the truth, but what if it involves someone you love? How far do you go? What I’m getting at here is that my son went through some horrible things that he never shared with anyone but his immediate family. Do I keep this secret and let him rest in peace? Or do I take a risk and try to help others sharing the truth? I am happy you are not a stranger to me, but a powerful influence! A brilliant one at that! Thank you!

    • Hey Stacy, love the name. One of favorite nieces is also called Stacey her identical twin Cassie. My dad adored them and them him. Dad genuinely believed he was God and to them he really was, growing his white beard at Christmas for a few days off as Santa made him, for them, a buddle of fun. And, that’s the dilemma. Sure he was a victim. But in the place he grew up and him being him meant that he also created victims. He did after all go for the top job of being God because he actually was up to it in the Old Testament way, of course. And, there in lies the Paradox. Or is The Liars Paradox which can only be answered by The Revenge Paradox, which is mediated by The Rubicon Paradox. In short, I simply don’t know. I did what I did because that’s me being me – I’ve always been an awarkward sod – but who can blame me, my Dad was God!!! Joking aside the political context changed when the Catholic Church was pressured to own up to the disgrace of child abuse. The press coverage brought the matter into the open. Even then I acted on my Dad’s wishes ie don’t speak ill of the dead and took the matters up with the ‘Confidential Committee’ which was non-investigative. I am/was a social worker at the time too. I hold 3 Masters level qualifications and am also Alec Fraher FMIOCP, MIHM, AASW or was, so when the one of panel members hearing my Dad’s account queried it’s veracity the fight became mine. It became about the administration of justice as much as it was about what had happened. This will sound egoic and at the time it was but I have thrived on being persona non grata for most of my life. And therein lies a burden. How does one help truth find its way? I, if I’m honest, always took things all the way at cost to others and myself too. I whistle blew 10yrs or more ago about wrong doing and am still seeking justice. And again am waiting for the political climate to be on my favour. I do keep good records of the seemingly endless case reference numbers. Believe me the bureaucratic burden of ‘complaints’ makes the mind boggle and its non-negotiable with more No You Can’t and smiling assassins than you would care for.

      Hence the am/was of it all.

      While I foundationally know what is right and what is wrong, when others aren’t with you it’s as heart breaking as any atrocity suffered adds insult to injury and the words of my mam have a depth of thoughtfulness in the saying ‘least said soonest mended’. Dad, while playing God, was no angel.

      Be assured that ordinary people and those you’d least expect do ‘get it’ and may have guessed at or know first hand that something ain’t right.

      Getting this organised is a key and often it’s done ever so quietly and until there’s a political will to take up the cause with media buy in guaranteed. But just as the Catholic Church owned up to the abuses the political tradeoff was for increased capital and revenue money from Europe to improve the roads. The Republic of Ireland most have some of the best roads in the world.

      Wow, I’ve send loads and it’s probably dense reading too. There’s nothing easy about the truth which is why avoiding it can be the only perceived option. Look at how long it took to get smoking on the ‘killing us’ list.

      This all said. I’d do what I’ve done without a doubt. The cost, though, has been massive but I kinda knew it would be too. Be very careful Stacy it’s a very lonely place to go and stay with only hope for comfort.

      • Wow, Alec. So much food for thought. I can easily see how you hold 3 Masters level qualifications. Plus, I love your sense of humor. Most of the people that I connected with in my life on a deep, human level, looking back, you can call them persona non grata — at least on the outside. Once I got past the exterior, I found layers of substance and, yes, truth! You are also very courageous, Alec. And, certainly, patient–10 years is a long time! Anyway, I can’t thank you for taking the time to give me so much to think about and when the time is right, I, too, will know what to do.

  2. Stacy “Some things are best forgotten.”This is so true. I have sent you by mail my article on” gratitude”. Read it at your leisure & will be grateful to receive your valued feedback. Let us be connected through this media till I see you flesh & blood in future!

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