I did not and do not believe that the dead, that the long dead and disintegrated Shmiel and Frydka somehow reached out from the ether and pointed us, that day, to Beolekhiv and then Stephan and then Prokopiv and then the house and then the women and then the hiding place, the hole in the ground, the awful box, where they had once cowered in the cold and failed, finally at their bid for survival.
But I do believe in some things. I, to whom a friend had listened, quietly and sometimes in tears, one night in September 2001, when I’d just returned from our first trip to Ukraine and was telling the story of what we’d found there after all that time; had listened to me weeping and finally said, I’m crying because my grandfather died two years ago and now it’s too late to ask him anything; I did and do believe, after all that I’ve seen and done, that if you project yourself in to the mass of things, if you look for things, if you search, you will, by the very act of searching, make something happen that would not otherwise have happened, you will find something, even something small, something that will certainly be more than if you hadn’t gone looking in the first place, if you hadn’t asked your grandfather anything at all.
I had finally learned the lesson taught me, years after they’d died, by Minnie Spieler and Herman the Barber. There are no miracles, no magical coincidences. There is only looking, and finally seeing, what was always there.
Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million
I am home sick today.
I spent most of the day in bed finishing Daniel Mendelsohn’s book revealing what he learned when he searched for the truth about six lost relatives.
I found it a little bit ironic to be reading about the dead, The Lost, today of all days.
Today is the one year anniversary of my Grandmother’s death.
There is a place in the book where the author’s mother reminds him of the day his own grandmother died.
After a long day at her hospital bedside, they finally decided to leave and were in the hospital lobby when something made his mother decide to turn back, to “look at Nana one more time.”
When they returned, a nurse told them that she had just died.
“And I went in the room and I went on my knees by the bed and I said, Mama, Mama, don’t leave me, don’t leave me, I still need you.”
I was reminded of myself, one year ago today, holding my grandmother's hand in her darkened hospital room crowded with machinery.
Her delicate fingertips seemed to be the only part of her left unbroken.
The memory of holding her hand strangely also symbolizes the way the whole day, and the whole year, really, was a struggle with holding on and letting go.
Holding on and letting go, clutch and release...
It’s been like walking in circles, while still moving forward.
A kind of progression I suppose.
I was struck when Mendelsohn’s book brought up the idea of being guided to the truth by the dead.
Though the author was less inclined to think so, over the last year I have been willing to believe in the presence of my grandmother – and also my grandfather- guiding me, helping me heal.
“I feel them everywhere, all around me,” I have said.
Last night driving home after dark, following an exhausting but good day with the children, I closed my eyes and there they were in their living room.
I was getting ready to leave their house after a visit… not any specific visit, any visit, as all visits to their house ended this way...
I would hug them both and then they would stand on the stoop and wave as I drove away.
Last night I could feel my grandmother’s arms around me.
I could physically remember her, the touch of her, the feeling of her embrace.
When she pulled away, I said,
“No. Hold me a moment longer. I can feel you.”
So she did.
In my minds eye, I saw them waving as I drove away and I kept on, I keep on looking back and yet, I carry on also moving forward.