Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Soul Mate, of Sorts

No, I haven't met the love of my life, at least not that I'm aware of.

But at a gathering at a synagogue, on the eve of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), I met Agnieszka, a compact 30-something Polish woman with whom I instantly connected. The meeting was organized for second and third generations to share thoughts, memories and feelings about this hideous history that still seems to loom over so many lives, mine included.

In words as blunt as her haircut, Agnieszka declared that she believes that she has been unable to move her life forward because of unresolved and unexpressed emotions stemming from the loss of family during the Holocaust. To compound her anguish, no one in her family of origin (who still live in Poland) wants to discuss it, and she felt as if she were carrying the memory of the murdered all by herself. And I was stunned to hear her utter the exact words that I once penned in my journal: that, on some level, she refuses to be consoled.

Emboldened by her comments, I decided to say what, for me, had until know been unsayable: that I felt as if I were a receptacle of death, carrying around the loss of my father's family as a way of preserving the memory of people no one spoke of. Agnieszka nodded.

It was an enormous relief for me to utter these words and to have them deeply acknowledged. And it was a real blessing to meet a woman, close to my age, with whom I could talk about the Holocaust...and about beading. Not coincidentally, we both design jewelry as a form of meditation. I left that meeting unburdened and filled with happiness at the prospect of a friendship.

While eating dinner at her apartment a few days later, Agnieszka told me that although she has lived in Jerusalem three years, she has not been able to bring herself to visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum and Memorial. I, too, had been putting off a trip there and, uncharacteristically, I asked her if she wanted to join me. She agreed.

I am excruciatingly aware that carrying around grief, like a large sack of now stinking and worm-infested potatoes, is an unconstructive and perverse way of honoring those whose lives were lost. Except that my attempts to "just drop it" haven't been successful. The bag just sits there, and no one else picks it up, and I feel obligated to carry it a little bit further. I hoped that our joint pilgrimage to Yad Vashem would allow me to deposit at least part of my burden there, leaving it in the care of dedicated staff who have been charged with the meticulous, enormous and sacred task of Never Forgetting.

The sack did get lighter that day, when Agnieszka and I visited the museum and Hall of Names (decades later, only half the names have been recorded), and again this morning when I returned to Yad Vashem to see the Valley of the Communities, a memorial to all of the destroyed Jewish communities, whose design powerfully evokes the staggering loss. Perhaps I need to create my own art to externalize my inner load, allowing others to share it.

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