Lilac Girls

I have a couple of magazines that periodically suggest new and interesting books to read. Based on the brief descriptions,  I usually find myself requesting several of them from the library; sometimes I’m way down in the list, but sometimes I’m able to get them pretty quickly.

Lilac Girls was one of those suggestions. It had been a while since I had put in my request, and I had almost forgotten what it was about. But when I checked it out, I was reminded. The description sounded like it was historical fiction, and since I enjoy well-written historical fiction, I had decided to try it.

It was a fascinating read–and when I read the author notes at the end, I discovered that it was far more history than I expected.

This debut novel is the story of three young women–Caroline Ferriday (an American socialite/former actress), Kasia (Polish teenager), and Herta Oberheuser (German doctor) just before/during/after World War II and how their lives intersect. I had thought that probably the characters were fictional, but Caroline and Herta actually existed, and Kasia (and her sister) were modeled on a pair of sisters who actually existed as well.

At times it’s almost too hard to read, especially when Kasia and her friends and family end up in Ravensbruck and become victims of the “medical experimentation” performed by Oberheuser. But it is also a story of hope, goodness, and forgiveness.

There were several things that struck me, reading it in our current political climate:

  • Being reared in privilege doesn’t necessarily keep one from being involved deeply in philanthropic activities or finding ways to help people in need.
  • When we begin to focus on the things that divide us, it becomes far too easy to see “the other” as somehow less human…and that can lead to unimaginable horrors.
  • Persistence is necessary at times to break down barriers and bring help.
  • Justice is necessary for healing–for individuals, communities, and societies.ently


The benefit of the doubt…

I really do believe that most police are hardworking individuals who care about the people they are sworn to protect. I know they have a very difficult job…that often they have to make split-second decisions that are easy to critique in hindsight.

I grew up knowing that the police were my friends…that if I had a problem, they were safe people to go to.

When I first began hearing complaints about racial biases in policing, I thought that surely I was missing something. That couldn’t be so. After all, I had never experienced that.

And then one day I visited with a friend whose sons were about the same age as my son. My son at that age was doing some stupid things in his rebellion, and I sometimes worried about his coming home safely because of the actions he might take. She worried about her sons coming home–period. Not because they were doing stupid things–their behavior was what I wished my son would emulate at that time. But because of the color of their skin.

That was an “aha” moment for me.

I’m ashamed to say that while it was an eye-opener, I didn’t really do anything about that knowledge. After all, it didn’t really affect me.

But time has gone on–and technology has made it easier for us to see incidents we didn’t used to. Sometimes that technology is helpful…sometimes it raises more questions. And technology is only as good as the people who use it. Sometimes recordings aren’t started until an incident has escalated–and we don’t know what happened prior to what we see. So I have worked hard to give people the benefit of the doubt.

But last night I saw video that says to me that we have a serious problem in this country in our relationships with each other. The police apparently received a 911 call about an armed man threatening suicide. When they arrived, they saw two men–one black and one white. The black man did something I’ve never ever had to think about doing in an interaction with the police–he laid down on the pavement with his hands in the air as he tried to explain that he was an unarmed behavioral therapist…that the “armed man” was his autistic client who had run away and who only had a toy truck in his hands. And yet…he was still shot. Why?! What else could he–should he–have done?

I am becoming more and more aware that we all have biases…and we must learn to acknowledge that before we can ever begin to hear each other. That’s not easy, because it means that I have to acknowledge that I am given the benefit of the doubt every day…and others are not. This article is a place to start. It’s not an easy read…but until I am willing to listen to others’ stories, nothing will change.

Is it enough?

When we’re young, we have lots of dreams and hopes. The world stretches before us, and it seems like there will be plenty of time to accomplish everything we want to.

But it’s not long before life intervenes…reality hits us, and we realize that some things just aren’t going to happen the way we were expecting. But that’s okay…there’s still plenty of time.

The years continue to pass by…and before we know it, there are more years behind us than there are ahead. Another reality bump…and a time for some questioning.

The question that keeps coming to my mind is this: Is it enough? Is what I have done during my life enough? Has it helped someone else? Has it accomplished at least some of the dreams I had?

Some of  that is fairly easy to answer, but some of it…I don’t know. I don’t know how to respond. My perspective is too skewed…I’m too close to the situation. I need someone else to respond.

I still have some of those dreams, but I’m realizing that they’ll just stay dreams unless I put some concrete action steps with them. Do I have enough time? I know…if I don’t, the years will still pass, and I’ll still be two (or three or more) years older, still carrying those dreams.

Some of those dreams needed to stay that–just dreams. They were nice ideas, but not really tied in to my skills and interests.

Some of them have been accomplished, but in ways very different from my planning. I can look back and see the way life events have worked together to make them possible.

But I still wonder if what I have done is enough. Are there others I could touch? should touch? And if so, how?

There’s a saying attributed to Mother Teresa that I have really liked–“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” And I wonder…have I done that? Is it enough?


On the exodus…

I’m sitting here the evening of July 3, listening to fireworks go off in my neighborhood. There are a lot of loud noises…noises my dog doesn’t like. He doesn’t want to go outside unless he absolutely has to–or unless we make him (and go with him for reassurance) and he wants to get as close as he can to us to feel safe.

For me, the noises are just noise. Sort of annoying…especially if they go on well into the night…but they aren’t anything that make me particularly nervous.

But that’s not true for many people. When they hear noises like this, they flinch, wondering just how safe they are…whether their house will still be standing…whether their family will survive the night…and whether they should try sticking it out in their country or take the incredible risks involved in trying to get to someplace safer.

I’ve just finished reading a book–Crossing the Sea with Syrians on the Exodus to Europe by Wolfgang Bauer. It’s a long title…not one that’s particularly catchy. But something about the book–and I’m not sure what it was–caught my attention.

I’ve read the news stories like everyone else. I’ve seen the stories on TV. But somehow, this book made people come to life.

The author and a friend focus on several people who decide to take the risks to try to get from Syria to Germany…to leave behind everything they know in the desperate attempt to start a new life–to find safety for their families. They originally pretended to be refugees themselves so that they could–as fully as possible–take part in the experience of being smuggled. Their group was eventually arrested, and they were deported; however, they maintained contact with their friends…who eventually made it safely to new lives. They were the lucky ones–the survivors…the ones who have a chance.

Immigration is a hot topic right now. It’s easy to dismiss it in the abstract–to say that there isn’t room…that the refugees should tough it out and work to make things better.

But when you start to put faces…and stories…then it’s no longer abstract. They become our brothers and sisters. And I am reminded that one of the books that I consider to be scripture says this:

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)

Would those who left Egypt so many years ago, seeking a new life, be welcome today?

The One that I follow also said this:

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me….Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:34-46, 40)

There are valid issues surrounding the refugee crises that are in so many places in the world. But as we try to figure out ways to deal with them, we have to find ways of understanding why…of seeing the refugees as individuals–as people like us, with the same fears and hopes that we have for our families…and yes, even to see them as brothers and sisters. Then…just maybe…we can find ways of ensuring that other families will not have to deal with the heartbreak symbolized by this picture.