I have a very special friend. This particular friend used to own the nursery school that I attended when I was 3 years old. I went there until kindergarten, and my brothers went there as well. She has been a part of my life for 40 years. Her name is Ann.
Ann has always been more like a grandmother to me than just a friend. She treated my siblings and me with as much love as she treated her own family. She and my mom became friends all those decades ago and they are still close. Everyone she encounters is greeted with respect, compassion, and love. It’s just who she is.
Ann speaks with a thick Polish accent, despite living in America for most of her life. I am used to it and I love hearing it. When I hear that accent anywhere, my mind jumps to her.
Ann was born in Poland. She was raised in the concentration camps. She is a survivor.
She has never shied away from what she went through, although talking about her experiences, even all these decades later, is still very difficult.
Growing up with Ann in our lives was such a blessing. She and her husband, Sol, were like living history books to me. They were reminders of the past and living proof that we cannot let history repeat itself.
In the concentration camps, they did so many experiments on Ann that it was unlikely that she would ever be able to become a mother. She defied the odds and had her miracle baby that became the center of her world. He now has a family of his own and that family has a family, and Ann is surrounded with love and light and children a plenty.
So when I am having a day that is not my best, or when I get caught up in petty things, my mind often wanders to Ann. How did she do it? How did she survive?
My first daughter was stillborn at 37 weeks. When I learned that I had to deliver her and then immediately say goodbye to her, I did not think I would survive. I was not sure I wanted to survive. And then I thought of Ann.
Ann survived in the face of such hatred and fear. She must have worn a yellow star on her sleeve to show the whole world that she was Jewish. She must have had numbers burned into her skin in an attempt to lose her identity. I do not know for sure because even after all these years, it seems too personal to ask.
Ann and Sol met in the camps. Both of them lost their entire families. They were children, CHILDREN, and they were left to die. But they did not die. They lived. They never gave up. They kept going.
There is nothing I can imagine that is as terrible as what they lived through. I often think that they lived through such a horrendous ordeal so that they could show the world what true strength looks like.
Sol passed away shortly after I graduated college. I felt empty and hollow knowing that he would not be pinching my cheeks anymore or laughing at my jokes. I was worried that Ann would have trouble living life without him by her side. I know it has not been easy, but she is still here.
I am glad that when my daughter died, I had someone like Ann in my life. Just by knowing her, I knew that I had to hold on. I had to learn to lean on those close to me and ask for help and trust that help would be there for me. And it was.