Three more chapters for you, nearly halfway through the book. (And no wonder I lost my voice earlier trying to record chapter 14–it turned out to be 49 minutes long).
I was really hoping I could 14 done tonight, too, but my voice couldn’t hold out for two long chapters, and started sounding as gravelly as Relf Shin. Sadly, I didn’t have any Relf Shin lines to read, though. (Mahrree’s lines were really starting to sound bad.)
I’ll have to record chapter 14 tomorrow. Stay tuned . . .
Yeah, I’m cranking these out. It’s absolute joy.
I can’t tell you how much I look forward to going to my closet to read out loud. When I’m having a rough time at work (I teach at a residential treatment center for high school girls), I remind myself, “Just a few more hours and I get to read out loud about Edge. That’s your reward!”
There’s so much in these chapters that I couldn’t think of which to “meme” (plus I’m late with making dinner, so I don’t have time). But I’m finding myself startled by how much I wrote is actually happening to us right now. I kind of suspected some day these problems would be ours, but I didn’t think it’d be so soon.
The big questions: Who do you trust? And what would it take for you to completely change your mind about something?
I never thought sitting in my closet talking to my laptop could be so fun. (And not only because I heard my husband walk into the closet and exclaim, “A chair? Why is there a chair in here?” Our walk-in closet is also part of the bathroom, so he was really confused as to my purpose. I think he’s put it together now, though, when I vanish in there for an hour at a time and talk to my clothes.)
It’s fun just reading these stories out loud, and also freeing. A dear friend of mine assured me that perfection isn’t necessary; my best is enough. What a liberating, delightful assurance! God also doesn’t ask for perfection; He asks for our best, and that is enough.
Wow. You can really get through life with that attitude.
(I did redo one of these chapters entirely, though, because I had a coughing fit in the middle of it and realized that was not my best effort.)
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Wow, two evenings in a row! (I better not let this heady success get to me.)
I’ve decided that, when I remember, I’ll also put up a line that stood out to me in the chapter. Here’s what stuck in my mind last night:
Here’s chapter two for your listening . . . uh, pleasure?
For years (about eight, I think) I’ve been wanting to turn my books into audiobooks. But the process is time-consuming if you do it yourself, and expensive if you hire someone else to do it. Since I don’t make any money off of my books, and I’m a school teacher, affording a few thousand bucks per book just wasn’t realistic, nor did I have the time to do it all myself.
But then, early in the morning of Labor Day, I had a bizarre dream that woke me up, and I eventually came to the realization that I could do a YouTube channel of me just reading my books, as I do for my high school students. The recordings didn’t have to be perfect (which I can never do anyway) so a LOT of pressure was taken away, I could make a video-per-chapter relatively quickly and easy, and best of all it’d be free–for you and for me!
So my goal is to read a few chapters a week, beginning with Book 1, and see just how far I can go.
You can subscribe to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYu2xT0b_plwsNnIK7P6ZBw
And here’s my first attempt at mangling my own books. (I wouldn’t dare read anyone else’s and record it, so it’s ok if I do an only half-way decent job on my own!)
I hadn’t realized it’s been so long since I’ve last posted. I’ve been deep in a new project which won’t let me go, and has been nagging at me since I was a teenager.
My mother’s early life has always been a mystery. She spoke of parts of it, but not the details, because they were too raw. I’ve met only one of her family members, a cousin, back in the 1980s when I was a teenager and he was visiting from Germany, but no one else.
I’ve never had the pleasure of driving by a house and hearing her say, “And that’s where I grew up.”
Because my mother, Yvonne Neufeldt Strebel, grew up in a part of Germany which is now Poland. She lost her parents before her first birthday and was adopted by her grandparents.
And then World War Two happened, and essentially destroyed her childhood. By the time she was 17 her uncle and two cousins, along with many friends, were forced to fight for Germany and were killed; another two cousins were held as prisoners of war, one in America and the other in Siberia; another uncle and a male cousin, age 16, were abducted by the Russians in 1945 as forced labor and never returned; her aunt and a female cousin, age 11, were forcibly removed from their home by the Poles in 1945 and put in a labor camp for six months, on starvation rations.
That’s when my mom escaped to the west, all her belongings in a backpack, with some family friends. As a refugee renting a bedroom from some acquaintances, she was starved by the French in Ettlingen for several months.
She never went home to Neisse, Germany, which was 80% destroyed by the time the war ended in May 1945.
As you can imagine, she didn’t have as many happy memories as a lot of teenagers do. She shared what fun times she did have, before everything went rapidly downhill. The rest were stories she told only a couple of times.
And much of what she lived through permeated into me as well. I’ve been both equally disturbed and fascinated by the horrors my mom experienced, and have felt compelled since a child to understand it.
Decades ago my mom told me to try to write and publish her story, and she gave me journals and stories to help. But details have been lacking, and her reticence to relive her miserable years has left me with huge gaps. (She passed away a few years ago.)
Finally this summer I’ve decided to tackle this project which has sat on my shoulders since I was 17 years old. Calling siblings for photos and gathering bins of papers has shown we have little more than a few dozen photos and some old postcards from her childhood, but it was more than I expected.
Using FamilySearch I found someone willing to translate her grandfather’s 10 postcards to her, a couple which were very revealing. These are the only words we have of the man who so loved and cared for her, who she last saw as a 17-year-old. He died only four years after she escaped to the west. He never was able to leave Germany, now Poland.
But digging for details about where her cousins and aunt and uncles were taken, along with the destruction of her city, now Nysa, Poland, have meant hours and hours of research. (And I’ve discovered how brilliant Google Translate is, because my German is horrible, and my Polish is non-existent.)
So I finally got smart, and using Google Translate, wrote an email to a librarian in Nysa, Poland asking where I might find details about the city during 1945 and specifically what dates it was bombed by the Red Army. I know my mom’s second house in Neuland had been obliterated by the war.
The Nysa librarian wrote back yesterday politely saying it was too bad I didn’t have addresses—
But wait! I do have addresses! From the postcards that had just been translated last month!
I sent her back, “The first house my mom lived in was Marienstrasse 4.”
Her response was swift, coming in less than half an hour, although by her Poland time her shift was nearly over and she should be heading home.
And her response left my chin on the floor: “I live in Marienstrasse 5!”
This random librarian, in a city of 43,000, lives NEXT DOOR to where my mom spent her first 12 years of life. WHAT ARE THE ODDS!?
I stared, astonished at her response, as I imagine she stared at my email that the home I’m looking for is the apartment building that’s literally attached to hers.
Then she sent me a photo—this one which she found in a book—of how the building looked in the 1920s. The same time my great-grandfather Emil Neufeldt would have bought it. The previous owners were the Rudolfs–they owned a store on the ground floor–and their two sons would in a few years marry Emil’s two daughters.
I wrote earlier that I’d never had the pleasure of seeing the house where my mom grew up, but there before me was the house where she grew up, where her aunts grew up, where their future husbands used to live with their parents—the family house, as it looked.
I stared at that photo which I received yesterday morning for several minutes, knowing that the first floor was a store the uncles’ parents used to own, that the second floor contained two large apartments which my mom’s grandparents turned into one to accommodate when their other grandchildren came to visit and play with their cousin Yvonne.
This morning, the librarian wrote to me again: “Before work I took pictures of Marienstrasse for you. Here’s what it looks like today.”
And for the first time in my life, I got to “drive” by the family home of where my mom grew up.
UPDATE: The librarian did more research and realized that the house ACROSS the street was my mom’s, and it looks more like what she had described. It was NOT destroyed in the war, amazingly! [She emailed me again this morning, June 9, with the clarification. Sounds like she was so excited by the coincidence that she jumped the gun a little.]
I was initially staggered by the coincidence, then immediately remembered there are no coincidences.
I’ve often heard that searching out your family’s history is a great blessing, and that your ancestors want you to find them. I never quite believed it until I connected with a random woman thousands of miles away who lives next door [actually ACROSS the street] to where my mom grew up.
My immense thanks to Basia Tkaczuk, my new librarian friend whose last name I’ll never be able to pronounce.
“You can still choose to be cynical and see only coincidences. But I choose to see miracles. And I’d much rather live in a world full of miracles than in one filled with random chances.” ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti
Strategically, it’s a bad idea to silence the “emotional” and “illogical” rather than to let it rant. I personally want—no, need—to know what everything thinks, no matter what extreme side they’re on. (I sit in “the middle” so everyone is “extreme” to me.)
“Cancelling” those who you disagree with on Twitter, Facebook, etc. is a dangerous tactic; you’ve lost your insights on what the “opposition” is plotting next.
As a high school teacher, I can assure you that ejecting an angry student from class doesn’t always humble their behavior. Exclusion doesn’t always make them want to reform to become part of “the group.” Exclusion instead often makes them stronger in their oppositional behavior. They become even more “rebellious” to prove their point.
Ignoring those who think differently than you is akin to those in a war refusing intel about movements of their enemy. “Oh, they’re about to invade by crossing our river? Ooh, I don’t like that! That’s not what I want to hear!”
Ignorance leads to irrational decisions. Knowing the next moves of the opposition is crucial to winning your battle and then the war.
Unless you’re afraid their strategy is better than yours.
Unless you’re afraid your battle isn’t based on a wholly solid, noble premise.
Even then, if the enemy is calling out your weaknesses, wouldn’t you want to know that? To turn them into strengths?
Unless the “emotional and illogical” are telling you a truth you don’t know how to counter, a truth that demonstrates the fallibility of your position.
And you’re desperate to create an alternative “truth” that gives you what you want, despite the heavy casualties that will undoubtedly follow.
“Silencing” and “canceling” only suggest that you’re afraid your opponents are right.
However . . .
Zion allows for all ideas of thought. Zion doesn’t force, or coerce, or censor. Zion allows for debate and discourse and even disagreement—civil disagreement. And still people can be of “one mind and one heart” without agreeing on every detail. (I look at my own family; I still love and work with them, even though some may be Star Wars geeks and others are devoted to The Lord of the Rings.)
It’s time to stop silencing other and start Building Zion. #buildzion
An appointment in Salt Lake City yesterday allowed me time to check on my most favorite building in the world—the Salt Lake Temple. As you can see, it’s in the middle of what I’ve labeled as a long, slow surgery. One year in, and three more to go, the Salt Lake Temple’s foundation is being fortified to make it strong enough to withstand a massive earthquake.
(And I keep thinking, “Once it’s completed and rededicated, everyone brace yourselves—that 8.0 is finally going to hit Salt Lake City.)
Walking around it filled with me nostalgia and a little sadness. As a child I lived just a few blocks away, and visiting the grounds was a monthly occurrence. Even as I grew older and moved around the country, returning to SLC always meant at least driving around Temple Square, just to check on my temple (my husband and I were married there) and to make sure “home” was still secure. For as often as we’ve moved, Temple Square has always remained my “home” base. All other life radiates out from it, for me.
Yesterday, though, there was no “life” there. The temple has been gutted to make room for major and essential renovations. Yesterday I saw only a shell of stone being worked on, the operation occurring in and around and below it. Its soul and light are temporarily gone, like a spirit leaving a body during a delicate surgery, hovering above the “doctors” and observing until it’s safe to go back in. While it’s hard to see the temple in this fragile state, it’s also encouraging.
The 5.7 earthquake last March knocked down part of the Angel Moroni statue and a few finials on the top of the temple, demonstrating even greater the need to strengthen it. (Renovation had begun in earnest just a couple of months earlier.) Age has taken its toll on the Salt Lake Temple, and while its “body” been very good in the past, it’s now time to make it greater.
The message wasn’t lost on me. I was in Salt Lake City seeing a specialist because my own body has been crumbling a little on the edges. Solidly in middle age, I hadn’t realized how my own systems have been slowing down and requiring some major overhauls to strengthen my foundations for the coming years.
As I’ve heard many other people say, I’ve recently taken inventory of where I am physically and mentally, and have discovered that while things were good in the past, they’re not so much anymore. The little tremblings from this past COVID-19 year has revealed that I’m not as sturdy as I assumed I was. Not only is it time to strengthen my body and mind, but to also move beyond “good” to “great.” I feel pressing on me, as I’ve heard many of you say as well, that “something” is coming in the future, that the ease we’ve been experiencing is coming to an end, that as for Joseph in Egypt, the years of plenty are coming to a close, and years of . . . “something” are around the corner.
I want to be ready for that, shored up and better than ever, just like the Salt Lake Temple. I’ve heard people complain about some of the changes occurring to ready it for refurbishing. Pioneer-era frescoes are being photographed then likely sacrificed as walls are removed, and many other traditions that have been there since the late 1800s are being set aside to accommodate three times as many patrons when the temple reopens in 2024.
Likewise I’m finding, as are many of you, that I need to remove some ideas and practices that have been part of me, set them aside to make room for that which is greater.
I think we forget that in this sea of life we don’t drift to a certain harbor and then stay there for the next several decades, moored at dock, content to be where we are. That’s when the barnacles and rot begin to set in. Instead, we’re to learn what we can at that destination, then take on new supplies and set sail again, and again, and again.
When we see a familiar, solid landmark like the Salt Lake Temple being reworked from top to bottom, I think people balk at such a drastic surgery because they fear they, too, need a similar restructuring. I know I haven’t been thrilled to see what’s needed to make me become better, but as time goes on, I’m becoming more intrigued by the possibilities of what I can do in the future.
I took heart when I came across a few groups of moms/grandmas with little boys looking through the large acrylic windows down on the sights below. With the enthusiasm only little boys can express, they said to me, “Lady! Look at the trucks! And there’s tractors! They’re making the temple! Watch! It’s so awesome!”
I chatted and laughed with them as jack hammers suddenly started up, or massive drills pulled up and shed loads of soil, and we guessed which truck would back up next out of the narrow entrances and exits where, years ago as a child, I used to walk around the beautiful gardens with my mom and dad.
My parents are now gone, and most of the gardens are gone as well, as is the light that used to be in the temple, but only temporarily. The light and spirit of the temple will return, as will everything else, I have no doubt.
In the meantime, something good is now making way for something greater.
The little boys’ joy in watching the construction was contagious, and I thought of my own internal and external construction I need to be about, to get me ready for the next stretch, whatever that may be.
It’s going to be a lot of work, but I realize that in the end, it’s going to be, in their words, “so awesome!”
Striving for something great is another way to Build Zion. Let’s not wait for a better time, because this is it.
“You know why they ‘canceled’ Dr. Seuss? He cheated on his wife when she was dying of cancer!”
That outburst in the middle of my lecture made me pause in my explanation of why we won’t “cancel” authors in my high school literature class, but instead try to learn from their times and issues.
We’re next going to read Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” and I was making a case that people who cry “Sexist!” about Shakespeare don’t understand his time period or his circumstances. In many ways, Shakespeare was progressive in his approach and treatment of women at his time (which could have been a reflection of a strong female queen in England).
I was explaining that nearly all of literature is a reflection of the history around it, so if we understand the history, we consequently understand—and further appreciate—the literature.
But first we had to get past Dr. Seuss, and this is what I plan to present to tomorrow’s class, now that I’ve had time to do a little research.
First, his publisher hasn’t ‘canceled’ all of Dr. Seuss, just six books which some perceive have negative racial undertones. Again, understanding the history of the time when the books were written (one as early as the 1930s) would clarify what was happening in the illustrations. What a marvelous learning opportunity we could have here, instead of an “erasing of history” which I fear is occurring. And when we erase, we forget, then commit the same mistakes all over again.
Second, Theodore Geisel wasn’t ‘canceled’ because of his behavior in the late 1960s. Frankly, no one cares about that (and an entire argument could be made about if they should or shouldn’t).
So what about his affair, which, after the death of his wife, turned into his second marriage?
I don’t know—I’m not privy to those details, and it’s no one’s business, either.
But for argument’s sake, let’s consider: was he remorseful about his behavior?
Back in the 1960s, we didn’t have support groups for grieving men, cancer victims, etc. People were often just left on their own to figure out how to cope, which meant, they didn’t very well. I personally know of a few situations where men found comfort in the arms of another woman when their wives were suffering. (And those “other women” weren’t entirely innocent themselves, so let’s not solely blame men here.) As a society, we’ve learned how to help those who are grieving and suffering, and in the past 50 years a whole system of supports has been put in place to help, and rightly so. People who are grieving have many more options now.
But what about Seuss? Did he regret his behavior, then or later? Did he go through some kind of repentance process? I don’t know, nor do I need to know.
Because I choose to “Think the Best Story.”
Some years ago author Orson Scott Card wrote an essay suggesting that every time we feel to judge harshly and condemn someone, that we “Think the Best Story” about them instead.
For example, the person who cut you off on the freeway really isn’t the inconsiderate, arrogant jerk you assume they are.
Maybe they just received terrible news—they’ve lost a job, or someone has been in a serious accident and they’re rushing to the hospital, or they’ve been told their cancer has returned and is incurable.
Maybe instead of a being a horrible person they’re merely distracted by disaster, and accidentally cut you off.
(I once cut off someone because I had a child projectile vomiting in the seat behind me as I drove, and it’s pretty hard to concentrate in a situation like that. I sure would have appreciated some compassion right about then.)
“Thinking the Best Story” acknowledges that we don’t have the whole situation, and instead of condemning, we instead try compassion. I think in 99.9% of potentially “offensive” situations, if we understood the point of view of the perpetrator, we’d rush to help them, not cancel them.
I think of the example of Robert Downey, Jr. and his support of Johnny Depp. When others have canceled Depp because of reports of spouse abuse (which reports are dubious, depending upon the source), Downey has come to his aid. Why? Because years ago, “Iron Man” was in and out of prisons and rehab with a drug addiction for about five years. But he wasn’t canceled then, he was helped. And one of those who helped him revive his career was Johnny Depp. Now, Downey is returning the favor, helping a friend who has been knocked down because he’s filled with compassion, not condemnation.
None of us should be seen or remembered for only our worst moments. To reduce Dr. Seuss to only as “that guy who cheated on his dying wife and drew a few ‘bad’ pictures” is unfair and inaccurate, ignoring the decades of good and even great things he did, wiping them all out for one year of stupidity.
We’ve all had stupid moments that we pray others will forgive us for.
If you haven’t had moments of stupidity, you will. Oh, you will. (I’ve had quite a few that I’ve tried to forget.)
What if we remembered Saul in the New Testament only as “that guy who persecuted and put to death the followers of Jesus Christ”? That would ‘cancel’ all the greatness he accomplished when he turned his life completely around and became Christianity’s greatest advocate of the first century. The reverse was so total that even his name was changed to Paul, and he was ultimately tried and put to death for his valiancy. To focus narrowly on his earlier mistakes is to misjudge him completely.
This “think the best story” attitude can be applied to just about everyone who is facing cancelation. Some historical and current public figures did commit mistakes. That’s called “being human.” Should they be defined by those mistakes, especially when looking at a full life in total of marvelous and excellent successes which quite often benefitted the entire country? Of course not.
Should your life be judged so narrowly? Of course not.
But to accuse Abraham Lincoln for not doing enough to help the Native Americans–after he freed the slaves and lost his life because of it–is disingenuous. And to cancel Mark Twain, again, for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, again, because of the use of the N word, ignores that historically the N word didn’t have the connotations it has now, and worse, negates the fact the Slave Jim and Huck are the only respectable characters in the entire book.
Perhaps it’s because Jim and Huck are purposely rebelling against the constraints of their society–and prove themselves to be the most humane and honest people in the South–is precisely why the book under the “cancel” curse once more. After all, it’s the rebels who push against the pressure of culture who are actually right.
There are others who are being canceled because some purposely misread and misjudge their opinions or beliefs. Some people fear any ideas which contradict their own, and feel the only recourse is to destroy that which challenges.
I wrote some years ago about misjudging and taking offense, and still my favorite quote from Aristotle is, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
I worry that we, as a society as a whole, do not believe that anymore.
Still, I’ve noticed something about myself when I choose compassion over condemnation: I’m a happier person. I feel more empathy, more concern, more love for others—even those I don’t agree with—when I assume “the BEST story” about them.
I choose to still like Dr. Seuss’s books, I still watch Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. movies, and I still “think the best stories” about people because doing so makes me a better person. I still choose to have faith in everyone else, too.