Moonglow

Skogsoy_moonlight

This ICU Family Waiting Room has all the charm of a 1970 Greyhound station.  Doesn’t the hospital realize that distraught families might appreciate a few creature comforts?  Not scattered mismatched furniture and a few random magazines looking like they’re from that same era.  It’s only 8:30 in the morning.  I still need my first cup of coffee.  A quick scan around the waiting room reveals that I am out of luck.

Fox & Friends bleats from a television hung from the ceiling about the upcoming Congressional testimony of fired FBI Director Jim Comey.  No remote control to be found. No control at all.

Shit.

I sit here.  Waiting.

On the other side of the big double doors to the intensive care unit, the doctor is giving my husband intravenous medication to sedate him.  Only fifteen minutes ago, Rich and I had agreed to an urgent medical procedure to insert a breathing tube into his throat. Once the tube is in place, Rich will be connected to a mechanical ventilator that will breathe for him − at least for the next few days, the doctor says.  The mystery inflammation that has swept his lungs like a forest fire is sucking all the oxygen from him.  His heart and lungs are nearing exhaustion and desperately need a break, while massive doses of steroids can eventually heal him.

I’ve stepped inside this scene before, at the bedsides of countless patients whose vital organs had failed them.  I was the young but trusted Head Nurse, called to coolly assess a patient whose vital signs were suddenly tanking.  Perhaps a patient had vomited bright red blood and was now himself as blanched as his pillow case.  Or maybe a patient who struggled just to breathe.  Now Rich is that patient.

Rich and I are here in Northern California, winding down on a lovely vacation along the idyllic Central Coast with my brother Terry and sister-in-law DiAnn.  Wine tasting.  Fresh oysters at an ocean-side fish shack.  Games and pizza nights with other family who had joined us for a long Memorial Day weekend.

Then two days ago, Rich’s alarming sleepiness and increasing shortness of breath prompted us to postpone our return flight to Chicago.  DiAnn and I took him to the Emergency Department of the local hospital, where he was admitted to a medical and cardiac unit.  Once on oxygen and antibiotics, he seemed to turn a corner and improve.  At first.

Yesterday his breathing had become more labored, despite being on high flow oxygen delivered through a face mask.  The hospital doctor suggested a transfer to intensive care so that his medical situation could be closely monitored for a day or two.  To my relief, last evening he was comfortable enough to sit up in bed and enjoy the Tony Award ceremony on television with me.

Okay, it seems as though we’ll be headed home to Chicago soon.

But this morning promises no Broadway extravaganza.  No Bette Midler.  No song and dance.

My iPhone jangles in my hand while I skim the day’s headlines in the New York Times.  I see it’s the area code for Roseville, the suburb near Sacramento where Rich is now in the hospital.

“Hello, this is Anne Rooney.”

“Good morning.  This is Dr. Bellucci from Sutter Roseville ICU, calling about your husband, Richard.”

I jump to high alert.

The doctor continues.  “Right now, he’s working too hard to breathe, even on 100% oxygen.  It’s not sustainable.  I’d like to intubate him, but he insists that you be here to give the okay.  We can wait 30-45 minutes.”

Intubate?!  I know what this means – that without having a ventilator to breathe for him, Rich might stop breathing.

“I understand.  I’ll be there in 20.”

I run down the hallway to Terry and DiAnn’s bedroom and pound on the door.

“Hey guys, wake up!  The ICU doc just called.  He wants to intubate Rich.  I need to get there right away – can you drive me?”

Five minutes later, DiAnn (also a nurse) and I are in the car, heading to the hospital ten miles away.  My brain whirrs, thinking of whom I should call.  My sister Mimi and I had already talked briefly.  My step-daughter Annika is next.  I know how serious this development is.  It doesn’t seem right to wait to see how it all turns out before I let loved ones know.  He may not even realize it, but at this moment, Rich is fighting for his life.

From the car on the way to the hospital, I reach Annika, back home in Oak Park.  I keep my voice calm and measured.  “Hi, sweetie.  I just wanted to let you know that Dad’s breathing is somewhat worse this morning.  The ICU doctor wants to put in a breathing tube to rest his lungs for awhile.  I think it’s the right thing to do.”

“Is this normal? Is Dad going to be okay?”

“Well, it happens like this sometimes, but the doctors are trying to keep it from getting worse.   They just need to relieve the work of breathing for a few days.  It’s putting too much stress on his heart,” I said.

“It sounds serious, but I think I understand.  But what about you?  Are you doing okay?”

“Not really.”  My voice trembles. “This is really serious, but I also think they can turn things around.”

“Should I come out?”

“Not yet.  Let’s see how things go in the next 24 hours.  I’ll keep you posted.”

“Love you.”

“Love you, too.  Will you let the rest of the family know?”

When I arrive to the ICU, I hurry to the nurse’s station to speak with Dr. Bellucci, a 30-something critical care specialist who is Rich’s doctor today.  His candor, calm demeanor, and personal warmth immediately impress me.

“We need to rest Richard’s lungs, in order to let high dose steroids kick in and reduce the inflammation.  We may never know what caused this kind of pneumonia.  It could have been a toxin or something else that triggered it.  It doesn’t seem infectious.”

I tell him right away that I’m a nurse, counting on that for him to give me the full picture. It works.  We talk a few minutes about Rich’s underlying diagnosis and planned treatment.  He explains the meaning of the unusual “ground glass” appearance to his lungs that showed on last night’s CT scan.  Not good.

“I’m thinking three or four days of mechanical ventilation, then we’ll begin to wean him off.  This condition is a rare one, but the odds are good that he’ll make a full recovery.”

“Thank God.  I agree with your plan, but give me a few minutes to talk to Rich.”

I collect my thoughts outside the door to his glass room.  As I have done before in stressful situations, I float a mental prayer to my late parents:  Okay you guys, I really need you.  Help me find the strength to handle this, to be here for him.

I remember Mombo’s reassuring voice when I woke up from a difficult abdominal surgery in my 20s, when my doctors suspected (as it turned out, incorrectly) that I had a malignant tumor: “Honey, everything is all right.”

That comforting blanket of a love that I have known my whole life envelops me now.  I can do this.

Rich sits upright in bed, his nose and mouth completely covered by a high-flow oxygen mask.  His face is flushed and glistening with beads of sweat.  I lean in to kiss his forehead and hold his hand in mine.

“Good morning, Bunny Love.  I just talked to Dr. Bellucci and he explained why he thinks you need extra help breathing for awhile.”

Rich looks at me intently and croaks through his mask.  “Isn’t that different from what the other doctor told us last night?”

“Yes, but things can change hour by hour.  Right now you’re working too hard to keep the right level of oxygen in your blood.  We just need to send your lungs on sabbatical for a few days.”

I squeeze his hand tightly.

“Okay then.” Rich’s voice is muffled but firm. “Let’s do it.”

“You’ll be in a very deep sleep while the ventilator breathes for you and the medicine heals your lungs.”

I kiss his moist forehead again.  “I love you, sweetheart.  I’ll be right here keeping tabs on everything.  I’ll be holding your hand when you wake up.  Who knows − if we’re lucky, maybe while you’re asleep the Articles of Impeachment will be filed.”

Rich chuckles from inside his face mask.  “I love you, Blondie Girl,” he wheezes.

DiAnn arrives to his room after parking the car and explains to Rich that as a former surgical nurse, she has assisted with thousands of successful intubations.  “This is what they do right before you go to surgery – first they’ll give you a sedative medication through your IV and then the doctor will tip back your head and insert the tube into your throat.  You won’t remember a thing.”  DiAnn’s calm explanation reassures us both. Rich nods in understanding.

Dr. Bellucci and the team appear, and one of the nurses ushers DiAnn and me to the Greyhound-style family room next door.  While I wait, DiAnn fetches coffee for us.

After about 45 minutes, the ICU charge nurse appears at the door.   “You can come back in and see him now.”

For the first time in days, Rich’s breathing is peaceful.  He is in a deep sleep.  I squeeze his hand, but this time he doesn’t squeeze back.

He looks so vulnerable.  He is completely dependent on this machine next to him.  His life is in the hands of this doctor that I just met an hour ago, these nurses, this hospital.  We must depend on them now – just as once my patients depended on me.   

When DiAnn returns, she also comments on how peaceful he looks.  We agree that it is a relief to see him so comfortable, not fighting for breath.

That night I fall asleep in one of his soft white undershirts, but tussle in the sheets from a restless anxiety.  I dream of our vacation in Kauai, standing knee high in the waters off the NaPali coast while Rich lazes in the sun on the sandy beach.  A strong wave crashes to shore and knocks me over when it retreats.  I struggle to regain my balance and keep from being pulled out to sea.  The waves keep coming.

This can’t be when and where our story ends.  We’re on vacation.  I can’t go home without him.  I’m not ready.

Every day that week, I arrive at the ICU before 10 o’clock so that I can join the daily medical briefing with his team of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, and students – a team I quickly assess as both highly skilled and compassionate.  I feel safe in their expert hands.  Although I now understand Rich’s clinical condition, it still startles me to hear the doctor begin the morning update with his diagnosis: “Respiratory Failure.”

Failure. 

Even though Dr. Bellucci says the odds for a full recovery are good, failure has a scent of permanence.  The levees in Hurricane Katrina.  Lehman Brothers.  The O-rings on Challenger.

By Day 5, his clinical medical team grows more concerned.  Anytime they try to give Rich what is euphemistically called a “sedation holiday,” he tenses up, shakes his head side to side, and tries to dislodge the breathing tube in his throat.  He still cannot breathe on his own.

If he does not show significant improvement in the next 3 days, Dr. Bellucci says he will call in a thoracic surgeon.  A tracheostomy – a surgical hole in his throat – may be necessary, so they can reduce the sedation to avoid long-term neurological or muscular damage.   The breathing tube in his throat will be removed and the ventilator hooked up to the tracheostomy.

I think back more than 40 years, to my Senior Nursing rotation on the Head and Neck ward at the University of Iowa, where I cared for  patients with tracheostomies.  Many were elderly farmers who had smoked or chewed tobacco − and then developed cancer. In order to speak, they needed to put a plug in the hole or to hold a mechanical voice box up to their neck.  Some used an Etch-a-Sketch at the bedside.

But Rich is a trial lawyer.  He needs his voice.  I love that deep voice.  

This is what it must feel like to be sailing in a squall, tossed around in an ocean with no horizon.  Keep calm.  Focus on getting us safely to port.  Don’t be pulled to a dark place.  Rich needs my strength at the helm.

Each night when I get home from the hospital, Terry and DiAnn wrap me in a soothing cocoon of support and normalcy.  Before I fall asleep, I write an email update to family and friends and post the day’s news on Facebook.  I am immediately buoyed by messages of love and support.  Mimi serves as my Optimist-in-Chief and affirms any small progress made that day.  My friend Connie in Ireland sends a beautiful poem by the late poet and priest John O’Donohue.  I cling to its images:

….When the canvas frays

 In the currach of thought

 And a stain of ocean

 Blackens beneath you,

 May there come across the waters

 A path of yellow moonlight

 To bring you safely home.

Every night, I wear Rich’s t-shirt to bed and fall asleep to comforting memories of our life together.  In Huey P. Newton, our black panther of a convertible, on our Route 66 road trip.  Summer Sunday afternoons reading the New York Times and listening to jazz on our front porch.  Waking in our little stone inn in northern Italy, the time Rich told me to close my eyes as he opened the shutters to the sunrise over Lake Como.  Swimming off the raft in Eagle Lake.   In Selma together for the 50th anniversary of the original march for voting rights for African-Americans.

I want this life − this adventure − to go on.

The night of Day 5, I decide to stay overnight at his bedside.  His previous night had been restless and difficult − every time the nurses lessen his intravenous sedation, Rich bears down on his abdominal and respiratory muscles so strongly that his lungs have no room to expand.  Any progress now seems stalled.  I hope that my voice and touch will calm him during the night.

“I’m right here with you, my love,” I whisper in Rich’s ear.  “I’m going to play Benny Goodman’s “Moonglow” for you.  I want you to breathe deep and slow, just like Benny did.  Try not to fight the machine.”

I stroke his forehead and the top of his swollen hand, held in place with a soft restraint so that he won’t pull out his breathing tube.

C’mon, Bunny Love.  We’ve gotta turn this around.

In the recliner next to his bed, I doze off and on and hold his hand throughout the night.  His night nurse Suzy sneaks in with a flashlight for hourly rounds.  His sleep is peaceful. No restlessness. No fighting the ventilator.  At 5 am, I decide to go home to sleep in a real bed.

As I drive north on I-65, the faint streaks of pink daylight emerge over the Sierra Nevadas to the east.  In the sky to the west, an enormous full moon glows.

Can this be my path of yellow moonlight?

Exhausted, I crawl into bed and savor a memory of the time Rich and I slow-danced to Benny Goodman in the moonlight streaming into our cottage in the Wisconsin woods.

Six hours later when I awake, surprised to have slept so long, I immediately call the nurse’s station to check on Rich.

“You’re not going to believe it,” the nurse replies.  “He woke up about an hour ago and is now nodding and following commands.”

“What?!  You’re kidding!  That’s fantastic!”

“You’ll be very happy when you see him.”

When I arrive to the ICU nurse’s station a half hour later, his nurse tells me that they had found the right combination of ventilator settings and sedation level so that at least some of Rich’s breaths are now on his own.  The steroids are also kicking in and decreasing the inflammation.  I rush to his bedside.  His eyes are open.  He is groggy but alert.

“Hi sweetheart, I’m here now.  I’m so happy that you’re awake!  Do you know how much I love you?”

Rich nods his head.  More than once.

“Can you squeeze my hand?”

Even with the hand restraint, his swollen fingers give mine a palpable squeeze.  He wiggles his toes when I ask him to.

“You need less oxygen, which is a good thing, but you still need to keep the breathing tube until you can breathe completely on your own.  Try not to push it out or shake your head.  It won’t be much longer.”

We listen to jazz and to his all-time favorite singer, Bonnie Koloc.  He raises his eyebrows to show me that he loves the music.  I update him on the Jim Comey testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.  No Articles of Impeachment to report.  I hold the phone up to his ear so that he can hear the support and love from family back in Chicago.

We read messages and cards from friends and family.  “You’ll love this − Cory says that the Patriarch of Oak Park Cinema needs to get back to his place at the head of the table. Ha!”

Rich smiles with his eyes.

That night Terry, DiAnn, and I go out for tandoori chicken and toast Rich with a Kingfisher beer.  I sleep for 12 hours.

So does Rich.  The sea is finally calm.  The storm has passed.  The tube comes out.

After another grueling month of rehabilitation in the hospital, Rich is finally cleared for travel home − with oxygen and by train back to Chicago.  Exactly four weeks after my pre-dawn drive up I-65, another full moon silhouettes the Nevada desert landscape out the window of our sleeping car on the California Zephyr.

Our path of yellow moonlight is finally leading us home.

Indelible Lake Delhi

Freddy's Beach 1957

Freddy’s Beach at Lake Delhi, Iowa; August 1957

Oh, this is the joy of the rose: / That it blows, / And goes

                                                                         ~  Willa Cather

My skin is toasted a faint caramel color, not unlike the marshmallows I squeeze between Hershey’s chocolate and graham cracker squares for a perfect childhood dessert.  Hot August days spent floating atop a giant inner tube on Lake Delhi can create that kind of caramel tan.

The day stretches long and languid.

I feel the sun’s warmth on my face.  Off in the distance, motor boats buzz.  Water skiers zip back and forth like dragon flies.  My brothers and sister splash around in a lively game of water volleyball with other guests at ClairView Acres resort.  Mombo – my mother – is back at our cottage, playing bridge at the picnic table with friends who drove the fifty miles from Dubuque for the day.  Dad lounges in a green-and-white nylon web lawn chair on Freddy’s Beach, immersed in a favorite Zane Grey adventure.

“Daddy!  Daddy!  Look at me!  I can dive off the raft now!”

He waves back from the beach in encouragement.  Soon he too is in the lake.  The water barely ripples in his path.  My chest puffs with pride at what a good swimmer he is.  It’s not the result of any country club membership.  He’s just had many years of practice, swimming in the Mississippi River.  We love hearing his stories of swimming downstream and across the river when he was just twelve years old.

“Okay, Elvis.  Let’s see how you do.  Remember − left arm out of the water,” he instructs.  I want to please him.  I also want to swim like he does.  I’ve already achieved the Minnow Badge during my lessons at the “Y,” but still have a long way to go.  I stretch my left arm as far from my shoulder as it can possibly go.

Swimming is one thing for which I can count on his patience. “Nice ‘n easy.  Up and over.  That’s it!”

Practice complete for now, we swim over to the raft so that I can demonstrate my new diving skills, punctuated with just an occasional belly flop.  By late afternoon, we are ready to savor orange creamsicle push-ups from the snack shack at the beach.  I slip into the hand-made terrycloth beach jacket that matches Mombo’s.  A lively ping pong match rounds out the afternoon’s schedule.

After dinner of grilled hamburgers at the cottage, our family walks the dusty path back over to Freddy’s Beach.  A rousing game of euchre in the shack engages my card-loving parents.  My brothers Dennis and Terry knock around a wiffle ball in the ball field nearby until it gets too dark to see the white plastic orb with holes like Swiss cheese.  My sister Mimi and I tune into “Gunsmoke” on the black and white television nestled in the crotch of the tree outside the snack shack.

Finally, with the Milky Way shining above, a big railroad flashlight leads us back down the path to our cottage.  A chorus of crickets serenades us home.  We crawl into our lumpy beds to rest up for another bucolic day at the lake.

Dad knew Freddy, the owner of the ClairView Acres resort, through their respective jobs on the railroad.  Freddy and his wife Dorothy, then only in their mid-20s, had bought the lakefront property in 1950.  Freddy eventually built rustic beach cottages, by hand and on weekends and evenings.  Spanning generation to generation, Freddy and Dorothy created a collective memory shared by hundreds of families.  ClairView Acres, and its iconic Freddy’s Beach, became a well-known summer destination throughout Eastern Iowa.

By the time of my toasted caramel summer, we’d been coming to the lake for two weeks each summer for five years.  My inauguration to Lake Delhi had been in August 1957, when I was just four years old.  It was my first delicious introduction to “vacation,” a luxury that I have loved and annually claimed ever since.

I hadn’t even reached kindergarten that first summer, still small enough that my bed was a clunky metal-barred toddler crib with a blue and white ticked mattress.  After some reassurances from Mombo my first night, I slept in the tiny girls’ room next to nine-year old Mimi.  Dad would sometimes take us out for an early morning jaunt in the small fishing boat that magically spun spider webs overnight, after which we would return to the cottage for breakfast. The combination of crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, and “Hi C” orange drink in little Dixie cups was a gourmet feast.

Our cottage became a gathering spot to welcome other friends and relatives for a day at the beach:  my uncles and their families, Aunt Sallie, a neighborhood friend from Dubuque, Mombo’s bridge club, the square dance club.  I loved that our cottage could entertain others, as well as our family.

Cottage on Lake Delhi. late 50's - early 60's

     Our rented cottage on Lake Delhi in the late 1950s

Each year on the Saturday in the middle of our two-week stay at the lake, we’d host the Tri-State Twirlers, the square dance club that Dad and Mombo co-founded with another dance couple.  After a cook-out at our cottage, the Twirlers retreated to the beach for a barefoot square dance at dusk.  With his little portable record player blasting musical accompaniment, their favorite caller shouted dance directions.

Bow to your partner.”  “Circle left.”  “Allemande right.”

Skirts of sparkling blue, green, and coral − and their bouncing net petticoats − swirled around the beach.  Other cottagers looked on and occasionally were pulled into the square to give it a try.

I beamed like a celebrity.

After the first few summers, my now-teenaged brothers had summer jobs at the railroad yard or working on a farm, so were seen only on weekends.  Eventually the lake became crowded with more cottages – and too many people for our tastes.  Our annual vacations shifted to road and train trips around the Midwest.  My last visit to Freddy’s Beach was a day trip with my best girlfriends in July 1971, before we all departed for college.

In 2010, a ferocious summer thunderstorm caused the 80-year old river dam that had created Lake Delhi to fail.  Deflating like a burst balloon, the lake spilled millions of gallons into the Maquoketa River, flooding the lake properties as well as communities downstream.  Within hours Lake Delhi became a crater.  Lonely boat piers resembled the skeletons of dinosaurs.  Six years later, a new dam has been erected through the tireless efforts of hundreds of volunteers, some of whom had been at the lake for decades and across multiple generations.  Although still a shadow of its former glory, Lake Delhi promises to return.

Freddy’s Beach and the snack shack are no more.  No television is nested in the branches of the tree by the beach.  Freddy himself is gone.  So are Dad and Mombo, my aunts and uncles, the bridge club, the original Tri-State Twirlers.

Yet the memories of those idyllic summer days at Lake Delhi remain.  The metal crib.  Square dancers on the sand.  Dad’s swim coaching.  Belly flops off the raft.  Mombo’s beach jackets.  Picnic table meals.  Indelible.

Anne about age 4-5 by picnic table

Me at age 4, by one of my ever-favorite picnic tables 

Nice, France

Chagall Yellow painting (Nice)

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

         ~ From “September 1, 1939” by W.H. Auden

Berries at Nice Market Sept 2015I will always remember Nice for its explosion of colors that celebrate life. A Chagall masterpiece shimmering with saffron, emerald, and ruby.  Strawberries and blueberries bursting with ripeness at the daily market.  Pastel gems of macarons glittering in the gold display case at Maison Auer.  Matisse’s giant cutout blooming with orange and fuchsia flowers. The boy playing with the red ball on the beach.  The azure Mediterranean.

I wish I could forget the white truck. The image of the woman with the blood-soaked top. The green metallic body bag covering a child. The pink doll in the street.

As I watch the news reports, I know the places that the cameras scan.  I know the park, the hotel, the beaches.  I have strolled the Promenade des Anglais.  On Bastille Day it reverberated to the hum of happy beach-goers celebrating liberté, égalité, fraternité.  Carnage does not belong here.

It might be easy to feel helpless and hardened after this latest assault. Some voices call out for loyalty tests and bans on whole groups of innocents. Even torture. I reject these cries of despair and division, but not out of naiveté.  I understand that the well of hatred runs deep in our world.  But I refuse to join this darkness. Instead, please add my light to the chorus of affirming flames.

Beahc in Nice with small boy and red ball

My Magical Midsommar

“Come!  Dance!”  My new friend Margareta pulled my hand and pointed toward the raised and adorned midsommarstång − or maypole − with a huge smile.  I looked at Margareta with a mixture of skepticism and anticipation. “It’s very easy. I’ll show you!” she proclaimed.

My Swedophile husband Rich nudged my arm.  “Oh, go on.  Go do the Frog Dance!”  FROG DANCE?

In the midst of some animated Swedish chatter from the women standing behind us, I recognized the word “Chicago.”   I had told Margareta that I was visiting from Chicago, specifically for the Midsommar experience.  The women behind us had obviously overheard.  Were they now questioning my credentials?  Why was some neophyte from Chicago – without a garland of fresh wildflowers in her hair − about to join the ring dance and participate in this Swedish solstice ritual?

Midsommar Dancers in Rattvik June 2016Margareta (middle) with fellow Midsommar folk dancers

Neophyte or not, soon I was swept along with the crowd of dancers, my hands clasped by Margareta on one side and a curly-haired Swedish teenager on the other.  “I don’t know what I’m doing,” I chuckled to him.

“That’s okay. I don’t either. Just jump!” he yelled in English over the clapping of the crowd.

Fiddlers in traditional tan knickers and black felt hats launched into an enthusiastic rendition of “Små grodorna,” a traditional Swedish dance and song performed at Midsommar by children and adults alike.  The crowd clapped along and sung out the lyrics in Swedish: “The small frogs, the small frogs are funny to see.  No ears, no ears, no tails have they!” 

We danced in a circle around the midsommarstång.  After one complete circle, the dancers dropped hands and rushed toward the pole in exaggerated movements that illustrated the body parts that frogs lack, such as ears and tails.  Soon I too was jumping like a frog, fingers waving wildly behind my ears.  My hands moved to the back of my waist, and uncertain about my amphibian dance moves, wiggled with what I thought would look like a thrashing crocodile tail.  Squeals of laughter from the flower-bedecked children washed over the crowd.  I laughed too.

Dancing @ Rattvik Midsommar June 2016

The celebrants gradually dispersed to one last tune from the fiddlers.  Margareta motioned to me to join her and some other folk dancers. “We want to teach you another dance,” she smiled. “It’s called Anna’s Visa.”

“Perfect! My name is Anne.”   

I tried gamely to follow her lead and not trip over my own feet or anyone else’s.  But no one seemed to care.  The other dancers, dressed in red, green, and blue stripes and plaids representing various regions of Sweden, were as delighted to share their cherished celebration with me as I was to be a part of it.

Rich and I had first visited this rural part of central Sweden a number of years ago during a long August weekend at a stuga or country cottage.  Although beloved by many Swedes, who are known to get misty-eyed imagining bucolic childhood Midsommars here, the Dalarna region remains largely undiscovered by foreign tourists.  Lake Siljan, its major natural landmark, evolved from a crater made 350 million years ago by the crash of the largest meteor ever to have hit Europe.

Rich and I considered Dalarna our very own Smultronstället , which in Swedish literally means a “wild strawberry patch,” but metaphorically signifies a surprising gem of a place.  We vowed to return there one day to celebrate Midsommar.  The medieval village of Rättvik on the shores of Lake Siljan would serve as an ideal home base for our adventure.

Lake Silyan outside Tallberg June 2016

Lake Siljan 

Now as we neared Lake Siljan and Rättvik, I spotted a hand-lettered sign by the side of the road that we had first discovered years before:  Ollesgårdens Glasloppis.  It pointed the way down a winding gravel road to an old barn completely filled with antique Swedish glass.  Orrefors Heaven!  Years ago, Rich and I had been referred there by an American friend who had married a Swede and retired to the idyll of a 17th century Dalarna farmstead.  “Do not miss this flea market,” he said.  “But you have to find it first.”

On that earlier visit to Ollesgårdens, two lone vintage akavit glasses caught our eye.  Olle’s wife told us that an American architect working for Kosta Boda in the 1930s was responsible for the unique bubble embedded in the glassware.  Whenever we use them at home, we’re reminded of the Dalarna countryside and our delight in actually finding this off-the-beaten-path emporium.

Now we had managed to stumble across Ollesgårdens a second time.  I walked in the barn door and immediately spotted a set of six identical akavit glasses, begging to be reunited with their cousins who live in our American kitchen.   What serendipity!  We were clearly off to an excellent start to our weekend.

Food and drink are also essential to the proper Midsommar holiday.  For our celebratory dinner of the weekend, Rich and I chose Solgårdskrogen, a small family-operated restaurant that embraces the farm-to-table philosophy with gusto.  As the sole outdoor diners that evening, we luxuriated in the meadow of a farm dating to 1630, with the farm buildings all painted in the distinctive brick red paint of rural Sweden.  The chef’s three year old daughter Lorna toddled over to our table, even flirted a little with Rich in a combination of giggly Swedish and English.  Had I actually stepped into a dreamy Carl Larsson watercolor?

Larsson picnic

Our palates exploded from a culinary extravaganza that we will not soon forget.  Cold smoked trout and shimmering ruby roe from Lake Siljan with a dollop of sour cream from the 400-year old dairy farm down the road.  Fermented beet root with fresh-picked violets and honey harvested on the farm two days before.  Baby asparagus drizzled with hand-churned nettle butter.  Fragrant sausages infused with juniper berries and pork shoulder slow-roasted over an outdoor wood fireplace.  To top it all off, we relished each bite of homemade Hagg flower ice cream with strawberries and caramelized rhubarb for dessert.  Chef Jonathon personally delivered each dish to our table, presenting it as the artistic creation that it was.

Late on the final evening of our extraordinary Dalarna weekend, we nestled in on the deck of our B & B and delighted in a spectacular sunset over Lake Siljan. Huge cumulus clouds glowed golden, deep coral, and periwinkle, mirroring themselves in the stillness of the lake.  Rich poured us each a glass of Old Invalid port wine, for us to toast our Midsommar Adventure and reminisce about our favorite experiences.  We had welcomed in summer the way that true Swedes have done for centuries and will continue for centuries to come.  Skol!

Lake Siljan sunset July 2016

Sunset over Lake Siljan 

The Arc toward Justice

John Lewis on the Edmund Pettus Bridge

I am swimming in a rainbow sea. Buoyant waves of marchers sweep down Martin Luther King Avenue in Selma, Alabama.  Today we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the critical turning point in the struggle for voting rights for African Americans.

Infants in carriers nestle against the chests of their parents.  A girl in pig tails and fuchsia jeans skips along next to her father, her hand clutched in his.  An elderly African American couple, he in a bankerly pin-striped suit, she in a purple silk dress, march with their arms wrapped around each other’s waists.  One old activist hunched over his rolling walker wears a neon orange vest with the words “50 Miles for Freedom” hand-written on the back.  Fifty years have passed since his first march.

Black couple in pin stripes and purple suit

I’m trying hard to keep from getting separated from my group, but the sheer number of marchers makes it a challenge.  At least my fellow Unitarians are easy to spot in their canary-yellow T-shirts.  It seems as though there are hundreds of specks of yellow in this rolling sea. Behind me, one delegation from St. Paul carries a huge yellow banner that reads “Standing on the Side of Love.”  Close to me a marcher thrusts a hand-lettered sign high above her head: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”  My eyes survey all the signs and banners.  “God Can’t Breathe” echoes the dying words of Eric Garner, the most recent black victim of police violence.  The marcher in front of me wears a crimson T-shirt with “Will Work for Justice” emblazoned on her back.

God Can't Breathe poster

As we move through this neighborhood of run-down houses with sagging porches and peeling paint, an older African American man in faded overalls stands along the march route.  He thrusts his hand out to shake mine. I step to the sidelines too. “Thank you for coming here and for remembering,” he says solemnly. Our eyes meet and our hands clasp for a few seconds.  “It’s an honor,” I reply.

We continue down Martin Luther King Avenue past the Brown Chapel and pause for a few minutes.  Jesse Jackson, Eric Holder, and a few hundred guests emerge from a special commemorative service there.  In March 1965, the chapel served as the headquarters for Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, organizers of the Selma-to-Montgomery March.  The street in front of the chapel had nursed bloodied protesters who were beaten and tear-gassed by Alabama state troopers and a civilian posse of Ku Klux Klan.

Brown Chapel is holy ground.  Today the mood is positively joyous.  Strains of organ music and hymns soar out to the street and envelop the expectant marchers.

The march resumes.  We turn the corner and head into the small downtown of contemporary Selma.  Up ahead, someone is belting out “We Shall Overcome.”  The notes and words float back over the waves of marchers.  “Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday.”  Once the voices hit our cohort, the group picks up the baton and sings along.  “We’ll walk hand in hand someday….”

As we move down the blocks of the main business street, our destination comes into view: the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  The bridge is named for a Confederate general, later a Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan who served as a U.S. Senator after the Civil War.  Bloody Sunday, the beatings of peaceful African American voting rights activists by the racist local and state police, erupted on this bridge fifty years before.

We finally reach the base of the bridge, which arches up and over the Alabama River. The sweep of the arc over the bridge reminds us that Dr. King used the arc metaphor often: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This day we recommit to bending the arc.

Edmund Pettus Bridge

Thousands are ahead of me on the bridge, but the mood is relaxed.  No one pushes or shoves.  No tempers flare.  I see baby strollers. Walkers. Wheelchairs.  An elderly woman of color is wheeled off the bridge on a stretcher.  I stop to kneel and sign a huge poster on the ground that says “Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do 2 You.”

I see many of the people whom I have heard speak at the Unitarian Living Legacy conference that I am attending. Some were here on the bridge fifty years ago.  They are now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s.  Two of them witnessed the murder of their friend and colleague Rev. Jim Reeb, a fellow Unitarian minister who heeded Dr. King’s call and came from Boston to Selma to join the march.  He had died two days after local white segregationists beat him one evening when walking from a local diner toward Brown Chapel to hear Dr. King speak.

Last night, with their families present to receive awards of courage, we had honored Rev. Reeb, along with local activist Jimmie Lee Jackson and volunteer Viola Liuzzo, all victims of the explosive hatred that surrounded the struggle for voting rights in 1965.  Jimmie Lee was beaten and murdered by an Alabama state trooper after Jimmie participated in a peaceful night march two weeks before Bloody Sunday.  Viola, a wife and mother of five from Detroit, was shot in the head by the Ku Klux Klan as she chauffeured marchers to the airport only a few hours after Dr. King’s historic speech on the steps of the State Capitol in Montgomery. This morning on the bus ride from Montgomery to Selma, we had passed her grieving family, gathered at a small memorial that marks the site of her murder along the roadside of Route 80.

The waves of marchers roll gently.  We are now here on the bridge for the holy consecration of what happened here fifty years before.  A marcher behind me carries a handmade poster that says “Stand By Me” with photos of Rev. Reeb, Jimmie Lee Jackson, and Viola Liuzzo, along with other civil right activists.  I remember from the film Eyes on the Prize a young John Lewis in his tan trench coat, leading the first march, beaten back by state troopers on horseback.  I remember Amelia Boyton, the local voting rights activist who was clubbed and beaten unconscious on the bridge in 1965.  A photo of a battered Amelia shocked the world.  Now 103 years old, yesterday in a private commemoration she marched across the bridge with the President, holding Obama’s hand.  Today I march to honor them all.

Amelia after beaing on ground, police over herAmelia with Obama and John Lewis

We are celebratory, yet sober.  In 1965, the Selma-to-Montgomery March turned the tide and led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the most important legislation of the civil rights era.  Yet here and now, much work remains.

At the end of the bridge, I see Abraham Lincoln in front of me − or at least a man dressed like Abe − standing next to a yellow-shirted man holding a sign: “Black Lives Matter: How Can It Be That We Must Still Do This?”  We must do this because voting rights, once thought to be carved into permanent law, are increasingly and deliberately being chipped away.  We must because there are too many police beatings and shootings of black men.  We must because our society has systematized mass incarceration of black men in what has been termed “The New Jim Crow.”  We must because the scourge of racism is alive, well, and growing.  We must because the arc of the moral universe is a long one.

We must bend the arc toward justice.

John Legend quote on Selma March 2015

Ma Belle Paris

“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other.  We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached.  Paris was always worth it and you received in return for whatever you brought to it.  But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”   

    Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

 Fountain at Pompidou next to 12th century church

As someone whose travel for work and pleasure has propelled me to places far-flung – from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe − I’m often asked what is my favorite city in the world.  I have no hesitation whatsoever.  Paris.

Growing up in the 1960s, Paris represented sophistication.  Those ethereal water lilies of Monet, Christian Dior, airy soufflés, Jean Seberg as the American journalist on the back of a motorcycle in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless − everything that my working class Dubuque neighborhood did not.  During my regular Sunday evening babysitting gig in the 8th grade, I tuned into Julia Child as “The French Chef” on PBS and fantasized how I too would whip up coq au vin one day.  By the time of Mr. Daresh’s high school French class, Paris was already blinking on my travel radar.

The legend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and their salon of artists and intellectuals intrigued me.  I was amazed to learn that one of those salon habitués, a penniless Ernest Hemingway fended off starvation by catching pigeons in Luxembourg Gardens.  My favorite opera is La Bohème, about a group of young bohemians living in tubercular poverty in the Latin Quarter of Paris.  In one convoluted mystery dream that found me kidnapped and imprisoned in a 5th arrondissement garret, I even sang Rodolfo’s spine-tingling aria as a coded signal to the gendarmes outside my attic window.  I later shared my wild dream with my psychotherapist, who found it clever, inexplicable, and very French.  Mais oui.

When I was in my late 30s and a working professional living in Chicago, I finally experienced the magic of Paris for myself.  I spent the entire first day exploring the Left Bank on foot to get my bearings.  I stopped to have a café au lait and croissant at Les Deux Magots, the venerable outdoor café on the busy Boulevard Saint-Germain where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir ‘discovered’ the theory of Existentialism decades before.  I sipped my café and listened to the lilting chatter of the French conversations around me.  I immediately felt smarter.  Philosophical.  A short walk away, Luxembourg Gardens exploded in the pink and purple fragrant elegance of a May afternoon.  Under huge old shade trees, old men with berets and mustaches hunched over chessboards.  Were the nearby bushes where the starving and stalking Hemingway had snared his lunch? I wondered.

Purple planter at Luxembourg 8-14-2013 9-03-15 AM

I spent the next ten days savoring as much of Paris as one could possibly absorb. I communed with Cezanne’s apples at Musée d’Orsay and Matisse’s paper cutouts at the Centre Georges Pompidou.  I soaked by luxurious candlelight in a claw foot iron tub in my own version of the La Bohème garret, a top floor bathroom with dormer windows in a butter-colored tiny hotel on the Rue Jacob.  My wanderings through the neighborhoods of the Right Bank revealed E. Dehillerin, the revered cookware shop that has supplied soufflé pans and toques to all serious French chefs since the early 19th century.  I paused a minute outside the big wooden door.  Would the clerks think me a pretender to Julia’s whisk?  Would I be found wanting?  I almost bowed my head entering this temple of French culinary art.  Descending the rickety wooden stairs to its dusty basement reminded me of all the times I had fetched jars of homemade sauerkraut and stewed tomatoes from our musty basement pantry in my childhood home.  I had never seen so much copper and porcelain in one place before.  Julia herself shopped here!

Gourmet food shop in 1st arron 8-12-2013 1-57-29 PM

Soon I felt like a native, or at least an adoptee, breezing in and out of neighborhood fromageries to discover the perfect piece of aged goat cheese.  “Bonjour, Madame!  Comment allez-vous?” the cheese monger would chirp, unaware that I hailed from the banks of the Mississippi River and not the Seine.  Despite what others had told me – that the French were haughty and arrogant, that they hated Americans – Paris never disappointed.  I found that if I smiled, murmured “s’il vous plait” and “merci beaucoup” frequently, and asked questions by saying a noun or two “en français” with a questioning inflection and a quizzical look, Parisians were unfailingly gracious.  Perhaps they sensed that I was in love.

Fromagerie on Ile-St. Louis 6 Aug 2013

The last morning of that first trip to Paris, my first stop was the local boulangerie for a warm and crusty baguette.  At my favorite fromagerie, I inhaled the pungent scent of the dozens of cheeses displayed like precious stones, and selected a wedge of a soft ripe Camembert.  I tucked both into my backpack along with a bottle of Evian and headed toward the Musée Rodin, a small museum in an old mansion that is dedicated to the work of the great French sculptor.  One of the versions of his iconic work The Thinker lives in majesty in its garden. I strolled around the grounds for a long while, just breathing it in.  I found a little bench in a far corner of the garden which I determined to be an appropriate setting to enjoy my final taste of Paris − at least final for this trip.  There was never any doubt that I would return.

Paris was at her sparkling best this May morning.  I could see The Thinker over in the other corner of the garden, looking as if he had been contemplating the profound questions of the universe for decades and would continue for many more.  I had profound questions of my own.  What is it about Paris, I pondered, which makes me feel so present, so totally in the moment?  Is it the fresh flowers?  The discerning chefs strolling open air markets on the hunt for the very freshest ingredients?  Daily baguettes under the arm of almost every person I passed on the street?  Or was it some kind of a magical glow emitted by masterpieces from Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse, Renoir, and my own personal favorite, Picasso?  It hadn’t escaped my notice that Parisians had polished the mere act of sipping le café to a high art.  One would never find a Styrofoam cup at a Parisian café.  This was the time for porcelain, lively conversation, watching the world go by.

I knew that somehow I must bottle this essence of Paris and transport it back to Chicago.  I wanted to be able to tap it some morning when I was stuck in traffic on the Eisenhower Expressway or fidgeting in an interminable corporate meeting.  How could I too learn to relish those precious moments of beauty and joy − and while I was living them, just as I was now enjoying the tang of the Camembert on my tongue?  Was the answer as simple as a mindfulness of the beauty and the joy around us?

6th- 1

Since my inauguration years ago, I have returned to Paris many times.  My romance continues.  When I first met my husband Rich, I was astounded to learn that he had traveled all around Europe while a university student in Stockholm, but somehow his travels had circumvented Paris.  “Eh.  I don’t know.  I really like Barcelona and Rome,” he said.  “I’ve never been all that interested in Paris.”

What?! How could someone who professes to love travel not want to travel to Paris?  Surely it was my civic and marital duty to correct this serious deficiency of judgment.  I would show him my Paris.

For a surprise Christmas gift early in our marriage, I rented for a week the next summer a charming old Parisian apartment with high ceilings and a tiny terrace that overlooked the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.  Our arrival on Bastille Day was greeted by fireworks and dazzling lights dancing up and down Le Tour Eiffel.  A red carpet welcome to be sure.

Picasso woman

On a drizzly July morning a few days later, we strolled from our apartment along the Seine through the historic Le Marais district to our day’s destination, the Musée Picasso.  I have loved Picasso ever since my first exposure at a special touring exhibit hosted by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1980.  I had never seen anything like it.  His audacity captivated me.  Now at his namesake museum, I savored his artistic vision at its boldest, fearless best.  His sorrowful Blue Period.  The ebullient Rose Period.  Avant-garde Cubism.  Erotic half man-half beast drawings from the ‘30s and ‘40s.  All of his passions and emotions were right there on canvas for millions to see.

Pais, A rainy Day

By mid-afternoon we exited the museum and stepped right into a real-life version of “Paris Street; Rainy Day,” a favorite treasure of the Art Institute of Chicago that I had seen dozens of times.  The painting depicts elegant 19-century Parisians with umbrellas strolling cobblestone streets mirrored with rain.  We were not so lucky.  Soaked after walking just a block or two with no umbrellas, we tucked into a small café.  We warmed ourselves and waited for the rain to stop.  A small yellow flyer on the wall behind our table caught my eye.  A string quartet was to perform Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the medieval chapel Sainte-Chapelle that very night.  We could even walk there from the café.  “It’s a sign from the universe. We were meant to come in from the rain and see this flyer,” I said.

Rich agreed, some reluctantly. “Hmmm.  But what about our dinner at La Rotisserie Beaujolais?”  He was already fixated on escargots bathed in garlic and butter.

I teased him that, after all, we’re talking Paris here.  Why not both?

We arrived early to the ancient chapel on the Île de la Cité near Notre Dame to ensure ourselves good seats at the concert.  The rain had stopped and the early evening sun beamed in through 13th century stained-glass windows.  The hushed sanctuary was transformed into a jewel box sparkling with streaks of ruby and indigo.  The audience settled in and the string quartet took its place at the front.  For the next hour or so, I sailed along on the emotive waves of Vivaldi’s adagios and largos.  The concert and its setting were as spiritual as anything I had ever experienced.  I grabbed Rich’s hand and held tight, wishing that this perfect Parisian moment would never have to end.

 

Sunney Eiffel

Then They Came for Me

“In July 1932 the Nazi Party wins 230 seats in German parliamentary elections, becoming the largest party represented. Modern propaganda techniques—including strong images and simple messages—helped propel Austrian-born Hitler from a little known extremist to a leading candidate in Germany’s 1932 elections.”

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Like many others who care deeply about the ideals of American democracy, I have been riveted by the presidential election coverage of recent months. I devour almost every election analysis or commentary in the New York Times and Washington Post. Each evening my husband ­­­Rich and I tune into the day’s news coverage and analysis, trying to make sense of the presidential campaigns and in particular, the unfathomable rise and candidacy of Donald Trump.

This recently reached a crescendo with the reports that former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and avowed anti-Semite David Duke expressed his support for Trump’s candidacy and encouraged his radio listeners to volunteer for the Trump campaign. On the David Duke Radio Program, he stated that voting against Trump “is really treason to your heritage.” His meaning could not be clearer. Under questioning by the press, Trump was first slow and then half-hearted in his disavowal. The media-sphere erupted in astonishment and alarm. Political cartoons showing Trump dressed in a KKK hood abounded. Yet just a few days after this incredible series of exchanges, he went on to win seven of eleven states in the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses, mostly untarnished by his canoodling with white supremacists. The prospect of his eventual nomination as the Republican candidate grows stronger with each primary election or caucus.

In the midst of this volatile political environment and its angry rhetoric, I was drawn to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum during a business trip to Washington D.C. Although I had visited this powerful memorial twenty years ago, I wanted to re-sensitize myself on how insidious demagoguery and fascism can be. Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in January 1933 even though at the time his Nazi Party received only 38% popular support.  Amazingly, the German establishment believed that somehow keeping him “inside the tent”  ̶  and in charge of a new coalition government  ̶  would control him and ultimately unite various political factions.

Within weeks, Nazism became strategically and systematically normalized within German society. Constitutional protections were suspended on February 28. The month of March ushered in the creation of the Dachau concentration camp. By April, the Nazi Party called for a nationwide boycott of Jewish-owned businesses in Germany and passed a Law against Overcrowding in Schools and Universities, limiting the number of Jewish students in public schools. On May 10, 1933, university students throughout the country burned an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 books deemed as “Un-German”  ̶ books written by Einstein and Brecht to Hemingway and Helen Keller  ̶  in organized public rallies. I was astounded to learn that at first, many German citizens viewed the book burning as a university fraternity prank, unwilling to believe that a society as educated and culturally rich as Germany’s could actually wish to destroy ideas.

Book burning 1933 #2May 10, 1933: Book burnings throughout Germany

By October, new German laws had forbidden “non-Aryans” to work in journalism. With each new decree or public rally, Nazi ideology insinuated its way into the politics, literature, journalism, art, culture, science and education of German society. By August 1934, less than two years after his ascent as leader of a coalition government, Adolf Hitler abolished the office of President and declared himself Führer of the German Reich. He was now the absolute dictator of Germany, with no legal limits on his authority. All of these remarkable milestones had been foreshadowed more a decade before through Hitler’s writings, rallies, and speeches. But many Germans found his views so extreme that they assumed there was little chance that his ideology would appeal to more than a minority fringe element.

As I moved silently from one exhibit to the next at the Holocaust Museum, there was no mistaking the modern parallels between Nazism and the shocking rise of nationalism and authoritarianism among Trump and his millions of supporters. Most notably there is a shared core belief among followers that a strong leader will rescue a depressed and fractured country from “the others” and make it great again. For the Nazi Party, “the others” included Jews, the mentally and physically disabled, the elderly and infirm, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the political opposition. “One People – One Country – One Leader” became the simple central slogan of Hitler and the Nazi Party. It reinforced the cult of Hitler as the savior of the German state in tatters after World War I and the chaos of the 1920s. For more than a dozen years, Hitler and his Nazi Party spread their poisonous venom in the most heinous and unimaginable of ways, culminating in the mass extermination of six million Jews and others deemed “dangerous” to the state.

Trump whips up a xenophobic fervor against Muslims, Mexicans, the Chinese, Syrian refugees, Europeans. He has proudly declared his intent to commit war crimes if elected president. Off the top of his head he recklessly calls for a boycott against Starbuck’s and Apple. Just below the surface, violence fulminates at his rallies and sometimes bubbles to the surface. Recent videos from rallies show aggressive behavior by his supporters directed at any protestors. African-American attendees are particularly at risk for his wrath, even some who have not uttered a single word of protest.  Apparently, their mere presence at his rallies is enough to provoke aggression. Trump’s cyberbulling is so well-documented that his Twitter references to “psychos,” “dummies,” “losers,” and “child molesters” alone fill dozens of pages. He does not need an Office of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda to spread his puerile and hateful messages for him. His millions of Twitter followers do it with zest, eager to be on what they perceive as a winning team. They want to be “great again” too.

We all want to trust that an evil totalitarian regime such as the Third Reich can never happen again, certainly not in the country founded on the very ideals of democracy, equality, liberty, freedom of expression. Some still believe that Trump, our modern political equivalent of P.T. Barnum crossed with a strain of the fiery bigot Father Coughlin, will self-destruct before November. We may laugh at the cartoons depicting him as a bloated orange balloon, but with each new outrageous outburst or scatological zinger in a debate, we want to believe that this time he will implode.  But he hasn’t.

As I entered the Holocaust Museum, I selected an identity card for Fanny, a young Jewish woman born in Ukraine in the late 19th century whose personal journey was described in haunting detail. After the death of her father in World War I, she and her mother emigrated first to Paris and then to the Brittany coast of France in an effort to make new lives for themselves. She supported herself and her mother by working as a seamstress. But soon after the Germans invaded France, she and her mother were deported to one of the many death camps designed and managed by the Third Reich. She perished there in 1944.

I carried Fanny’s photo and her story in my hand as I worked my way through the museum. I thought of my friend Andrew and how all four of his grandparents were from Ukraine. Fanny could have been a childhood friend of any one of them. The museum displays exhibits of German society of the early 1930s  ̶  photos of happy schoolchildren playing in a park, attending a birthday party, or enjoying a meal with extended family. Joyful families on vacation in the mountains. I looked at the faces of these innocent and trusting children and knew that in another time and place, these just as easily could have been my grandchildren Eve and Soren at their synagogue’s summer camp. The black and white photograph of the young woman, face shielded from the camera by her newspaper while she waits on the designated-for-Jews bench at the bus stop, could have been my stepdaughter Annika. In the displays of photographs, jewelry, children’s paintings, clothing, and finally, the pile of thousands of shoes, I see what could have happened to some of the most beloved people in my life. These could have been the stories or the shoes of my family. My friends.

ShoesBut in fact, even though I never met Fanny or the schoolyard children or the woman at the bus stop, they are my family. My human family  ̶  just like Muslims, Syrian refugees, African-Americans, the Chinese, or the Mexican immigrants are.  In 2016, these are the new “others” that are targeted and blamed.

When Donald Trump makes preposterous claims that Islam hates America, I know that this statement is hateful and false. I’ve been blessed with many Muslim professional colleagues and friends throughout my career in international health. I’ve traveled often to the Middle East. Without fail I’ve been treated with genuine friendship, respect, and gracious hospitality. Ghada insisted on taking me on a guided tour through her favorite gold souk in Dubai, after which we enjoyed a delightful afternoon tea on a terrace overlooking the Persian Gulf and shared stories of our mutual University of Iowa educations. Dr. Lisa invited me to a women-only birthday party in Jeddah, and once inside the apartment, all the women shed their abayas and veils and hunkered down in front of the television to watch the latest episode of “Oprah” before we shared cake and ice cream and a song for the birthday guest. I am honored to learn from their religious and cultural traditions and in turn, to share my American, Iowan, Chicagoan, and Unitarian ones. There is no “other” among friends.

Ghada in DubaiWith my friend Ghada in Dubai

I’ve often thought about what I might have done as an average German citizen in the 1930s. Would I have been silent? Complicit? Minding my own business and going along with the ruling authority? I’d like to think that I would have aspired to the moral integrity of the heroes whose names and stories I also saw exhibited at the Holocaust Museum. Raoul Wallenberg and Tina Strobos and Malvina Csizmadia and dozens of others. Some of these heroes are alive still, now in their late 80s and 90s. I stopped to read a few of their stories, awed by their courage and their impact.

As I exited the museum at closing time, I paused for a minute to ponder the famous post-war quotation on the dangers of political apathy by German Protestant minister Martin Niemöller, who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. The quotation, now immortalized in carving on a concrete museum wall, carries forth an urgent message to America in 2016. Will I speak out? Will you?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Window with names at Holocaust Museum