This past weekend I had my first opportunity at visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I wasn't prepared for what was to come.
I've always been interested in expanding my knowledge to the fullest extent when it comes to the Holocaust. I'm also fortunate to be able to teach about it during the eighth grade curriculum's unit on The Diary of Anne Frank. Last November I attended a workshop which gave me a whole new selection of resources, and it was then when I began planning this day trip to the USHMM.
I knew this would be something to affect me, but I wasn't prepared for the extent of which it did.
Immediately upon entering the museum, we were given the identification card of a person who existed during the Holocaust. At certain times, we were instructed to read more of our person's story, and at the end we would learn of their fate. I cheated and looked ahead.
It was then, before I even entered the first exhibit, that I learned I carried the story of a thirteen year old girl who had been gassed in a concentration camp in 1942. I placed her story booklet in my pocket as I viewed the first series of exhibits. The weight of her fate burdened me as I continued through each room.
All I kept thinking about was the lost potential. Each exhibit horrified me more and more and despite my extensive knowledge of the Holocaust, I was still absorbing all of this new information. The knots formed in my stomach and rose to my throat as I continued.
So many people. So much devastation.
And then the rail car came. And as I walked through the enclosed cabin, I began to feel the weight of thousands piling against me.
In each room, the girl's story I had in my pocket, had felt heavier and heavier.
And then I saw the shoes. The pictures I've seen before couldn't have prepared me for the sadness I felt.
And then there I spied it, a single small shoe: that of a child.
It was then that I couldn't carry the weight of my sorrow any longer.
My mom had been with me at the time, and ever since I've been a little girl, she's always said I've been able to feel the sadness of other's so much deeper than most people. Here, I finally felt the weight of all those years piling up. I sobbed into my mother's shoulder, not understanding how these horrors could have ever happened.
There had been so many people... exterminated.
And the children... who never had the opportunity to grow up, and fall in love, and celebrate life.
How could this have happened?
I left, shortly after seeing the shoes. I couldn't finish the remaining exhibits. I found the memorial room and I stood, in the silence. I said a prayer for them. I said a promise for myself.
One of the core foundations I use in my class while teaching about the Holocaust is the responsibility of which we all bear to continue to be educated and to continue to educate. We are the responsible ones for the future. We must go forth into tomorrow and learn, and then with the tomorrows that come after that, we are to go forth and educate others. We are members of a global society. These people who were murdered throughout the Holocaust cannot die in vain. These people are our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. They are you and I.
I'll leave you with the same remarks that I leave with my students. We cannot stand by and witness the atrocities happening in the world. We must stand up for even those that are unlike us. We must fight for justice in the world. You have the potential to change the world.
A poem by Martin Niemoller:
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.
I need to learn to say yes more.
I also need to learn to say no more.
Sometimes, I give in so easily. Other times, I'm so afraid that I stop myself from exploring anything new.
I rarely do things for myself. I always do things for other people. I don't see this entirely as a bad thing. I'd very much like my legacy to be remembered for helping others. This probably won't be the case.
One of the biggest decisions I've ever made in my life was one day to pack up everything that I own and move across the country.
One of the biggest decisions I ever made of my life was to pack up everything I own and move back across the country.
I want to live an adventurous life, but often I'm too scared to say yes to those moments.
Yet, I have no problem saying yes to people, despite how little I may be appreciated, if at all.
I've said yes so many times, that people assume I'll say yes. I've been walked all over; too many footsteps to count. Yet if I knew when it was okay to say no, I'd learn how to stand on my own two feet. This is something I'm afraid I can't do.
The paradox of my life is that:
I need to learn to say yes more, but I also need to say no more often too.
Looking back, I see my life as a series of yes and no moments, and honestly there were a lot of times I said the wrong answer.
I can't figure out the right balance.
I don't regret the way things worked out in my life. Not a single thing. If it weren't for all those wrong answers, I wouldn't be seeking the right ones now.
My only worry, for my own sake, is that I need to know when I need to say yes or no for me. I've gotten so used to giving the answer that other people want to hear, or saying the answer that fear is telling me.
I think first I should start with saying "No" to fear.
You’re all on your own. And you know what you know.
And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
Teachers provide education and inspiration,
But according to the state’s calculation,
We’ve done nothing to teach the standards
And with that news, I’m forced to hang myself by my school lanyard.
You’ll look up student rows. Look ‘em over with care.
Some you will say, “I’ve always been so fair.”
With your head full of worries and your heart full of woes,
This moment fills your career with its lows.
And you may not find any student
Who has any moment of prudence.
Oh, the places we’ll go.
When you see the PSSA,
You’ll know it's almost May,
The end of school year is near
And we can celebrate with beer.
But first the dreaded test,
Which fills our students with stress.
Teachers know this isn’t pleasant
We too must be present.
It’s something we have to do,
Despite we always ask, “Says who?”
Today is not your day.
You’re off to no good places!
You’re off and away.
Dear teachers, take my warning,
Please hear this is in my mourning.
Don’t you dare look at the exam,
Which want our students to be programmed.
If you should peek inside the test book,
You’ll be sent off to jail,
And seen as the ultimate crook.
Don’t fret; the teachers’ union will set your bail.
We all know this test doesn’t define you or me.
Yet officials believe this the ultimate key
To measure student success,
Though teachers know that education is process.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
Though the test might disagree.
Teacher: You’ll move mountains!
As educators always do,
Yet many haven’t a clue.
Day in and day out,
We’re dedicated and hard-working
Despite our fears and doubt,
of what beyond our classrooms might lurk.
Our level of care
Shouldn’t be questioned; don’t you dare.
We believe in your kids, just as you at home do
And when little Johnny has a major break-through
We’ll talk about him with great joy,
Because, even though he was a pain-in-the-ass boy,
We want him to succeed just as much as mom and dad.
I promise we’re not all as bad
As the State Test makes us out to be
Please, won’t you see?
We’ll move mountains
To see our student’s success.
And little Johnny and sweet Leigh
Just you watch and see.
PS: For legality purposes, I do not own any rights to Dr. Seuss's original work and really I just made a mediocre version of this for sole intent of getting some laughs.
I haven't written in awhile. For that I'm sorry.
I've been swamped with schoolwork and life in general. I'm trying to find the balance, but I keep tipping the scales one degree too far. I've been traveling too, but I've also been coping with all of my anxieties that come with being away from comfort. I've generally been feeling well, but recently had experienced another crippling migraine. I haven't had one that horrible in a long time. And on top of all of that, my fears have now consumed me whole.
This week hasn't been easy. I should be cool, calm, and collected after a short vacation to rejuvenate my soul. Instead, I'm just a mess. I'm good at keeping it generally under-wraps, except for those closest to me, who know the torments my own mind has convinced me of.
Truthfully, I really have been good about most of my anxieties. I've found small coping mechanisms to remind me I'm in control and all of my fears, doubts, and woes aren't powering me. I've been generally well.
Until last night.
Sleep is a necessary time for your body to repair, replenish, and renew.
But last night's sleep was the worst I've had in years.
As a kid, I used to have reoccurring nightmares. There were two, which to this day, I can recall in vivid detail. Last night, my dreams were like a reel of "The Greatest Hits: Nightmare Edition." For the first time in decades, my childhood nightmares resurfaced. And so did a slew of new ones.
They ranged from being burned to death, drowning, diagnosing cancer in a family member, being hunted, having to fight off an enemy, being abandoned, and so much more. I somehow managed to dream of every single one of my fears in one night. I even dreamed of an octopus pulling me down beneath the ocean's surface and the Beast (from Beauty and the Beast), whom I feared as a child, but have since come to love. The silliest of nightmares perhaps was my weird fear of tube slides and being forced to slide down one. Still a fear, nonetheless.
I don't know how it's possible to have so many nightmares all in one night. And I'm exhausted today, after living a night in absolute fear. I knew they were dreams, and yet I had to feel the pain of it all. I woke with tear-stained cheeks, crippled by fear. The anxiety still swells inside of me and I cannot grasp control over it.
A truly scary thought is the fact that while I thought I was doing so well, and while I thought I was taking control over my fears, my brain took all of them and manifested them in one lone night. I've been pitted against myself, and I'm not sure how to overcome that.
It was then then I felt the urge to write, something I've struggled to do for weeks. And so here I am. Making a mess of myself on paper, making myself even more vulnerable than I already feel.
My thoughts are all over the place, and to think about sharing them, I'm scared of the reaction I may get from others. I need time, but I'm afraid of wasting too much time. I'm afraid, I'm afraid, I'm afraid.
I live in so much damn fear.
That's the stuff nightmares are made of: fear. And I've been living it day in and day out.
I feel alone, despite the fact that I know I'm not. I still feel this way. I'm scared of things that don't even have justification. But yet I fear. I feel weak against my fears. I doubt myself. I doubt I'm worthy of anything.
How has it all come to this?
I have so much to be grateful for, and while I am, I'm scared senseless that at any moment I could lose it all.
"I have no special talent.