Saturday, November 10, 2018

Reliving the trauma

I failed to write a blog last weekend for a good reason. Actually 90 reasons. Our family gathered in Detroit to celebrate my mother's 90th birthday.

After a joyful celebration with 16 of her 17 great-grandkids dancing around the rented hall, we joined our matriarch for a service at her church. At the end of Mass, the priest paused to acknowledge Irene Stepien's milestone. Stepping forward toward her seat in the middle of the front pew, he asked, "How does it feel to be 90? I'm sure you've seen so much over all those years."

"Yes!" she replied. "I lived through the war and German occupation in Poland."

"You lived through the war and occupation," the clergyman repeated her words so the rest of the congregation could hear them. Then he prayed a  beautiful blessing.

Of all the things Mom chose to share in that brief moment, she recalled World War II and the Nazis taking control of her country. I grew up listening to her stories about the terror of soldiers invading her family home. She ran through the family farm fields as bullets whizzed past her head. Mom was only ten when war broke out. Once, she even escaped from the Gestapo. My late father had similar memories. Like the German soldier who shoved the barrel of a submachine gun under Dad's chin. Another guy pushed his Luger into the back of Dad's head to encourage him to work for the invading forces.

It's hard to forget the trauma of wanton violence. For survivors of the Holocaust, the memories are searing. You have to wonder about American kids who grow up enduring drive-by gunfire, street crime and the murder of neighbors and even friends. How do they cope with a war that never ends? It changes their perception of safety and rewires their brains and bodies with fear.

Imagine you escape a massacre in your school. One where a madman uses a military-style weapon to slaughter your classmates. How could you forget?

"Now you gotta take a test in a bulletproof vest. Scared to death that you might get shot," croons country singer, Kane Brown, in his new song, "American Bad Dream."

But it's not a dream. It's a real-world nightmare. And for many, an unshakeable memory they'll relive as long as they number their days. Even if the survive nearly a century.  Happy birthday, Mom.

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