Tag Archives: Family

Coming of Age

I remember the moment when I realized I was no longer a child. But I know a few things about memory and I know that we make mistakes. Recall is often error-filled. It is malleable, fluid, heavily influenced by context and those around us. Yet, I would like to think that this moment existed as I remember it. And even if it did not, even if it’s entirely a figment of my imagination, it frames the beginning of an era that was significant to how I understand myself, others, and the world we share.

I am part of the American generation that finds commonality in where we were on September 11, 2001, the beginning of a time in which the US entered wars that are still ongoing. I remember where I was and what I said, or I think I do. But that is not the moment when I realized I was no longer a child.

I remember my dad watching TV in my parents’ bedroom and I remember asking him to explain to me what was happening. He talked about people doing terrible things and I asked why. I can’t remember what he said, but I walked away understanding, for the first time, that hatred and war don’t only exist in books.

That moment, I knew I was no longer a child.

There is a clear separation in my mind between life before and after grade 6, a separation that I knew existed but one that I did not delve into until a handful of years ago. When my parents split up for just under a year, I learned that adults are people, that love takes work, and that bad things really happen. They don’t only exist in books.

It is hard now to think about the anguish I felt as a not-quite-child at that time. It is hard to think about how awful I was in my actions towards people who were deeply hurting, even as I knew I was screaming only because there was something ripping me apart and I couldn’t make it stop.

The opening line of an essay I wrote when applying to university: “I used to make him cry and I did it on purpose.”

I was 11 and my world had shattered.

I was 11 and my world had shattered, which meant that I knew worlds could shatter. I knew impermanence, disappointment, fear, and a thousand emotions I could not name then and cannot name now.

But I learned, I think we all learned, lessons that I would not have learned any other way. I have always known that relationships are a choice. They take work, they take communication, they take people who care enough about each other to do something to be together. Love is a verb and sometimes the word itself is not enough. I have understood this for a long time.

Suicide bombers flew into Manhattan’s Twin Towers. Two months and two weeks later, my family lived in two houses and I watched adults cry. I cried with them and I was no longer a child.

However, it is one thing to understand and another thing to do. It is one thing to be aware and another thing to act. Lots of walls, lots of work, and so much safer to rebuild the walls than to stand tall without them.

We’re all afraid of being hurt, aren’t we?

And I have never wanted to hurt anyone. I do believe that most people feel this way. And this is what makes it hard to not only know what the right thing is, but to do it.

When I learned that the world and my world could change in seconds, I was no longer a child.

And there was no turning back.

Thüringer Wald – January 2022

Stumbling Stones

Several weeks back, I looked over the notes I took years ago as my grandmothers regaled me with stories of our extended family history. I looked over the family tree that my grandmother’s cousin, who I’ve never met, had painstakingly put together, complete with full names and the dates and locations of births, marriages, and deaths. Somehow, the story feels different on this side of the world.

One evening heading home from climbing, an American friend asked how my family had responded when I said I was moving to Germany.

Later, a German friend told me he had been wondering that, too, but as a German, never would have asked. He walked with me through town and pointed out buildings the Nazis had built and used as offices. A small sign, so nondescript that it’s easy to miss, explains it. No fanfare.

It took several weeks of lessons before my German teacher told me she had been afraid to ask about my family history after learning my name for the first time.

My history students and I are studying the period of European diplomacy between the World Wars and it hasn’t yet come up that I’m Jewish. It might. What is obvious is the depth of understanding these young people have about propaganda, hate speech, power, victimization. They do not take today’s world for granted because they know what it cost.

Yesterday I photographed the first stumbling stones that I saw when I arrived here. Before I knew what they were. Before I knew how they got there.

Hier wohnte. Here lived.

Here lived.

Hier wohnte.

As a memorial, the stumbling stones, or Stolpersteine, are not without controversy. (Is there such a thing as remembrance without controversy?) As of December 2019, 75,000 Stolpersteine had been placed in Germany and they are in other countries, too. But not everyone agrees that accidentally tripping over a stone and then recognizing its significance, even if it forces you to kneel before the victim, is dignified. I can appreciate the disagreement because it means that people care. They care enough to argue about the best way to honour lives taken.

It is one thing to be steeped in history. It is another thing entirely to learn from it.

Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken? – Terry Pratchett, Going Postal


I’m supposed to be a writer, which means I’m supposed to have words.

I’m supposed to be a writer. I have no words, so instead I’m repeating myself.

But this isn’t about me, actually.

It’s about you.

Crossword puzzles. Cups of coffee. Taking in the world from the balcony. Stories of the past whenever we were willing to listen. Those young men have a lot to learn when it comes to cutting bagels.

You kept up a running commentary about the state of the world as we drove to your mechanic and related the ethnic and neighbourhood shifts of Montreal. You read the Gazette every day and you’d seen the world change. You had opinions and you made me laugh.

I’m smiling to think of the quips that often came under your breath when you didn’t know anyone was listening, or maybe you did and maybe that was the point. I’m smiling at the expressions that took up your whole face when you’d share a conspiratorial glance and a grin. 

I saw you happiest that one summer at the lake and I’ve missed it ever since. When you smiled, it was impossible not to smile back.

I’m not at my most eloquent and I wish I could be. Maybe the rest of the words are caught up in the waves of feelings that we all rode together, some frequent companions and some too fleeting to even be consciously known.

We were there, and you knew we were there, and we knew that you knew. 

We were all there and you are right here.

I miss you. I love you.

May your memory be a blessing.