Spring’s Challenge in Conflictual Times
Ten Tips for Restoring Peaceful Coexistence when Discord Arises
A New Beginning and Hope
The season for a fresh start seemed upon us with its promise of renewal and healing. Out of the deep darkness, a seed, a kernel of insight, grows towards the light and life with opportunity and challenge. People were reemerging after a trying and difficult period with some hopefulness of new beginnings.
The scourges of a pandemic seemed to recede with the anticipation of a reopening of society. The regaining of prosperity and security was the hope. But then, there was the possibility of new variants and surges. There were still people that had lost their faith in science, vaccines, climate control, our government, and democracy.
When crazed with power, despots and autocratic opportunists seize control of the human spirit and freedom of choice. War was being waged and perpetrated on a democratic country where many of our citizens had their ancestry. A multitude had migrated away from the racial injustice, brutal wars, and deaths. Sadness and hopelessness reemerged as old hatreds and injustices gone underground or ignored now surfaced with added strength and virulence — in lands proclaimed a haven and sanctuary for truth, freedom, and equality. Misinformation and propaganda gained a viral growth in technology with the infection of social media.
The reality of the Spring, beyond the promise of renewal, is that significant challenges exist and lie at our doorstep. There is a clarion call for sturdy soles and actions. There are also periods of darkness and dormancy in our lives, as in winter. The gradual transition from the chill and gloominess of the colder season into the longer, warmer days and sunshine brings an uplifting of spirit and imaginative, hopeful thoughts.
A Personal Awakening
I recalled an earlier instance in my personal life when winter was receding with the early appearing sign of Spring. I was dutifully making my way to my distant contract job ninety minutes away from our warm and cozy home in a vacation-like, small, mountainous area of Lenox, Massachusetts. My destiny was Albany, New York, an urban area and capital of the state. I was on the faculty of the area medical school and worked at the adjoining state psychiatric hospital. I don’t know if the long commute was wearing me down, the frustration with the job, and its limitation fell very short of my expectations. I even thought I might suffer from the winter blues called in mental health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).¹
The previous day, while sitting out in a bit of park across from the hospital, reveling in a little of the sunlight there, I felt a deep sense of loss and nostalgia for my youth and being back in Maryland, where I grew up. As I looked up in the sky, a plane was skywriting with the message to remember Mother’s Day. When she was alive, I had always brought my mother a card, some roses, or a plant. The stark reminder of Mother’s Day and the seasonal anniversary of my mother’s death triggered heartfelt tears. Maybe the still grieving part of me that had lost my beloved mother ten years prior at the end of winter made the present fleeting days of the season more oppressive. Feeling a little relieved, I reconnected with my current needs and priorities; I regained some composure and went back to work.
During the next day’s long commute to my Albany job, suddenly, a bright bit of sunshine broke through the usual gray skies and inspired me to seek a new direction for the renewal of my spirit. I suddenly shed the feelings of entrapment, gloom, and perhaps grief and sadness. There was a smile on my face and in my heart. I took the enormous leap and committed myself and my wife to a trip we had talked about but had seemed beyond reach. A clergy, the Rabbi that had married us, had contacted us about a group trip he was planning to Israel. I, with my wife’s help, signed up and completed arrangements.
After a long, arduous flight, we arrived in Israel on a sunny, warm day in 1987. We were young and full of wonder, adventure, and anticipation that something profound would occur. My wife and I immediately began a search for a long-lost family member. Success brought us to a modest hotel lobby near Jerusalem in the hot desert-like landscape. I met a newfound niece of my mother’s dear cousin, Iren, who migrated to Israel after her release from a Nazi concentration camp. Several years before her death, mom had expressed her regret that she had never found and reconnected with the displaced cousin, now a refugee in a new land.
Mother had corresponded with her cousin until she disappeared to the concentration camps after the Nazis invaded her hometown near the Hungarian border. After the war, the cousin, one of the few family survivors, wrote one last letter to our family after migrating to Israel. Mom gave me the addressed envelope received from Iren after World War II. There was the hope that in the future, I would find the beloved cousin and complete the connection for which my mother had wished. Her remembrance of Iren was of a small girl of her age, whom she had met when visiting their European family. After their visit, the two cousins kept in contact with an occasional letter.
Iren’s niece took us by car to the rustic lodging where Iren and her husband were staying. I had located Iren’s niece by taking the envelope given to me by my mother, with the old address and family name, to a multilingual shop owner. He took the time out from his work in his small stall-like shop to call twenty people with a family name similar to the one on my envelope. He repeatedly told our story until Iren’s niece recognized it. The shopkeeper was so sweet to help us, and of course, we bought a few gifts to remember him and his colorful shop.
The Reconnection and Realization
When we walked into the room, Iren, who appeared slightly frail and elderly, with a concentration number tattooed on her arm, beamed with such warmth and a smile that our hearts melted, and all of us were crying and hugging. A profound sense of meaning came with the joining of our hearts and family’s past. The occasion was also profoundly moving, as just the day before, we had visited the Holocaust² Museum in Jerusalem. There were many reminders of that era’s horrific events, such as the exhibit of children’s shoes belonging to the many sent to the crematoriums by the Nazis. Some of these children were from our family.
It was profound to meet Iren as a survivor of one of the worst atrocities in modern history. I am shocked as I write with the realization that it is happening again, in the same regions of the world of our family’s origins. It had always seemed remote to us, living in the bubble of our busy lives in the complacency in a time and place far removed from these horrid realities that decimated part of our family.
Iren had not only survived, but my impression was that she had moved to a much higher place of spirituality and love, though she still carried the deep scars of her losses and sacrifice. She had also become an accomplished poet and shared some of her work with me about her Holocaust ordeal, written in her native Hungarian, trying to find meaning in personal suffering and tragedy.
When I returned to the states, I found a Hungarian professor who translated her poems. Her poetry reflects the pain and devastation of totalitarian regimes and the disregard for human suffering and humanity in the unquenchable thirst for power, greed, and domination. The poignant poems by Iren, a Holocaust survivor, and family member, are for your reading, as she would have wished, to bring to light a dreadful part of our collective history and its relevance for today. One of her poems follows, and you can read more of her poetry by clicking here.
VARAD MEMENTO — A Poem of Iren W. Steier
Nineteen Forty-Four — On the Ides of March
Gendarme boots rumble on the streets of Varad
Up, up, Hungarians — they shout — Line up
Stand behind us — to search after Jews.
Bring together, big and little,
Rich, poor, infants and mothers,
Old and young, sick and aged
No trace should remain for those who may multiply.
The bell rings — even Heaven is shaking
Jewish children run out of their homes Shema Yisrael — they shout — and the echo spreads
To thirty thousand Jews waiting for their fate.
Their homes devastated, desecrated, orphaned…
The Jew is public prey — taken prisoner by evil
Robbed, deprived, naked pariahs
Miserable orphans, bleeding
from a thousand wounds.
Complete Poem in endnotes³
Varad, 1944 March 10 Iren Steier — Remembering the Holocaust
Awakening, the Message, and Hopefulness
After my return, I realized that my self-conceived bubble of safety and autonomy had burst into the reality of living in a global, interconnected community with a shared history. As terrible events passed, the impact of the destruction and loss remained a burden to the survivors. Those not directly affected soon forget, especially if generations have passed and migration has occurred to other countries. Ignoring history and its relevance allows the repetition of tragedies. Another dangerous autocrat or dictator arises as we forget the potential for misguided, authoritarian leaders and despots to appear.
Healing comes gradually with time for people dealing with the emotional impact of trauma, loss, and grief.⁴ Each, when possible, finds recovery in their own ways — and ultimately rebuilds meaningful lives when at all possible. Unfortunately, gradually, with time, complacency often develops. There again is a return to living in a mindless state of felt separateness and independence, a repetitive cycle fed by ignorance, self-interest, and indifference to the prevailing circumstances. Claims of not knowing and denying the truth occur when individuals or groups become susceptible to ignorance, hatred, and violence. Facts then can become inconvenient truths.
The potential is always present for change, transformation, and a future without the recurrence of past misfortunes and devastation.
- Always be vigilant for unhealthy outside influences or others’ adverse personal actions or behaviors that may misguide us.
2. Remember the dire consequences of not supporting and caring for ourselves, the environment we live in, and others outside our spheres of self-interest.
3. Stay awake to the reality and truth of our existence and interdependence to foster cooperation, acceptance, and coexistence.
4. Maintain a “holistic sensibility” ⁵ and awareness that can be the guiding light for mental health, relationships, and the future of our planet.
5. Remember the lessons of history to be proactive in avoiding the tragedies of the past. Memory is often short for some people after disasters have occurred.
6. Be aware and vigilant of dangerous trends in our society, such as increasing division, hatred, and violence, to be a healing voice of reason and inclusion. Try a little love and acceptance instead of judgment, suspicions, and dislike.
7. Pay attention to the world outside yourself and your internal emotional and mental states, whether turbulent, conflictual, loving, or serene — to maintain balance and well-being for yourself and others.
8. Support education and accurate teaching of history to avoid the repeat of any societal drift towards division, hatred, and war.
9. Do personal activities and practices to support your health, well-being, and relationships.⁶
10. Find a nourishing and supportive network of friends or groups that are open to the values of coexistence, acceptance, and respect for others with differences, the environment, and the diversity of the world community.
¹ Situational sadness or seasonal fatigue is a common complaint during colder weather and shorter days with less sunlight. Healthy activities will help these milder and transient symptoms: getting up at a set time each morning, exercising, exposure to bright light, and improving nutrition. A more severe mood disturbance, a subtype of major depression, is “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD).
² The Holocaust was the World War II genocide of around 6 million Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution during the Holocaust era — estimated at 11 million deaths in total.
Between 1941 and 1945, in German-occupied Europe, Nazi Germany, and its collaborators systematically murdered six million Jews — around two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population. The mass murders and ethnic cleansing, and extermination policies occurred in pogroms, shootings, and gas chambers in German extermination camps, like Auschwitz, Bezek, and Treblinka. More history…
³ Continuation of Poem from above: Varad by Iren Steier, 1944 March 10 Iren
The Hungarian does not need him anymore who fought for him,
His ancestors gave their blood for the fatherland,
Not even a hundred marchers, passed
When Jew and Hungarian marched together.
In the great. Freedom Fight all who fell
Came in a common grave — they are still resting there
They were not asked about their origin
He was a patriot who bled for the fatherland!
Why has the world turned upside-down?
Was there no Hungarian who would have resisted?
Why, whom I was a milk-sister. in the same bench of the school
Is laughing at me lashing with her whip?
Bursting into our house, benumbing our blood
He shouts: Move, Jew, we have no time for you!
Into the Ghetto! Fast! Leave everything behind!
You will not need any such things anymore!
Everything I loved, became the gendarme’s prey
Memories attached trampled into the gutter
But my proud lips did not open to implore
Until he broke the picture of my parents!
Mister Gendarme! Hungarian gentleman! I implore you
Give back my mother and father!
I fell to his feet, I kissed his boots,
Finally, he kicked the picture to me.
I broke the frame with my hand, also its glass,
I put the sacred picture into my bosom.
It became bloody when I looked at it,
I do not know, my hand or their heart was bleeding?
Let’s go, Mister Officer, my feet start
My heart’s pain is aching
Nest of my happiness, my little home
Will I see you again? No, no, I do not know.
My spouse, my love! Where will I find you?
The heaven or hell will be the place I will wait for you?
My dearest brethren who were all with me,
You shared my happiness, so as my grief.
We meet again behind the ghetto walls,
Hungry, Thirsty, worried, hidden together
And all our prayer goes toward each other
That we should move hand in hand towards our aching fate.
⁴ To read Dr. Parks’ new paperback or e-book, COVID-19/MENTAL HEALTH CRISES: HOLISTIC UNDERSTANDING & SOLUTIONS — CLICK HERE.
⁵ Holistic sensibility implies awareness, mindfulness, sensitiveness to emotions, physical, mental, and spiritual experiences and responses, whether painful or pleasurable — in a non-judgmental equanimity from the body’s sense organs or sentimentality from emotional and mental experiencing. One could be senseless or excessively sensible in a confining way versus having sensibility, open-mindedness, and spiritual attunement. Difficult to define and perhaps a topic for deeper exploration in the future.
⁶ “This Year, Try Spring Cleaning your Brain” article stimulated my thoughts on the current season and its opportunity.