Archive for the ‘memoir’ Tag


I’m back! I tried to stay in touch with you all while I was on vacation from this post, often with just a “like” to let you know I’m paying attention.

And now I have probably more to say than either of us would prefer, but I hope you’ll stay with me. As usual, my thoughts have been grinding away.

I just finished reading “All But My Life” by Gerda Weissmann Klein, the memoir of a young woman born in Poland in 1924 who endured and survived the brutality and slavery of the Nazi holocaust. Because she is such an excellent writer, one feels the abject misery and humiliation without her ever telling us what we should be feeling. Just the direct reporting of events is all that’s needed for a powerful reminder of the abomination of which “ordinary” people are capable. And an indicator of the stealth with which the reality of developing sadism creeps up on victims who have faith in the goodness and decency of humanity.

I read it on the heels of “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak, a fictional portrayal of the gradual involvement of “innocent” people in supporting the Nazi terror. It would be difficult, I believe, for one to read this without heightening the awareness of the ever-present threat of horror built on indifference.

These observations lead me to the quote from Pastor Martin Niemöller, who, an outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler, spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps:

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.

Both books I’ve mentioned remind me of the potential danger in avoiding awareness and confrontation. And both books offered much in the way of analysis of personal approaches to survival.

But my purpose here is more limited to the thoughts I’ve been having about forgiveness. The person who recommended Klein’s book to me suggested it was a story of forgiveness. But I realize something different – perhaps parallel to forgiveness –was going on. The author never focuses on her anger toward her tormentors, but rather on what she can do to survive. In other words, all her energy was directed toward staying alive.

I noticed that same phenomenon at the time of the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. When the parents of a murdered child were asked by an interviewer whether they would be able to forgive the shooter, their response was, basically, “We can’t spend our time focused on him. We have a family to care for. We need to find a way to go on, and maybe even heal.”

I think we need a new word, something like “forego-ness.” While the point of forgiveness is that it starts with blaming the offender and experiencing our anger, the two examples above demonstrate foregoing any attention to the wrongdoer. Control rested in the hands of those parents, and in the charge of author Klein. They simply bypassed the anger, the first step in forgiveness, and went directly to focusing on taking care of themselves.

I have regularly defined “forgiveness” as the decision not to punish an offender and the relief that follows. I think I should describe that relief more specifically as removing power from the offender and taking back control over one’s own life. If refusing to forgive is like locking oneself in a cell and handing the keys to the offender. Then the result of deciding not to punish is equivalent to taking the keys back.

As always, I know I have to point out this doesn’t mean one decides the offender shouldn’t pay a price, but rather that the forgiver’s life can move on without being controlled by concern for the one who caused the pain.

The metaphor for “forego-ness” would have no image of keys or cells. One simply doesn’t lock oneself in the cell in the first place.

I do hope I’ll get some comments on these ideas. And I hope the commenter will be you.

And there’s still When to Forgive and Forgiving One Page at a Time for your perusal if you choose.

Shanghai Day Two   8 comments

The trip is almost over. I’ll try to make our way through the rest of it with a little more speed. In between I’ve been working on something called “My Father’s House: Torsas, Kalmar, Sweden 1907” I hope someday it will be the first chapter in the fictionalized memoir of my father– oops, biography, I guess, since I wasn’t around yet in 1907.

For now, it belongs to Writer’s Digest because I entered it in a contest. Come October, when they announce the winners (one of whom I don’t expect to be) I’ll be free to begin submitting it to agents. along with the outline for the rest of it.

It’s a really fun project. I have a number of sources to work with. My sister has more recollections than I do, because she’s been around longer than I have, but I also remember some of my Dad’s stories, and I did take a trip back to Sweden with my parents in 1955, so I have pictures — some in my head, some more tangible — of where he came from. I also have my son-in-law’s discoveries in his work on genealogy and a paper my niece wrote when she interviewed her grandfather back in her high school years. There are also the recollections reported to me by a woman who was essentially adopted by my Swedish grandmother sometime after my father, the youngest, left to join his five siblings in America.

Probably the most fun is googling to fill in the details. It’s amazing, actually. Google “Swedish food in 1907” for example, and up comes a blog by someone with his/her great grandmother’s recipe book from 1907. Try to figure out how my father at age seventeen got from Torsas to Solvesborg and up comes information about the new railroad that reached Karlskrona in 1907 -about half-way between Torsas and Solvesborg. Google “Swedish musical instruments in 1907” and up come photos and descriptions. There’s lots more, but you get the idea.

In a way, it’s as if I’m visiting Sweden again as I get involved in the atmosphere. I giggled when I found a site telling business folk what to expect in dealing with Swedes. They are very punctual, it says, so much so that, if a party is scheduled for 6:00 p.m., they will stop up the street if they are early and move on to arrive just on the dot. I giggled, because that’s what my father and mother used to do when they came to visit me after my marriage.

It talked too about the large amount of personal space Swede’s expect. Imagine me — from that heritage — meeting my Italian family with a much smaller expectation of personal space.

Well anyway. That’s what I’ve been spending time on, keeping me away from finishing this trip with you.

So now, on to our second day in Shanghai.

Two tours filled our time that day. First there was the visit to ZhuzjaiJaio, translated “Watertown” for us language-limited Americans. At some point, the Chinese government realized that Chinese heritage was in danger of being lost as the country grew and modernized. Dare I say Westernized? So some communities were set aside for protection to continue functioning as they traditionally had.

No, they are not the Chinese equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg. They are families living as their predecessors had. In fact, we were told by the guide that it would be impolite to take photos of people who were going about their business, unless they indicated with a smile or gesture that it would be OK. In a sense, their hometown was being invaded by us tourists. Clearly it was not an unusual event for them. They did indeed just go about their business.

We rode sampans down the waterway. Oh my, how strong the men had to be to manipulate those boats with their one long pole.

So, here are some of the photos I took on that trip. I hope it may give some of the feel of our experience. A partial view of the sampan driver (I don’t know if that’s the right word) can be seen with his long pole at the rear of the vessel. Notice the red decorations for the Chinese New Year. I’m quite sure the guides told us the holiday lasts for three weeks.


And Here they are. Folks going about their daily business.



I found this bridge particularly beautiful

Watertown 2P1070226

The second part of that day’s tour was a visit to the silk shop. The Chinese were particularly anxious for us to see the beautiful things they make. And, of course, to sell us something. Believe me, if I had that kind of money, I would have bought something even though it wouldn’t fit into my minimalist home.

the initial “Oh My” experience was seeing this piece in the process of being created. Working from a pattern, the craftsperson manages to finish five rows a day, payment depending, I believe, on the number of rows completed.


Now you are about two see two completed rugs. The one in the center is about 12×24 inches (smaller than the one you see being created above.) Priced at $2400, it did seem worth the price. Think of what went into making it. the design, the long process of completing it.

Rugs from other side

Now, here comes the second “Oh My!” experience. Take a look at the banner heading today’s entry. There you find the same three rugs viewed from the other side. I don’t mean turned over. I mean, just walk around and view it from the other side (like where those two feet barely show about this photo).

Or just see them below from the other point of view. ‘Nuff said?

Nap viewed from opposite angle - Version 2

Some of the work they do is with silk and cotton mixed. Those rugs get sculpted, as seen below with a very experienced artist working on one of them.

Sculpted silk on cotton

I believe one or two of the tourists is our group did buy a full size carpet. There was also silk bedding available, but I failed to get good photos of that. I didn’t even get a good photo of the silk being extracted from the silk worms. Sorry.

And then we returned to the ship. During dinner I took a photo of the decorated dining room-still celebrating Chinese New Year.

(Remember, you can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.)

Rotterdam dining room

%d bloggers like this: