It is part of the College of Communication and Fine Arts' Reading Initiative for this academic year. In 2010, our instructor experienced the discussion of Ann Rosenheck, a holocaust survivor.
As a result of that experience and having read the book, she asked us to write 500-700 words and consider putting ourselves in the shoes of these people. Given 20 minutes to pack your things: What do you give up/ leave behind?
November 12, 2012
What Really Matters
In the fall of 1940, Jewish families were required to move into the “Jewish Quarter” of Warsaw, Poland. In reality, it was a small ghetto bricked in and closed off to contain the millions and millions of Polish Jews living in the city, allowing them only what they could bring or carry with them. It is the hope that we, as a people will never forget the past; that we will never repeat it. But for the purpose of these thoughts, it is presumed that we have forgotten and each person is allowed one bag. It matters less the contents of that bag than the observation of what is not within it: the realization of what is left behind and given up.
If a golden age were to be ascribed to modern man, it would lie within our technology. Left behind would be facebook and the internet at large. Left behind would be all of man’s combined knowledge that was only a finger click away. Left behind would be instant conversation via typing or face to face through computer based cameras and daily interaction with friends all over the world. There is no guarantee that even electricity or running water would be available within the ghetto. In fact, part of what would be left behind is certainty at all: the daily routines and the safety that having them allows. The daily trips to school or work, routine checkups or the emergency doctor around the corner, antibiotics or daily medicines, even the next meal or clean drinking water would no longer be guaranteed to be a few dollars and a few blocks away. And with that loss of certainty, it must at least be recognized that out of fear and desperation, there are those who would completely leave behind the constraints of civilization and basic humanity, becoming a hazard to everyone else locked within the ghetto with them.
But these are general observations of the resulting dystopia. The point of these musings is to pinpoint the personal—what would I, personally, be required to walk away from?
I would be required to leave behind the vast majority of things—collectibles, decorations, movies, games and books…but I would carry within me the memories of the stories and the ability to share them with those who would listen. I would still contain within me the rules of games and, thankfully, the ability to make them again. I would be required to leave behind my sewing machine and most of my art supplies…but I would still have my knowledge of how to sew, and how to create, and the skill to do both.
I would be required to leave behind my beloved pets. If the next meal is hardly guaranteed for a person—it is even less so for a cat and four dogs, and I loathe the thought that one day the choice might have to be faced that hunger outweighed that love. Better to leave them to a shelter or someone outside the ghetto and maintain the thought (hope) that they will continue to be someone’s beloved pet.
But in the end, I know with absolute certainty what matters most to me. It cannot be contained within a traveling bag. It is symbolized in the wedding band upon my finger: an outward sign of an inward commitment between my husband and me. And by the two small pair of hands that hold each of mine; the sons that are the fruit of that union. Above all else is my family. That is what really matters to me. Secondarily to my family is myself—my thoughts, my skills, my morals and my actions. For in the end, that is all that I will have absolute certainty of…that is the only certainty any of us will have, should we forget the past and allow such atrocities to be repeated.