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Isn't it pretty?

Monday, June 23, 2008

True Love

I spent the past weekend in Buffalo with my great-aunt, who is in hospice care. I spent the majority of my time at the hospital and felt fortunate to be able to spend time with my aunt. She is such a special person and despite how she was feeling, managed to talk to and entertain each guest that came to visit her, which was a pretty large number of people.

My great-aunt never had any children of her own, so she took in several Vietnamese refugees over the years as foster children and treated them as her own. I didn't realize to what capacity she made them her own children until this weekend. One of them in particular, was in the hospital every single day for several hours.

He is now married with a family of his own, and his children consider my great-aunt their grandmother, calling her Bubby. The kids also spent time in the hospital, holding my aunt's hand and talking to her. Building with Lego's on the floor in front of her bed while she rested.

His wife told the story of when they decided to get married. Her all-white family was upset at the prospect of a Vietnamese son-in-law. My great-aunt stuck by them, and supported them throughout, always by their side.

They told stories of the trouble her "son" got in during high school and later. Skipping school, coming home drunk, wrecking cars, and a high adventure trip to Vietnam were stories we all laughed over.

And her "son" sat by her side and held her hand for hours. He calls her "mom." He would do anything for her, to the point of offering to have her moved into his home if she can't stay in her current hospital.

I was also very moved when my great-aunt asked her son for his social security number for the life insurance policy. He refused to give it to her. He felt he couldn't possibly take anything else from her. What a difference from the families who fight over every last dime that is divided.

That's true love. Love that transcends blood, and is built from the kindness of a very special woman.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Second Chances, Kinda

I got bad news yesterday. My great-aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She doesn't have a lot of time left.

My mom called to give me the news, and to tell me that she was traveling to Buffalo the next morning, along with my grandmother, so they could spend time with my great-aunt. I asked her if I should drive up and she thought it would be a good idea if possible. I thought about it quite a bit. The drive is long, especially for just a few days. I would have to take a day off work, and I wasn't sure how much time I would really get to spend with my great-aunt.

My grandfather passed away about six months ago. By the time I found out, it was too late for me to even speak to him. At that time, I offered to go down to Alabama to be with my family, but my mom told me to hold off until the funeral. I didn't get to say goodbye to my grandfather, and I hadn't seen him or even spoken to him much for a year before he passed away. It's something I really regret.

So I saw this as a (somewhat) second chance. Yes, the drive will be hard. But I will get to spend time with my great-aunt before it's too late. So I'm leaving soon.

My great-aunt is a wonderful person. She's truly one of my role models. She has been a teacher throughout her career, working with difficult student populations. And she really cares and reaches out to her students, even if she can't speak their language. I recall lots of stories from her about how she made a connection with a student that other people couldn't get through to. How she transcended cultural differences to truly help and care for a new immigrant or someone scared and having a hard time. She never had a child of her own, but she was certainly mother to many. I strive to follow her example.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Jewish Heritage

Last night, I went with my cousin to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, which is free on Wednesday nights from 4-8 PM. The main exhibit is a Holocaust Memorial chronicling the events of the Holocaust from Hitler's appointment as Chancellor through the liberation of concentration camps and subsequent resettlement of refugees. It was well done, and I have to admit that it drew a few tears to my eyes while walking through.

I've been to Holocaust Memorial exhibits before, including Yad Vashem in Israel and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. I think it's very important to have these exhibits and to ensure that the memory of such an atrocity does not fade away, in order that such an event does not occur again.

Oh wait. That kind of thing does occur. All the time. Just not to Jews right now.

It was hard walking through the exhibit and seeing what hatred there was/is to my own cultural group, a group that I identify with so strongly. A part of my identity that I don't think I could hide if I tried, despite my looks being not typically "Jewish." But to think that a whole collaboration of people could bond together over their hatred for a group of people is intensely scary. Which is why I think memorials and museums are important.

But I wasn't sure that this particular museum was the right place for it. The Museum of Jewish Heritage. To me, Jewish Heritage is so rich and interesting and fascinating. There are some low points, like the Holocaust for one example, to be sure. But there are some wonderfully high points in our history as well. And so many characters and events and traditions that could have been represented as our heritage, rather than almost exclusively focusing on one time in which was such a bleak, dark spot on our history.

I know there are lots of museums out there who do offer our heritage. Maybe this one just needs a different name.