Pacific Spirit Park trail marker
Aging

Perspective: Herstory comes alive

Posted on in Aging · Friends · Health + Wellness · Resilience

This morning I met up with the WoodNymphs for an hour of perspective and a brisk 8am walk through the forest. A very friendly crew, the group of women vary daily from as few as three to as many as 20. Their ages range from 47-85.

Today I walked with a new 85-year-old friend; I’ll call her Hilda. Both of us convalescing from recent surgeries, we walked together behind the others. The two of us represented the age spread. Much of the first half-hour of our conversation focused on our recent surgeries and getting-acquainted chit-chat of families and work.

Herstory I

Then I asked Hilda about her accent. She said she is German and that she immigrated to Canada in the 1950’s after World War II.

As a child, Hilda lived in Hamburg and remembered bombs falling. She said at first it was pretty and exciting, but quickly she and her family realized people were dying. They fled to the basement. They survived, but their home, destroyed.

A few years later, towards the end of the war, Hilda moved to Eastern Germany to live with her grandparents. They hoped the Americans would arrive, but instead the Russians came. She told me of her father and mother walking through a five-kilometer no-man’s-land with only a few necessities for her family.

Herstory II

Later I visited with another Woodnymph, Eike, currently recovering from a broken leg and unable to join the walking group. She turned 80 last fall. Like Hilda, Eike also immigrated to Canada from Germany after World War II.

Eike told me of how during the War, she watched her brother playing in a field. Shot at by aircraft, luckily he dodged the fire by jumping behind a log.

And she told me of a neighbor’s house fired upon. The neighbor happened to be in the bath, so spared. However, the bathtub suffered a fatal piercing, sprung a leak, and emptied of its vital fluid.

Eike told me of her strong mother. The wife of a commanding officer, her mom cared for five small children during World War II. Hospitalized with sepsis due to an infection, her mother had five surgeries on her face, head, neck and chest, all without anesthesia.

These two women brought history to life for me today. Reading of World War II in history class is nothing like hearing the childhood anecdotes of a war-torn world.

Perspective on Immigration

Their stories caused me to reflect on today’s immigration issues. Do people really want to leave their native lands? Leaving behind their families, jobs, businesses and homes?

In all likelihood, there is simply no choice. And how many generations back need we look to realize some atrocity in our own ancestral native lands that drove our fore families to North America?

Both my German friends have called Canada their home from more than 60 years. They have had jobs, raised families, and supported their partners’ careers. They have pay taxes and contribute to their communities.

So why are we so quick to want to close our doors to new immigrants?

Perspective on Stress

And their childhood war experiences also caused me to reflect on the daily frets we all have. Some less serious concerns: what to make for dinner, bad hair days or ruptured pipes. And other more serious such as divorce and unemployment.

But really, how important are any of these concerns compared to bombs bursting in air and your family being fired upon?

And, as my 85-year-old friend reminded me, despite the fact that her home was destroyed, Jews had it much worse than her family.

Threads of Resilience

Point being, we will always have challenges and stresses, some bigger than others. And as my light-hearted, octogenarian friends remind me, the stresses are as big as we make them. Our challenges do not define us; they make us stronger. The memories of overcoming adversity become part of our tensile fabric. And the fabric serves to shelter us at times.

The Canadian psychiatrist J.T. MacCurdy posits an interesting theory in The Structure of Morale. He states that near-misses can traumatize, whereas remote-misses can imbue survivors with a sense of invincibility.

Make New Friends

Following up on a recent post on making new friends, joining the Woodnymphs has been a great community for me. I have made new friends whom I never would have met in school, at work, or in a mom’s group. And these new friends, though very different from me, have provided me with invaluable perspective — most recently perspective on immigration and the seemingly stressful issues that I navigate.

Be open to opportunities that avail.