ADULT MARCH OF THE LIVING 2011
MARCH OF THE LIVING 2011 - THE INTERNATIONAL ADULT DELEGATION
The International Adult delegation was formed in 2006. The group brings together adult participants of all ages, from different countries, backgrounds and history.
As co-ordinator of 6 Facilitators for Adult March of the Living 2006 (all trained mental health professionals), he dealt with a numbers of mental health issues, some very serious, that either emerged after the event, or in some cases continued from before.
TAKE CARE HANDLING HEAVY LUGGAGE:
By George Halasz, June 20th 2005
Life sometimes presents paradoxes: just when everything around, family, friends, health, work seem to be going OK, apparently from nowhere dark feelings emerge. Why does this Dark Side appear now? As our days turned to weeks, many of us are entering our second month since our return from the Adult March of the Living. How are we coping?
Its natural I suppose that I find myself tempted to recall those highpoints that ‘feel good’. Fortunately we are blessed with riches: Jake’s beckoning at Kabbalat Shabbat, for us to join with angels to lift the roof of the Isaac synagogue, Cracow; sharing precious conversations or listening quietly to Itzhak Perlman’s A Jewish Violin on the bus rides; celebrating a Bar Mitzvah at the Kottel on Shabbos. I love to revisit these memories with joy.
In contrast, I also find myself recalling tearful, turbulent and distressing moments: my mother’s testimony of her mother final farewell words to her aunty - ‘look after my little daughter’, I will never forget that cold, grey, wet afternoon we huddled together in Birkenau; the roll-call of names the next day echoing as we Marched; Shaya’s reliving the unbearable, suffocating words in that cattle wagon; the Dark Side of the landscape and soundscape at Majdanek. No wonder at times I am tempted to become psychologically distanced from those overwhelming moments.
I know that sometimes it is good, even necessary to be detached. Yet, over the years I have learnt enough about myself that to distance myself from my real experiences only works for a limited time before the memories insist on a return. They come back to ‘bite’ me.
Over the years I have learnt that my real experiences demand to be connected in my life, no matter how much I wish to keep them at arms length. I can not remain disconnected for too long. My real experiences insist on making themselves known, sometimes if I neglect them too ling, they send greeting cards. A deep sense of malaise knocks on the door of my consciousness, they insist they must visit.
These moments serve as a reminder, a signal, that I need to attend to something in my self. Often these visits are badly timed and I do not allow them in, they are not welcomed. Then I dread the time when they next return, as they do. Some visitors I feel obliged to host, even if accompanied by uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Sometimes like those difficult guests, I find it hard work to entertain these guests bearing Dark Gifts, especially if they overstay their welcome, as they do. Of course I am speaking of those mental guests, thoughts and feelings that require us to get our minds around overwhelming and traumatic experiences.
So, as we mark the days, weeks and now start the second month after our arrival back from the AMOTL rather that distancing myself in order to forget, I seem to cope better doing the opposite. That is my way of coping. I find that I need to get my mind around what we all lived through. I need to remind myself, to reflect of my shared, personal and intimate experiences. To transport me back to that landscape and soundscape I take out photos, revisit my journal entries, touch and even smell some souvenirs, listen to Itzhak Perlman and Dudu Fisher.
These precious moments all provide me with an anchoring outside reality. Evidence that I have indeed lived through this experience even if my mind can not get around it, beyond encompassing is something I need almost daily. Realistically I know that I was there, entwined with events belong to the past. Somehow those two precious weeks in May 2005, and before have become part of me so intensely that at times I feel lost in them.
Sometimes my boundaries between the past and future become blurred: reflections lead me wonder about events from 60 years ago like those we witnessed, communities gutted by Hitler and Stalin, and lesser know travellers in hatred was possible, what is to prevent them being repeated in the future? Such reflections from the Dark Side come at a heavy emotional cost.
On the inside, each day my reflections emerge with deeper layers of emotional baggage, arriving late, knocking on the door of my consciousness, long after my plane and I have landed. Like the delivery of a lost suitcase delivered late, I cannot resist the temptation. Most days curiosity gets the better of me. I must open my mental suitcase; open myself up... to explore my packed mental luggage from Poland, from the Dark Side.
I look inside searching to see what I can find. Some items are joyous memories. I welcome them eagerly. I name them with ease and pleasure. I am eager to claim them as mine.
But those other items from the Dark Side, those bits and pieces, fragments, broken pieces, spilt tears staining, they are different. Slowly, day by day, I try to come to terms with those splintered feelings, nameless, suddenly appearing, fleeting, intense moments, then equally suddenly disappearing. Novel they may be, yet I’m not ready to claim them as mine. They seem foreign; maybe someone planted them in my luggage. They don’t seem to fit me. I know that they are not mine. I’m sure of it.
I try to send them back to Poland, to Auschwitz, to Majdanek. That is where they belong, to someone else, in the gas chamber. They belong to Alice, my mother, or her mother Esther, or her sister Zsuzsi Raizelle.
I protest! It’s not me, it’s not mine.
Yet, just as we bonded there, ‘strangers’, within a day or two we were strangers no more, we breathed those images from the Dark Side. They bonded to us, with us. Those experiences have become parts of ourselves. When we arrived back home, it seems, we are no longer the same as when we left.
My mental suitcase is filled with such ‘foreign’ luggage. But each day as I reflect I begin to see that these ‘foreign’ bits as mine after all. These mental images, burdening my waking and sleeping moments are like the physical luggage I brought back. The physical ones I chose to buy and bring back. Most of us made some conscious choices to pack, to bring back some items as gifts or souvenirs for family and friends: books, CD’s photos and videos to read, listen, look at again and again as reminders of the landscape and soundscape.
If our physical luggage is overweight it carries a warning label ‘Heavy, assisted lift may be required.’ A figure lifting a box is accompanied by the words ‘Bended your knees’. What warning should we carry for our mental baggage if that is overweight, too heavy to carry without risk of some mental strain injury? What recognisable image conveys the message as clearly for a heavy mental suitcase as does the ‘bend your knees’ to avoid self-injury for a heavy physical suitcase?
It seems we are still participating in our Adult March of the Living. Our minds, no less then our bodies, are carrying heavy burdens even after we arrived home. The burden of our minds include memories that shocked, sights and sounds that disturbed, all those perceptions that we experienced as horror, revulsion, muted screams, unstoppable tears, sense of chaos, loss of control, terror or trembling, fear and helplessness. All these mental burdens we need to name. Some of them we know, others are still emerging, not yet ready to make themselves fully felt. We need to treat each of these pieces of mental luggage with respect and care.
Just like the need to bend our knees to take care when we handle physical luggage, so heavy mental luggage needs to be handled with care. We need to be mindful to ‘bend our mental knees’ when lifting such heavy mental luggage to prevent injuring ourselves. What does this mean in practical terms?
The lessons we learn from preventing physical complications when we handle heavy loads can be applied to heavy mental loads also. We need to keep in mind just how much mental burdens we carried back home from Poland and Israel. Once back to Australia, how can we take care that we do not strain ourselves mentally with this load?
These last few weeks it has come to my notice from my many conversations with participants and their families that we need to seriously attend to this question of self-care. I have spoken with many participants experiencing sometimes severely disabling states: from overwhelming fatigue, interrupted sleeping, inability to concentrate, persistent feeling ‘out of sorts’, disconnected or dislocated, sad or just not quite right, feeling ‘traumatised’ to varying degrees and a whole range of physical conditions, from colds, other infections to aches and pains.
We may put on a ‘brave face’ for some days or weeks even. Yet eventually need to seriously take stock of our well being. Are we continuing to lift ‘excess mental baggage’? If so, then we need to care for ourselves, to attend to the heavy mental baggage we returned with, even more so if we departed carrying heavy mental luggage.
As with the physical baggage, we can be penalised for carrying excess luggage in either direction, departing or returning. We cannot expect those who have not made our journey to understand the nature of our heavy mental baggage. The responsibility is to monitor ourselves, to take note how much we have packed. We are responsible to take measure to ‘lighten our load’. Or else we risk paying a penalty.
Our aim should be to travel safely, to lighten our mental ‘heavy baggage’. Let us take care when ‘lifting’ to remember each day to bend our mental knees plenty of rest; quality ‘down time’; daily exercise like walks; eating well and drinking plenty of water; sharing stories; keeping in touch with other participants. We may continue to share our intimate thoughts with our journals, express our wordless sensibilities in drawing, music, dance, movements that soothe and comfort. And of course there is always low calorie comfort chocolates, or cheesecakes. Low calorie, of course.
The idea of returning well from our unique journey is often a matter of choice - just like when we pack our luggage we are mindful to avoid excess luggage, so let us be mindful to avoid excess mental luggage as we are now arriving back home. Maybe then life is no longer such a paradox, it is just how it is meant to be lived.