I had worked on a paper for some nurses at work. The paper kept coming back for more changes. For them it was a major frustration, for me, fun to help put it in order. The reviewer wanted to make sure the information was clear for all who read the paper. And in the end, the paper was accepted for publication. H invited her co-authors and me to breakfast. It was an amazingly special time. I mentioned that it was nice we could sit like this and get to know each other a little bit beyond the stress of work. One of the ladies, A, noted that people used to know each other at work, “what happened?”
I thought it was because everything was getting bigger and bigger. It’s hard to get to know people. At that, H turned to me and said, “You know, you are right! I just realized, I don’t know anything, really about you…”
And the other two nurses, A and L nodded in agreement. They began asking questions. For the first time I shared, in detail, my bad experiences when I had worked there as a nurse almost 30 years before. They all looked at each other, but not in surprise. And then A responded, “I’m not surprised.” And they shared about how things had changed over the years. They asked a bit more about my personal life; they hadn’t known I was a widow.
H had lost her husband a long time ago, and mentioned that her mother-in-law was still living. And somehow, from nursing memories, we began remembering our heritage and history. A had an amazing story to share. She was from a country I can’t pronounce that was part of the former Soviet Union. As a child, during Passover, they would hide the matza for Passover in a bag and put it under her clothes. And then she would deliver to other families who bought it. Where they lived it was a crime to have matza during Passover. Likewise, they could not light the Sabbath candles on Fridays, for fear of being arrested for being Jews. “H” shared how her mother-in-law so vividly remembers being taken to the camps with her two sisters. One of the sisters was nursing a baby. As they went into the camp, her sister with the baby was sent directly to the gas chambers. “She refused to be parted from her baby,” H shared. Her mother-in-law and the other sister survived.
And then the others shared their own stories, of family members they had been told were lost in World War II, and of how hard it was to see the people they love still struggle with the memories. “A” shared that she still sometimes struggles with feeling safe, even though she has been in Israel for decades now. L commented, “they were all strong, that’s why they survived, they were survivors.”
Somehow, it was just plain a special time, to get to know my colleagues better. They know me a little better, and I know them a little better. And I was reminded of the deeper reality so many people in Israel live… the parts of their lives rarely seen. I was honored to be trusted with these special and painful memories, and have a deeper realization of how much I have to be thankful for.