26 October 2011

On the plane...to Auschwitz

Why am I doing this? So many reasons. The initial provocation may seem odd. In early August, after about three days of full-blown grieving the unexpected loss of my job, of going from 200-miles-per-hour excessive -- truly excessive -- work to a cold, brutal full stop, I was tired of standing in my back yard and crying. But there seemed to be no end in sight. None. So I decided to go to Auschwitz.

As I write this, even I can see how crazy this sounds. Depressed? Lost your job? Helping your aging and frightened parents unhappily downsize? Facing a soon-to-be-empty nest? What better cure than signing up for a week as close to you can get to catastrophic evil!

That exclamation point should be puffy with a circular dot underneath. That would be, in part, honest.

Bernie Glassman
from the Zenpeacemakers site
But there is more. As bereft as I felt about the loss of the job at the same time I was helping both Matt and Luke get ready to leave for college, I also knew it meant I could come back to this project, at least for a while, full time. If I could get myself up off the couch. If I could stop compulsively staring at the Facebook posts of my former friend and supervisor.

But in the same Facebook news feed was this: a post by Roshi Wendy Egyoku's teacher Bernie Glassman, someone whose books I've read and have long wanted to meet, with a link to the registration form for the up-coming "Bearing Witness Retreat in Auschwitz."  A Zen retreat led for the last 16 years by a Roshi named Bernie Glassman in a place deeply associated with Judaism - the religion I intend to learn something about next. I filled out the form and sent in the deposit. At least I had taken some action to get back to this work and out of my self-pity festival. It was two months away. I had two sons and two parents to pack up so I got to the to-do lists. Nothing like the salve of to-do lists.

The two months flew by in a blur of packing and unpacking boxes...and more tears.

Yesterday, when I called to say good-bye to Matt, he said he was worried about me and this trip. "They're not going to shave your head or anything, are they?"

"It's not a re-enactment, Matt."

"Okay, but it sounds kinda strange, you staying at the concentration camp."

"I know. It will be, but I don't think our dormitory is right on the grounds but just outside."  Then, to put it terms he could understand, "Like the Trianon Hotel is just outside the gates of Versailles." My royalist child.

"Oh, okay. Will you call or skype when you get back to let me know you are okay?'

Now that I'm sitting on the plane on the way to Krakow from Frankfurt, Germany, I am a bit nervous, too. Coming in through Germany - an accident of the quest for cheaper fares - only added to strangeness. I've just had my passport stamped by a blond, blue-eyed German official whose grandparents lived under Hitler's regime.

Not long after I made the plans, I realized I was going to have a ridiculous sixteen hour layover on the way back, so I'd sent an email to Gemmon in Zurich (for those who haven't read anything else*, Gemmon is the German Zen priest who Roshi "fired", a woman who made me laugh a lot) to see if she was going to be home in Germany when I was passing back through from Poland or if she might be able to me me there.  She said she couldn't but why, she wanted to know, was I going to be in Poland?

I told her.


Gemmon was going, too.

~ ~ ~

* NOTE: the better part of my time learning Zen is not posted yet but will be before long so you will not be able to find the posts that tell this story right now...


  1. What a nice comment! And, yes, I am!

  2. Your return post put a smile on my face! Have not seen you in a while either - hope that all is well despite the job situation. My wife's father was a prisoner in Auschwitz, so I naturally took an interest. I look forward to hearing about your experience there. Be well and "Godspeed".

  3. Thank you, Leo! More to come...just sitting a bit with each post before publishing it...


I'm interested in any and all comments although it may take me a while to post them.