“How do you cook beef tenderloin for two?” my son called to ask. “We got a package of three short ribs and shared them,” my daughter reported. I cooked a small package of lamb chops for my husband and me. A friend described their Christmas: me, my husband, and the rack of lamb. Yes, Christmas was smaller and quieter for a lot of people. It was definitely more about simple celebration and less about the presents.
I read a beautiful story in the Washington Post today about an 89-year-old Jewish man in Belgium who opens his window daily to pay jazz piano for his neighbors in lockdown. As a boy, he escaped extermination in a concentration camp by jumping from a moving train and hiding for three years in the attic of a Catholic family. His mother and sister perished in the camp. The story goes on to say: “Mr. Gronowski drew on the memories of prolonged confinement, the fear and desperate sadness of the 1940s, in a newspaper column he wrote as encouragement for fellow Belgians in late March as they struggled to settle into lockdown. ‘Currently reduced to forced idleness, conducive to reflection, my thinking wanders and rejoins the confinements that I suffered 75 years ago, from 1942 to 1944, when I was 10-12 years old,’ he wrote. ‘Today, we can stay with our family or be helped by it, keep in touch, we can do our shopping, stock up on provisions, read the newspapers, watch television, but then we lived in terror, we lacked everything, we were cold, hungry and our families were separated, dislocated,’ he added.”
In 2002, he chose to bear witness by publishing his story. Before the pandemic started, he was giving talks about his experience at schools. “When I tell my story at schools, I always finish with a message of hope, I always tell them one important thing: I tell them that life is beautiful,” he said. “But it is also a daily struggle.”
His story reinforces our capacity for resilience. If he can survive what he did, we can certainly survive this time. It also reinforces the value of bearing witness. Soon the virus will have passed, but it is important to have a record of what life is like, and it teaches important lessons that shouldn’t be forgotten.