The sliver of light

When I arrived home from Cali the other night, it was wickedly late.  I stumbled to bed and switched off the lamp that my husband had so thoughtfully left on for me.  Though I was tired to my core, sleep was a bit elusive.  The impending move out of our house has proven to push my mind over the edge.  But there’s more than that.  My mind was full of details that began to oppress my already fragile emotions.

As I lay in the darkness, I willed myself to fall asleep.  I watched the clock slowly tick the hours away.  1:30. 2:30…I finally started to drift off when I felt the room go from darkness to light instantaneously.  I opened my eyes in a bit of a panic to see Lee’s iPad, which was sitting on his bedside table, illuminated.  I figured he must get some kind of notification for emails and closed my eyes again.  Five minutes later the room lit up again.  And I got annoyed.  Who emails at 3:00 in the morning?

Then I marveled at how bright the room was from that one tiny light of the screen.  Turns out he gets weather notifications and his iPad was warning us of the impending storm that rolled through ten minutes later.  But the visual of the light piercing the darkness stuck with me.

As already mentioned, I had a wonderful time in California, but it was hard too.  I was processing a lot of emotions.  And on top of that, the subject matter of the novel I’m writing is oftentimes hopeless and desperately sad.  As I researched the events surrounding World War II, I found myself terribly sad.  The darkness of that time is so deep and as I read story after story of heartache, my stomach turned into a tighter and tighter knot.  I wondered how I would portray the characters in my novel with any sort of redemption, any sort of hope.

And then I saw it.  That one sliver of light that pierced the darkness.


As I read the personal accounts of survival during those heinous years of war, I saw a thin trail of Hope.  One woman described seeing a tiny sprig of green growing from the frozen ground as she marched to the concentration camp.  Why did that small plant stick out in her mind?  It was Hope.  It was the knowledge that after winter, spring arrives.  After death, life springs forth.  A sliver of light in the pitch black can illuminate a whole room.

I read an account from a young mother whose infant was killed at birth by her Nazi captivators.  And she rejoiced, because a swift death was better than a slow one behind the barbed wires.  Did her heart ache?  I imagine it tore into a thousand tiny pieces and was never fully reassembled.  But she saw the sliver of light and sometimes that’s all we need to guide us through the darkness.

I read story after story like this.  Some of them were so horrific, I didn’t see how there could possibly be any hope – any redemption.  But many of the stories had a sliver.  Enough to give me the emotional strength to keep reading.  It was the same when I went to Ukraine nine years ago.  I interviewed veteran after veteran and saw so much Hope.  They were happy, jovial and so full of light that I wondered how they possibly survived such horror with their spirits in tact.  That’s the redemption of so many of their stories.  And that spirit is what I hope to capture in my characters.

A blade of green amidst the rubble.

Darkness is repelled by light – even the smallest sliver of it.  Sometimes the darkness is still oppressive and the pain remains ever constant, but that tiny bit of Hope is what keeps us going.  For me, that tiny sliver of Hope is the thing that keeps me moving forward with this book project.  It’s the tiny bit of light in an otherwise very dark story.  I am reminding myself to focus on Hope as I continue to research and write.  If I don’t, I fear the heartache will become too much.

May Day

On Saturday, Lee and I took the kids to a 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Nazi Invasion of the Soviet Union.

Try saying that five times fast.

For an hour and a half, we heard stories from local veterans about their experiences during World War II.  Most of them were Jewish and experienced the effects of the Nazi hatred as well as the Soviet hatred.  It was emotional and poignant and beautiful and sad.

The kids didn’t appreciate it at all.

“When can we go,” they whined over and over.  And like any good Mom, I shushed them and shot them daggar eyes, melting them from the inside out.

At then end of each testimony, each speaker (most of whose stories were read by younger family members while they stood up front), made very similar statements.  They lauded freedom.  Freedom to practice religion, freedom from oppression, freedom to survive, freedom to love.  Those men and women are deeply loyal to the lands of their birth.  But they are also deeply loyal to their adopted land.

Attending this ceremony cemented my desire to bring the history of the former Soviet Union alive.  It reignited my passion for the people of Ukraine, in particular, as several of the speakers were from Ukraine, from towns and cities I have visited.

We Americans have no idea the depth of suffering other parts of the world have experienced.  That’s not to say we can’t sympathize, of course.  I feel deep pain for the suffering around the world.  But I don’t truly understand it because I haven’t lived it.  My pain at the suffering we endured on 9/11 is even different from my fellow countrymen who were directly affected by the loss of loved ones.  But think of this perspective:

It’s estimated that Ukraine lost up to 10 million people during World War II.  That’s half of the population of the entire Soviet Union and twenty percent of the entire world’s death total.

I know my children are young and I don’t expect them to appreciate or even understand why I continue to expose them and push them toward the language and history of that part of the world, but I hope to the depth of my soul that someday, as they grow in maturity and understanding, they will develop not only a love for Ukraine and the russian language, but also for all the different cultures of this world.

I also hope that they will grow with the understanding that they have been privileged to be born in the most amazing country in the world.  It is a flawed nation, to be sure.  But America is a land to be loved, a loved to be applauded and a land that deserves our deepest appreciation.

That’s the lesson I’m hoping to teach my children as they grow.  One of them, anyway.