My friend Nick and the lessons he taught me

“I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.” — Mark Twain in Eruption

 

There are days, not many but some, where I am rendered speechless. April 11, 2017 was one of those days. It happened when I saw the lead trending news segment on social media. My initial aphasia, i.e. loss of ability to understand or express speech caused, not by brain damage but by sheer incredulousness, was replaced with a slow simmering rage that exploded into words not suited for polite society. In essence, this is what prompted my violent reaction to an incredibly awful presentation of gross incompetence, as provided by NBC news.

 

 

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer apologized Tuesday evening after causing a firestorm for saying that Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” against his own people like Syrian strongman Bashar Al-Assad.

 

Spicer, speaking from the White House podium at the daily press briefing, said that Hitler, whom he called “despicable,” did not use “the gas on his own people the same way Assad used them.”

 

He sought to clarify his remarks in three separate follow-up statements — which did little to help — and then provided a full-blown apology.

“To draw any kind of comparison to the Holocaust was inappropriate and insensitive,” he told NBC News.

He later continued, referring to the Jewish holiday of Passover, “I’m absolutely sorry, especially during a week like this to make a comparison that is inappropriate and inexcusable.”

But that was well after the outrage on social media was already in motion, with reporters and public figures blasting Spicer’s comments — and saying they were particularly offensive coming during Passover.

 

How this man was not immediately removed from his position as Press Secretary is already a mystery to most but this transgression has crossed the line of gross incompetence to actually managing to insult an entire collective of society. The role of the Press Secretary, a very senior white house official is to serve as spokesperson for the executive branch of the United States government administration, especially with regard to the President, senior executives, and policies. What kind of virulent bigotry, ignorance and just sheer lack of anything remotely bordering on common sense and morality does this man hold, and by extension the office he serves. I am so disgusted because I see the world in a back wards slide, all levels of integrity and historical perspective seem to be slipping into the abyss of these uninformed and ill-considered backwards political figures. We cannot, no matter what our ethnicity or citizenship continue to hide behind the adage “ not my monkey, not my circus.” It is incumbent upon anyone who has a moral compass of any measurable worth to speak out against this circus and to speak loud. This arrogance or ignorance or whatever you might call it is becoming a routine thing in politics, all over the world it seems and we need to stop allowing it to happen.

When I was a little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, we had a little brown dog named Buffy. She was a sweet little cuddly thing that loved to spend time with me but really belonged to my Grandparents, who lived literally next door. My Grandfather was the owner of a construction company in those days and my parents had decided to move into the second house on the property, which had previously been a 4-car garage with a suite above. They were converting the whole thing into a house and my Grandfather had enlisted one of his carpenters, Nick, to do the work. Nick was a master craftsman and I think in retrospect was probably very happy to spend the months he did on that project instead of the regular industrial projects the company took on. I liked to sit and watch him work, sometimes for hours while Buffy slept in the sun somewhere nearby. Nick was a very quiet man and I guess I was a fairly quiet kid, preferring to observe more than talk, so our partnership worked. I thought he was old, too old to be working but again, I was viewing things through the lens of a child. He stooped a bit and his hands were callused and rough, the hands of a man who worked hard physically each day. He had a heavy Polish accent that made his words sing and he called me leibchen, which made me feel special and safe. I thought he was wonderful. Eventually Buffy seemed to adopt Nick too and most days could be found curled up asleep in a corner near him. Power tools were not a mainstay of a carpenters’ implement in those days, most of his tools were hand tools and he worked very carefully and with patience most would admire. Sometimes I’d have a book with me and read away while he worked and sometimes he would take the time to carefully explain what he was doing, while I pestered him with “what’s and why’s”, as only a child can do.

 

My family went away on a camping trip for a few weeks that summer and I remember being so excited to see the progress on our new kitchen and to see Nick. I ran into the house fully expecting to see him and Buffy. Instead I found Nick, sitting on a stool, arms stretched out to greet me. I ran up to him, excited to see him and looking around for Buffy as I entered. “ Where’s Buffy?” I asked, as I walked into my hug. Nick smiled softly and took my hands in his, then explained that when I was gone Buffy had been out one day on her own, my grandparents had let her out and Nick was in the house working. She must have wandered out onto the road and a gravel truck had hit her. The driver had carried her up to our house, not knowing where to go and gave her poor broken body to Nick. He had buried her near the house and used some stones to mark her grave.

 

I cried and cried and Nick sat quietly while I wept for my friend, the first of many pets I would love and someday say good-bye to. When I was calm he asked me to sit with him while he told me a story about love. He rolled up his sleeve and held out his wrist for me to see. Tattooed in ugly blue ink was a number. Nick always wore long-sleeved dress shirts, even on hot summer days and this was something I had never seen. He told me that one day when he was a young man soldiers came to his home and dragged his whole family out on the street. That when they were outside, they saw that many other families, their neighbours and friends were also being torn from their homes. He talked about how much he loved his family and how close they all were. He explained to me they were Jewish and that people who didn’t follow their faith hated them, simply because they worshipped God in different ways. My family was not religious and this was so strange to me but I knew that what he was telling me was very important, so I just let him talk. Nick told me that all of the men and boys were separated from the women and taken away. He said it was sudden and awful and the noise of the women crying and the men yelling reassurances as they were led off was something he heard in his dreams, something very sad. He was sent to a concentration camp, separated from his family and tattooed. He explained that if you were young and strong and you could work that you had a better chance of surviving in the camp but sometimes they would call out numbers at random chance and that meant the end. Despite the fact that everything and everyone had been taken from him, he wanted to live. He said that the last year in the camp, when he was no longer strong and healthy he found a way to live. He would scavenge the uniforms of the dead, which were also stamped with numbers, so that his number would not be called. He kept his sleeves down at all times to make sure the guards did not compare. One day his captors simply opened the gates and ran and somehow Nick survived. His family did not and he eventually came to Canada and started over.

 

These few words cannot touch on the agony of his life and the lives of millions who suffered the holocaust. I reflect back on that day now and imagine my seven-year old self knew more about what happened to Nick than probably anyone because he was in a time and space that day that allowed him to talk. I have never experienced grief the same way because Nick taught me that we are privileged to love someone and must appreciate our time, however long or short, because loving and being loved is a gift no one can take away. I will always remember that day, sitting with a man who had experienced such monumental grief and still had the capacity to love and to trust.

 

Shame, shame, shame … On Sean Spicer for so carelessly disrespecting the Jewish people and the Whitehouse and in fact all of our World Leaders for not holding him to account. The Holocaust is undeniable and exemplifies why one despotic leader should never hold power. We must always reflect, respect and study history so that we might never repeat it. This is not an average man, shooting off his mouth in a bar; this is the voice of the Presidential Office.

 

Our world is at a tipping point, we need to stand up and hold our politicians accountable.

 

 

 

 


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