Posts Tagged ‘perspective’

On Friday afternoons, unless it’s pouring buckets or absolutely freezing, I walk to get my lunch from an Italian restaurant near where I work. It’s not far, not quite half a mile, and it’s my treat to myself while getting in some steps to appease the Fitbit.

I’ve come to really enjoy my Friday walks. I enjoy walking in general, but walking here gives me a perspective on the vibrant neighborhood that thrives, unbelievably, in the shadow of the Ford Rouge Factory and the other factories around it.

While Ford has made great strides in cleaning up its act in recent years, the pollution is all around. You can witness it in the belching smoke stacks, the thousands of semi-trucks that thunder past my school down Wyoming every day, and in the acrid chemical smell that mingles with the mouth-watering scent of meat from Dearborn Sausage next door. There are unidentifiable black specks that coat my car some days and during lessons, train cars crash together on the tracks in the train yard directly across from the teachers’ parking lot. It’s a gritty kind of place.

The area I teach in is not a rich neighborhood, not by any means. While there are some new houses, most have been there for several decades and they look it. Some of the small front yards are fenced in and remind me of the front yards, or gardens, in England. Like any neighborhood, some yards are better taken care of than others. There are porches littered with lawn furniture for evening visits and back yards with fire pits. Broken glass litters the sidewalk in some places and there are wrappers scattered about. Still, the community in the South End is an amazing one, tightly knit together by culture, family, and tradition.

The small neighborhood is made of up of mostly Arab-Americans, mainly Yemeni, whose children I teach. Some families have been here for generations and some arrived last week. It borders on the city of Detroit and has the busy roads of Dix and Vernor running through it, where I pass by on my walk.

Dix is full of small businesses; medical buildings, a Yemeni travel agency, small grocers, and, I love this, two live poultry shops right next to each other. When I go past, I can sometimes hear the clucking and on warm days, I can definitely smell that there are live chickens. It brings me right back to the farm when I used to gather eggs in the mornings or on coop cleaning day. Friday afternoons are usually busy at the poultry shops with cars pulling up haphazardly in the parking lot and parking wherever they like. The customers nod and smile pleasantly at me every time. In fact, in my school year there, I haven’t had one unkind word, look, or gesture on my walks. It makes me feel happy.

After getting my pint of chicken pastina and bread (the bread is the entire reason for going), I head back to school. If I’ve timed it right, I hear the call to prayer coming from the mosque on Vernor, just a block away. On my way back to school, I pass all sorts of people headed to the mosque for the Friday lecture and prayers. There are older men walking alone, wearing traditional clothing, and clumps of women in black abayat, all heading to the mosque for the holy day. The call to prayer, the people walking, all contribute to the overall feeling of this part of my city like nowhere else. It has an exotic feel, a good feeling, a feeling that makes me happy to be there and witness the day-to-day busyness.

I know I’ve painted a pretty-ish picture of life in a tough area, but really, I’m struck by the people. I’m not Muslim, but I love seeing their devotion. I love seeing their pride in where they come from and how they’ve adapted their culture to life in the States. I am a recipient of their kindness and hospitality. I admire their resilience and their sense of community.  Of course, there are issues. What community doesn’t? I don’t pretend to be oblivious to that, but that’s not what this part of my city is about. That’s not what this post is about.

It’s about an observer, me, seeing the wonderful things that another culture has to offer to, just for a moment, get lost in their daily world on my Friday walk. It’s about seeing my neighbors live their lives despite the looming shadow of an industrial area. It’s about embracing all the differences of humanity and loving it for what it is.

I love my city.

The End.



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Last week was the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. In 1945, Soviet troops rushed into the camp not knowing what to expect, only to find hordes of traumatized, ill, skeleton-like people who had been left behind when the Nazis evacuated a few days earlier, taking the healthier prisoners with them, essentially on a death march.

Seeing the coverage in the news reminded me of a professor that I had, Dr. Jack Wayne. Dr. Wayne is now retired after having taught in the education department at the University of Michigan-Dearborn for many years. My husband had first met him back in the 1990s when Dr. Wayne would take classes to Greenfield Village for experience. I recall Marty talking about him, but wasn’t aware of the impact that he would have on my life.

I took Dr. Wayne’s class on teaching social studies in the elementary classroom back in 2006. I had heard about Dr. Wayne from other students who absolutely loved him, but I had never seen him. The first thing that came to mind when I walked into the classroom that day was that he looked exactly like an elf. A full head of pure white hair, a small stature, and twinkling blue eyes all contributed to the illusion. It was a three-hour evening summer class, but it went by very quickly.

After the first class, I went up and introduced myself as Marty’s wife, since he would have remembered my husband. As soon as I said Marty’s name, he got a big smile on his face. “Maaaaaarrrrttyyy!” he said. “Oh, I just love your husband! He’s such a wonderful guy.” I agreed with him, of course, and from that day on, he would always ask about Marty, what he was up to and so forth. I’m don’t think he was quite as enamored of me as he was of Marty, but since I was Marty’s wife, I passed muster. It didn’t matter that he liked my husband more than me, I was just happy to know him. One night before class, Marty brought the boys to come and visit. Dr. Wayne was elated to see him and they spent a happy twenty minutes or so catching up, Youngest Child quite happily spinning in a chair the entire time.

Dr. Wayne’s class was interesting. We did cover material in the book occasionally, but for the most part, our time was spent talking about other things: life, teaching in general, kids, and his time spent as a prisoner in the Nazi camps.

Dr. Wayne was born in Lodz, Poland into a large Jewish family. His parents owned a bakery there and all of the children worked. When Germany invaded Poland, the family was sent to the Lodz ghetto. Terrible things happened there, things that no child should see. Sick people rounded up and shot, starvation, his own father dying in the ghetto for lack of medicine. Living in those conditions should have been more than enough hardship for anyone to endure, but the Nazi regime didn’t stop there. When he was twelve years old, Dr. Wayne’s family was one of the last groups shipped out in cattle cars to the work camps reserved for Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, or anyone else who opposed Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich.

Dr. Wayne didn’t tell us about what it was like when they first arrived in the Birkenau camp, but his older brother, Larry, recounted in an oral history interview for the University of Michigan that after they were taken out of the train cars, their mother and one of their sisters were herded directly into one of the crematoriums, never to be seen again. The brothers were taken to other camps and separated. Dr. Wayne ended up digging mass graves out in the woods for the piles of bodies that were killed every day, in Dachau, I believe. He saw people commit suicide by deliberately trying to cross the fences surrounding the camp, unwilling to take any more of the torture inflicted upon them. Finally, he decided to escape, not caring if he made it or if he was shot. He ran, and was spotted. He was shot in the leg and went down, initially playing dead and then losing consciousness. Fortunately, none of the guards thought to check him thoroughly and the next thing he knew, he woke up in a military hospital. It was 1945 and the end of the war. Allied troops had found him and saved his life.

The brothers and one of their sisters were reunited in Germany after the war in one of the many programs set up to help the survivors. Although they had cousins who had also survived, they were the only members of their immediate family to make it through. They emigrated to Detroit and put down roots, getting an education, marrying and having families. The siblings changed their last name to Wayne, eager to make new lives for themselves in their new country. That was something that Dr. Wayne always talked about. The United States is a country of opportunity and he and his siblings never lost that sense of thankfulness, even all of those years later.

This was just a very brief summary of Dr. Wayne’s story, but the courage and the endurance of his family and others like them amaze me. The story of the Holocaust has always fascinated me in a horrified sort of way and I am not alone. Countless books and movies have been made about that time, including The Diary of Anne Frank, Schindler’s List, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and The Devil’s Arithmetic. The idea that an entire race should be obliterated simply for being who they are is a sick and twisted way of thinking that doesn’t seem like it could be real. The horrifying part is that is was real, and it was real in a part of the world that Americans thought of as “civilized”, not some remote jungle or desert country where the average American would find it hard to relate. Paris was occupied, for heaven’s sake, London was being bombed regularly, and you would be hard pressed to find a European whose daily life wasn’t affected by the war. Americans can’t fathom that type of existence, but unfortunately, many people in other parts of the world today can.

Our Holocaust survivors are elderly now and as we lose more of them every day, we lose that connection to a time when an evilness threatened to take over the world, and it came a lot closer than it should have. What is the point to all of this? I didn’t set out with any sort of agenda, only to remember a man who touched my soul. He was the first survivor who I had ever gotten to know as a person, who was so willing to share his experiences with us. As far as I know, he still gives occasional talks to Jewish centers and schools, but the last time I talked to him, more three years ago, he said that the memories just make it too hard sometimes, that it was difficult for him to sleep after speaking about his experiences. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to tell that story, to look at that number on your arm every day and realize over and again that this wasn’t a story out of a book, but this happened to you.

I look at my boys and thank God that they don’t have to go through what millions of Jewish children did. I’m thankful that they don’t have to go through what many children in the Middle East or parts of Africa are going through now. War steals childhood away, imprints violence on memories, helps shape children into something they would not otherwise become. Some, like Dr. Wayne, turn it into a teaching moment so that it hopefully never happens again. Some have their hearts so twisted by hate that they grow up to inflict that evil on others. Many don’t grow up at all, but become a number, a casualty of war in an unmarked grave to be mourned on the 6 o’clock news as I sit in my peaceful neighborhood where I’m not worried about my family being rounded up and taken away. It doesn’t seem fair, or right.

It amazes me that in our world today, there are still those who hate because of race or religion and justify their rationales with the same lies that the Nazis used to turn people against the Jews. In our word of advanced technology and education, shouldn’t it be more obvious that violence and war do nothing to solve any of our problems? Maybe that’s one lesson we should take from the Holocaust. On this seventieth anniversary of liberation and freedom, let us never forget how it got to that point and let’s raise our children with tolerance and compassion, to see others as fellow human beings. That is all.

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