Strength and Willpower Not Always Enough

Disconnect from History

I always thought it takes great strength and willpower to survive whatever atrocities life throws our way, and then I met Nesse, a Holocaust survivor.I accompanied my 13-year old daughter and a group of her friends to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC as part of their 8th grade field trip. Although they’d been studying World War II in history and literature classes, there was a disconnect for them. It went beyond imagining “olden days” before technology. It was taking them to a place that was beyond their imaginations; a place so horrific that it seemed as real to them as a B-horror movie. These are girls who have never been touched by tragedy. They were only infants when 911 happened, and even then were isolated by being tucked away in a rural farming community.

I know the history of WWII and the Holocaust and the plight of the European Jews. I read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl when I was in grade school and was profoundly effected. More recently I’ve read The Book Thief and Once We Were Brothers. I’ve seen the movies, each with a unique perspective on the war: Schindler’s List, The Pianist, and The Boy In The Striped Pajamas to name a few. And the words and pictures, as horrific and unsettling yet moving and inspiring of hope all paled when I got to meet Nesse Godin, Holocaust Survivor.

There aren’t many survivors left. Nesse is 87 and was a young girl when Hitler’s forces invaded her native Lithuania. She works as a volunteer at the museum and was on hand to tell her story. At age 13 (the same age as our group of 8th grade girls), she and her family were rounded up and sent to one of the Jewish Ghettos. She survived there and was then sent to a concentration camp. She survived there only to be herded into a Death March of women, a last ditch effort of the Germans to kill as many more Jews as possible before the Soviets liberated the camp. Nine hundred women and girls died on that march; only 200 survived.

Strength and Willpower?

It is hard to imagine the strength required to survive the Ghetto – with barely any food and poor living conditions. It is harder to imagine the determination required to survive the concentration camp, where not only food, but clothing and heat were scarce. It is hardest to imagine that after four years of starving and freezing the amount of perseverance required to survive a march that you know has the sole purpose of killing you. But Nesse survived.

Nesse Godin, Holocaust Survivor
Nesse Godin, Holocaust Survivor

“How?” I asked, tears welling in my eyes. “You must have had so much will to live.”

“No,” Nesse said. “I wanted to die. Many times I wanted to die. But Jewish women kept me alive. ‘Why do you cry little girl?’ they would ask. ‘I am hungry,’ I would say. They placed tiny crumbs from their own meager rations in my mouth. ‘Why do you shiver so?’ they would ask. ‘I am cold,’ I would say. They showed me how to wrap myself in straw. Who knew you could gather warmth from straw? They would tell me, ‘God doesn’t want you to die. He wants you to live. You must promise that you will share your story so these terrible things never happen again.’ So here I am.”

Her story left me in awe. I always imagine that it takes great strength and willpower to survive whatever atrocities life throws our way (and none in my life even come close to what Nesse went through). But she gave me a different perspective: perhaps it is not strength we should seek, not determination we must muster, but rather surrounding ourselves with loving support and selfless kindness that can carry us through life’s storms; that the giving souls, who had nothing to give, still gave and cared for a soul more lost than their own.

I hugged Nesse. Blessed that I had heard her story. Thankful that I could share it with others. As I hugged her I told her I was so glad she had survived. She chuckled and smiled, “Me too, my dear, me too.”

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Hope is a thing with feathers

Emily Dickinson’s famous poem, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” is often quoted. Usually just the first verse is referenced, but there are two other verses. Here is the poem in its entirety:

Hope warms our souls on the coldest of days. We have only to take a moment and listen for its song to reassure ourselves that there is hope.“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

I thought it quite telling in the last verse that the poet points out that Hope never asks for anything from us, but is content to sit by us through the storms of life, singing its sweet song constantly. Hope warms our souls on the coldest of days. It is always there, and we have only to take a moment and listen for its song to reassure ourselves that there is hope.

Although I don’t make my future dependent upon hope, I do hold hope quite dear. I have hopes for my children to be productive and contributing members of society. I have hopes that humanity can find the good in every situation. I have hopes that the future of the world is bright and beautiful. I can’t control any of these things myself, but I can make my small contribution.

I can teach my children that it is important to be responsible, caring citizens in their community. I can find the good in a situation and help others see it and find good for themselves. I can do my part to provide a brightness and beauty to the world; for me, that’s through writing and art. Emily Dickinson certainly did her part, in reminding us that hope is always there.

No Hope for Me

It’s Not That I Don’t Have Hope

I believe in hope insofar as its meaning that what is wanted can be had. I have hopes and dreams, & I’ve been putting those hopes and dreams into action.I really thought it would be easier to write about hope than it proved to be. I wondered why that was. I consider myself to be a hopeful person, yet there was no hope for me.

I believe in hope insofar as its meaning that what is wanted can be had. I have hopes and dreams, but in the last year or so, as I’ve explored what those were specifically and more concretely, I’ve been putting those hopes and dreams into action.

I used to be more of a daydreamer. Lots of thinking about “what if…” and “if I had this, then….” type of mind ramblings. Now I frame my future with “what can I do now to make that happen?” Hope, in the sense of maybe one day it will come true, no longer has appeal. That’s the kind of hope that makes me feel powerless; that I don’t have control over the outcome. I’m no longer that person.

Taking Action

Now I take the bull by the horns and charge forward with a plan. Well, maybe not charge – most days I tiptoe cautiously forward, but definitely with a plan. So for my own personal goals and dreams, I know that I control the journey to get there. I still have hopes and dreams and goals, but I’m not waiting around for them to appear in my path. I’m actively taking steps to see them to fruition. Sometimes I stumble and make mistakes, but that is all part of the beautiful journey.

The Kindness Bracelet

Tracking Kindness with the Kindness Bracelet

It's easy to dwell on the negative, but when a friend gave me a Kindness Bracelet I started tracking acts of kindness daily and every thing changed.Last year for Christmas, a friend of mine gave me a Kindness Bracelet. It was a lovely thing with 12 beads and a charm strung on cording and a little card that explained how the bracelet worked:

When you are kind or kindness comes your way, slide a bead toward the Kindness Charm. As you slide your beads back each evening reflect on the kindness you experienced that day.

I was intrigued and starting wearing the bracelet almost every day. People would ask me about it and I’d get to relay the story of how it works. Of course, I moved my beads as I took notice of acts of kindness I witnessed or took part in. I was so moved by the effect this had on my day that I purchased several to give as gifts.

A few months ago I attended a women’s business luncheon and guess who was in attendance? The woman behind the Kindness Bracelet, the original: Grace Foxwell Murdock. I knew she lived in the area, but I hadn’t expected to ever run into her. Several women in attendance rushed up to her afterwards to share how the bracelet has affected them or a loved one.

The philosophy behind the bracelet is that by acknowledging small acts of kindness, we create a brighter, more positive space around us. The idea for the bracelet was born out of a very dark time: after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. The outpouring of love and support for the families and community of Sandy Hook came from all over the world, and Ms. Murdock wanted to help people focus on that hope and love and kindness rather than dwell on the tragedy.

You can read more about the Kindness Bracelet and even order one from their etsy shop. But don’t wait to receive a bracelet to perform small acts of kindness, start that today!

Update: I found this great video on YouTube of Grace making Kindness Bracelets. Enjoy!

[Links are not affiliate links. This is just a product and story I think are really great]

Becoming Aware of Who You Are

Your personal growth is greatly enhanced by becoming more aware of who you are as a personPersonal growth is the process of improving oneself through activities that develop talents and potential, which in turn make you more employable, enhance your quality of life, and lead you to realizing your dreams and aspirations. Your personal growth is greatly enhanced by becoming more aware of who you are as a person.

In order to develop your talents, you have to be aware of what they are. Your awareness cannot stop there, you must also realize the best way for YOU to develop that talent and potential. Your method of learning may not be suited to someone else.

There are a multitude of online “tests” that will give you insight into the type of person you are. It is best to use these results not as a definition of who you are, but rather as a way of understanding why you are the WAY you are. I always like to read over the results to see with what I agree and disagree. Lots of insight can be gained just from that! There are links at the end of this article to some of the personality tests you may find insightful. Remember, no one personality type is better than another.

Action is born out of awareness

Actions that you take, particularly positive and forward-moving actions, are a result of your being self-aware. If being around crowds of people makes you anxious, and you are aware of this, then you know what actions you can take to avoid or minimize your interaction with crowded situations. I don’t go shopping at the local mall between Thanksgiving and Christmas because I don’t like crowds or the noise or the rush. This means that in order to get my Christmas shopping done, I have to shop early and/or shop online. Do I miss out on some great deals? Maybe. But I keep my sanity, and for me, that is worth more.

As you start to think about your goals for the coming year (you are starting to think about them, right?!), you will better be able to set up actionable steps if you are aware of what works and doesn’t work for you. If you have consistently failed to reach goals in the past, it may not be the goals themselves that are the issue, but rather the actions you are taking to try to achieve them.

How self-aware are you?

The definition of awareness is “knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.” Self-awareness is not just about being aware of what you are doing; you need to be aware of what you are eating, who you are associating with, and how you react to stress and other emotional triggers. Being fully aware is minimizing the amount of time you spend functioning on autopilot.

I’ll be spending this week posting about awareness, particularly self-awareness in the aspects of eating, personal associations, and stress triggers. The discussion is ongoing over on our Facebook page and on Twitter. Please join us and share! Sign up for our mailing list to receive links to all the Awareness Posts.

Links to online personality type “tests”:


Big Five (I found this one quite insightful, even though I didn’t agree 100% with my results)

Ayurveda (more about body type, but insightful to personality traits are well)