The first day back to school after winter break was a proud momma moment for me. Child #1, a high school freshman, prepared the night before by making lists of things to remember to bring, what to pack for lunch, and what things she needed to do after school (which included laundry!). This was impressive to me. It showed great organization and foresight. But what impressed me even more was the fact that she also wrote herself a positive affirmation: Make it a great day.
Our Family Mantra
This happens to be the mantra I say to all family members as they leave for work or school each morning. I’ve been saying that to them for years, and have even had a child come back into the house after leaving if I’ve forgotten to say it: “Mom! Aren’t you going to tell me to make it a great day?!”
You may notice I say make it a great day and not have a great day. Many years ago I saw an interview on a morning news show where someone pointed out the psychological difference between telling someone to make it a great day and have a great day.
It’s about control.
Have a great day implies that you are at the mercy of what the day brings: bad weather, traffic, spilled coffee, or flat tire can lead you to a rather rotten day. But to make it a great day implies that you have control on how you view the day. So even if all those bad things happen, you can choose to still find some good in the day; perhaps the cafe had your favorite muffin or you found $10 in your coat pocket or you simply are thankful that the day is over and tomorrow is another day. I can’t control the weather, but I can control how I react to it.
After my daughter left for school, I glanced over her lists again. Below the “Make it a great day!” she had written: “Hope you had a great day today.” It certainly was for me.
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.
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.
“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.”
[Note: Book and movie links are Amazon affiliate links. I receive a small percentage of the sale should you make a purchase on Amazon using one of the links. This does not effect the price you pay. Thank you for supporting me!]