I was around fourteen, fifteen years old, standing in the history section of the local library. I still don’t remember what originally made me think about writing a book about the Holocaust. Up to that point, I hadn’t been taught about the subject in school and I don’t know what sparked the idea. Whatever it was, I needed to find out more. So I was in the library looking for a book on the Holocaust to research the era, to learn more.

I probably selected this book because it was very long (953 pages) ; the longer the book was, the more you could really immerse yourself in the story. The longer the book, the longer the escape. Whatever the reason, that book ultimately changed my life. It did more than give me research, it seared into my heart, infusing it with an odd sense of hope. It had truly horrific stories, stories I still find myself thinking about sometimes, stories that go beyond heart-wrenching to terrifying. It also had stories of beauty in the midst of tragedy, human decency while life was being destroyed and miracles in the midst of evil. It inspired a life-long passion of the era, so much so that I even developed an entire curriculum when I was seventeen and managed to get that curriculum into a public school to teach it myself because I didn’t believe it was being adequately taught.

Anyway, in the middle of writing the reading this book and writing my own novel about it, we lived in a cabin in the middle of Pine Mountain, GA (aka: middle of nowhere). The cabin had a wraparound porch and it was very secluded. There wasn’t anything to do (cell phones were not a thing) and I remember one morning waking up early to a fog-drenched, misty dew and watching a deer in the backyard. It was a picturesque moment frozen in time that still makes me long for a cabin in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by all sides with mountains.

So … fast forward fifteen years or so and I understand more about how that book, while it did give me hope in the moment because it made me believe I could survive anything, it also hurt me because it made be believe that my story didn’t matter. It wasn’t as important as what I’d read, and that belief enabled me to be silent when I shouldn’t have been.

Today, we played a couple board games and Alight helped me with makeup application (Lord unless she is far more talented than I ever have been here) and we didn’t do a lot more. But, I found that, all day, the prayer for them today was that they would never wonder if their stories matter. My prayer all day was that they never compare themselves or their fears or their struggles to that of anyone else’s. Because the stories are in the details, and the details are always unique to each person. As I prayed, I felt God whisper : “They’re mine; I’ve got them.”

And one of the thirty seven stars I saw tonight winked; I was comforted.

My Gratitude List Today

  1. God’s got this. The election ? He’s got it. COVID? He’s got it. My sense of overwhelmedness : He can shoulder that, if I let Him. My past? He’s got it. And the most precious things in my life, my girls? He is the expert on what they need, and He’s the ultimate protector and provider
  2. Miracles. There are so many of them. So many times our lives have been spared, so many times we’ve been given a helping hand when we least expected, but most needed, it. So many times we’ve been Lazarus, given life in the form of grace. Each of the girls are proof miracles exist , and so am I. If we look for them, miracles are all around me. A baby girl was born in Auschwitz on the eve of liberation. By every rule, she should have been immediately murdered. Instead, both she and her mother survived. Miracle. My baby girls showed me what life really is, and gave me a reason to believe in tomorrow. Miracles.
  3. Stars. Counting them but also wishing on them. Because whether there are ten, sixty or a thousand, whether I can see them or not, I know they are there. Constantly twinkling, bright balls of fire dancing and lighting the night sky for those who need a moment’s distraction from reality.

Being grateful isn’t supposed to be hard or complicated. It’s about cultivating a habit of finding the small, seemingly insignificant things around us that are hidden gems. Gratitude is in expressing a confidence that life is good, whether it feels as such or not. Gratitude is in cultivating a sense of wonder and choosing to live in a state of awe.

Nearly 8 years ago I wrote to Martin Gilbert, the author of the book on the Holocaust. His wife emailed me back, thanking me, and assuring me that she’d read the letter to him. He was sick and couldn’t respond directly but that didn’t matter; what mattered was that he was able to hear that his life’s work, his passion for educating others and his thorough research, truly had mattered. I also wrote a letter to Holocaust survivors, Telling them my story and thanking them for giving me the courage and strength to go to a new day.

And, so, life is a circle; we hurt, we grow, we share and we pass the stories of our lives to someone else: to those who love us and who we love… and to those we’ve never met.