I am eternally grateful for the gifts given to me by my Aunt. Those gifts, firmly planted in my heart, are used to harvest the resilience needed when life challenges you. My blaringly honest, passionate Aunt who embraced me without judgment is the spirit of inspiration. Her apartment was located two blocks from the old Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. As I sat in this old grey, soft cushy chair, the sounds and silences of the subway and Yankee Stadium would permeate through the old weather worn windows.
Her stories were numerous; an encounter with the dreaded polio epidemic; the eleven operations to prevent her foot from growing; six years of endless job searches as discrimination for the disabled was common place; the excitement of finally getting a job and working for the same boss for over fifty years; her unabated generosity as she handed out sandwiches to the alcoholics who lined a street called The Bowery; the iron brace on her left leg made going up and down the subway steps an Olympic feat; the alcoholics, grateful for her gift empathy and food, gathered around her to ensure her safety down the subway; an accidental meeting of her future husband; the explosion of independence when she learned to drive a car; her insistence to my parents that my sister, brother and I should always have a “good pair of shoes” so up and down Fordham Road (the steepest hill in the Bronx) we shopped gleefully oblivious to the stamina and strength it took her to get us those shoes!
During a recent musical tour of Prague and Krakow, I had the unique opportunity to perform in halls which captivated the essence of perfection. The timbre of the instruments reverberating off the gilded domes allowed us to dream while communicating a message of hope. When I visited Terezinstadt Concentration Camp near Prague, I followed the train tracks until they abruptly ended at yellow innocent looking building. This was the crematorium, an endless boundary of destroyed dreams. My thoughts were not of hate or anger but of remembrance for those who perished in the ashes of humanity. I felt an urgency to go back to New York City to teach students about defining social justice and the democratic concepts inherent in the beauty of music.
My elation on arriving back in NYC was short lived. My voice, the voice which found a way to lift the spirits of many became silent. Silent….and still. The voices of negativity gained strength through the newspapers, mass media, and internet blogs as they shouted “stupid teachers….lowest third in their class…..responsible for all the ills of the educational mainstream.” I was silenced. Silence can be profound silence, it could be a resting silence, but eventually that silence serves no purpose or function. Yet in the silence my Aunt’s stories offered me solace. Stop…. listen to your voice again and start the process anew.
My Aunt was strength, wisdom and empathy. There were so many challenges and difficulties that life threw her way; as if they were pebbles in the sand rather than mountains she could never climb. Thank you Aunt Sarah for helping me find my voice…. again. My Aunt died one year ago.