I love fall season, especially the variegated trees of crimson, amber, and chartreuse-- as well as the smell of crisp, old leaves signaling a time of change. I know Thanksgiving is just around the corner, a holiday our family celebrates no matter where we live in the world. We have a Thanksgiving family tradition of giving ourselves space to think about what we are truly grateful for at this time and place.
This year I am grateful for the wisdom of the generations who came before me. I have the privilege to teach a wonderful group of women who are in early to late seventies and have been taking the same class for thirty years. They are a treasure trove of information filling me with golden nuggets of knowledge. Whenever I have a question about life in Germany, gardening, or geography, all I have to do is ask them and they eagerly impart their knowledge.
I realize that these women are walking encyclopedias of by-gone days. Their stories have weight, but is anyone listening? They are the industrious, hardworking, resilient generation who reformed Germany from ashes to riches. They are the backbone of Germany’s success known as the “Wirtschaftswunder,” the economic miracle.
Some of them were refugees of WWII who fled to Germany from Poland during the Russian invasion. They tell of stories of families having to live in one room or having to board with strangers who offered their homes. They are also, sadly, the generation that shoulders the guilt of WWII like a bucket of heavy tears.
One student said, “We’ve learned from our mistakes as a country and have paid for it. War is awful.”
When asked about their childhood, none whine about the hardships endured. They withstood the food shortages of their youth and mention how hard their parents, who lived through two world wars, had to work. Their parents had to remove the rubble by hand from the street to build new homes, gather firewood from the forest or steal coal to heat their houses, and use scraps of food to make meals to feed the family. The women say they were lucky to live through it and see their lives improve over the years.
A coaching client of mine told me about her mother’s experience. At age three, her mother had to sit on a bench alone in a cold apartment for two hours until her grandmother would come back with coals.
My client states, “these ladies are strong - and they never could allow themselves to grieve, it would have been to much. They have a different connection to their feelings. Sometimes they can hardly accept that you become emotional about things that all seem minor compared to the cruelty and suffer of war what makes it sometimes difficult for their children to allow themselves to express negative feelings. They have internalized to restrain themselves for the sake of others.”
In their younger days, a few of them were expats who lived in Iran, Canada, and Afghanistan with their budding families. They raised well-educated children. These ladies continue to travel to far off places like Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It seems like the more exotic the land, the more they benefit from their travels. I marvel at their robust energy and willingness to keep learning. There is no stopping them.
Instead of driving, some ride their bikes across town to attend English class, even on chilly, winter mornings. I once asked why they do it?
One answered, “In former days we didn’t have a car so we had to ride our bikes to get anywhere. We had no choice. So we just do it.” No complaining, no moaning. They are glad that they still have the physical ability therefore why stop?
They are a determined, no-nonsense group of dames, strong as steel yet kindhearted and modest. I get the feeling that they want me to succeed, live a good life, and embrace the Germany that they help build.
When I asked them what advice would they give to today’s younger generation, they stood on their beliefs:
1) Avoid war at all cost. 2) Respect everyone. 3) Travel and learn about other cultures. 4) Be tolerant.
I urge them to write would down their stories to share with their grandchildren. I hope that one day the next generation will appreciate the primacy of their grandparent’s role in the reconstruction of Europe after the war. I realize we all have a story to tell. Let’s listen to our elders and acknowledge that if it weren’t for them, we would not be living the comfortable life we have today.
Over To You.
What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving season? How does this story inspire you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Please leave a comment below.