We showed up early for the graveside burial. Aunt Sabina was the last survivor of the remnant of my husband's family that survived the war. My husband was born in Poland at the tail end of the war and spent his childhood years at Bergen-Belsen, hastily refurbished after the war to be a DP Camp (Displaced Persons Camp) housing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who could not go back to their countries of origin.
We were early and as we stood alone we noticed something was wrong, very wrong. Aunt Sabina was being buried next to her husband, who had predeceased her, but there was no headstone or marker of any kind on his grave. We located the groundskeeper and asked the whereabouts of their daughter who had died a few years ago. He replied, "Oh, yes, she's up on that hill over there. There's no marker or headstone for her either."
The only person who knew the burial sites of the family was the groundskeeper? "How could this be? This does not happen in America. They’re in unmarked graves? Like they didn't exist? They didn't matter?" My husband was incredulous, shaking his head. Watching his last link to Europe being lowered in the ground, I could sense he was feeling displaced. I habitually read headstones when I walk through a cemetery. "I see you," I silently whisper as I walk down the rows. Don't we all want to be noticed, to be witnessed, even after death, even by a passing stranger? We are hard-wired for connection. It's the basis of well-being.
Most mornings, my husband and I have coffee togther before he heads out. Usually, within 5 minutes of his leaving the house, the phone rings. I check the caller ID and it's my husband, calling just to say, "Hi." "Umm, yea, I'm pretty much the same as I was 5 minutes ago. Yea, I'm still in my robe. Are you good? OK. I love you too, sweetheart."
We are connected and interconnected. When I make him coffee, I add sweetener, just the way he likes it. When he orders pizza for dinner, he brings back hot peppers, just the way I like it. He knows when I'm pretending to listen. I know when he's hiding his worry. He understands why I worry about the future. I know his childhood wounds. We are each other's observers, the witnesses of each other's lives.
We notice and we see the good in each other. It may sound boring, but I want my routine comings and goings to matter. I want someone to notice when I can't fall asleep or wonder why I am up so early, or why I am nervously eating again even though I had dinner 30 minutes ago.
Simply, an observed life matters, and when we observe each other, when we stand witness to each other, seeing each other fully, and loving what we see, we matter to that which matters most. We can never feel the despair of isolation and disconnection, and we can never ever be displaced. We are finally home.
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