Friday, February 12, 2010

March of the Living, Warren Buffett and the Meaning of Life

My daughter went on the March of the Living a number of years ago when she was in High School (grade 10 or 11)

The March takes kids from all over the world to Poland and on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) thousands march from Auschwitz to Berkinau to commemorate the six million Jews and millions of others killed by the Nazis. They then travel to Israel to see what arose from the ashes of the Holocaust and to celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel's Independence Day).

Stacey, my daughter, reports, like many others that have been on this trip, that the Poland portion seems surreal, a fantasy, unreal and unbelievable in many ways. Poland is seen in Black and White.

Israel, on the other hand, is filled with colour. The fantasy sense remains in some ways but the fantasy is of life and promise, optimism and vigour.

I am on my own March of the Living this week. Sadly, I am in the Poland part of the trip. Winnipeg truly is black and white. There is a lot of snow here and to me the snow always seems black and dirty in the Winnipeg winters - in some ways a reflection of my overall experiences of Winnipeg.

And the the fantasy part............

From the self created fantasy that my mother in law lives to the fantasy that sustains my own mother's life this is a surreal, unreal and unbelievable scene.

My mother is on a trip with her friend and will be going home soon.

She is, in reality, in the Simkin Centre of the Sharon Home, an excellent facility for seniors like my mother who has dementia. The care is wonderful, the security is sufficient and our (my sister and my own) need to be ensured that our mother is safe and well taken care of is more than satisfied.

But my mother is on a trip and will be going home soon.

When I walked into the room last night she immediately recognized me, called my wife by name and asked about the children. It was after her medication and at the beginning of the conversation there was no sign of the agitation that frequently grips her. We talked about the kids, showed her pictures of our new granddaughter and had a pleasant, relaxed time.

She then started to tell us that she would be going home in a few days. We've had these conversations regularly so our response was to assure her that when the right time came she would go home but for the time being she should enjoy where she is - she agreed.

We figure that except for a few things (like knowing she has children and grandchildren) she is back to the time when she was 24 or 25 years old. She speaks of her parents as if they were alive and have just stepped out of the room for a few moments. She talks of her brother as a young child and she rarely if ever mentions my father.

Surreal, fantastical, unreal and totally unbelievable.

I am reading The Snowball, Alice Schroeder's book about Warren Buffett. This is one weird man but I am finding the book fascinating. There are many lessons to be learned (the magic of compound interest is the topic of a future entry to this blog - I wish I understood the magic when I was young!)

I am reading the section of the book, close to the end, where his wife has undergone a very drastic operation for cancer of the mouth. Buffett, who does not handle these things very well, is clearly deeply affected by the situation.

During this time he makes a speech to a group of students at Georgia Tech. He is quoted in the book as saying:

"Basically when you get to my age, you'll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you."

He goes on to say:

"If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don't care how big your bank account is, your life is a disaster."

"That's the ultimate test of how you have lived your life. The trouble with love is that you can't buy it. You can buy sex. You can buy testimonial dinners. You can buy pamphlets that say how wonderful you are. But the only way to get love is to be lovable.(emphasis is mine) Its very irritating if you have a lot of money. You'd like to think you could write a check: I'll buy a million dollars' worth of love. But it doesn't work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get.(emphasis is mine again)"

Buffett is good but I prefer the Beatles: "And, in the end, the love you take/ Is equal to the love you make."

I look at these two older women in my life - my mother in law and my mother and I wonder how much better their lives would have been, then and now, if they would have understood and live by either Buffett's or the Beatles' words.

Our experiences with these women are a lesson - a life lesson - that needs to be learned for our own happiness and for the happiness of anyone that we love and who we care about whether they love us.

But the March of the Living has two parts - the black and white, painful part and the vibrant, colourful living part.

If you've read the previous entry you will guess that after the Winnipeg part of this trip we'll be moving on to Winston Salem where there is optimism, colour, celebration, happiness, delight, miracles and baby smells.

Other than the baby smells the list above could apply to all of my children - biological and "in-law". I am filled with optimism for them. They are all on life paths that are meaningful and productive. And more importantly they are all, each and every one of them, decent people - its hard to ask for more.

But no matter how much I love all my children the trip to Winston is special. Riley lives there. Jay and Dori are on the brink of defining their lives - careers, home, family, relationships, and all that goes with being young and on your way - it is exciting and a pleasure to watch.

But Riley is this bit of human joy - babies have unlimited potential - they are the receptacles for unending love - they create love where a person might have thought their love generating machine had been pensioned off.

We will go to Winston - like the kids on the March of the Living - to immerse ourselves in the surreal surroundings of hope and love - much different from the surreal surroundings of Winnipeg and the Sharon Home.

And we will start Riley off with where Buffett wants to end - with the unconditional, unlimited love that we have always offered to our children and family.

She has earned that love.

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Blogger Pat said...

A rambling post but beautiful in its own back and forth way. Family love is confusing and varied.Keep in mind that friends are part of the love thing as well

12:33 AM  
Anonymous Leila said...

Beautiful post full of sensitivity, and beautiful spiritual journey you describe. But please let´s not forget that in that same area that you describe as full of life, optimism and vigor, terrible abuses against human rights are being commited. Let´s learn from history so we don´t repeat it, let´s learn from the lessons the Holocaust teaches us, and let´s be compassionate not only to Jews but to all human beings in the world. I´m sure Holocaust victims would oppose any discrimination against other human beings, including Palestinians, like Jewish survivor Hedy Upstain does

I highly recommend the writings of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel prize-winner and activist against the South-African Apartheid, on the analogy between South Africa and Israel.

Peace and justice to all,

8:55 AM  

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