I was on a transatlantic flight from Paris to the USA in late October…when I noticed an older lady, elegantly dressed with a boucle blazer showcasing a gorgeous flower shaped brooch, and black pants. She was elegant and simultaneously very simple. She was seated only two rows or so in front of me and I couldn’t but overhear her, sweetly talking to those around her in a bit of a broken English, a strong German accent.
I observed her movements throughout the entire journey – you cannot but become familiar with those around you on a 7-9 hour flight. During those hours, those individuals become your world, a dimension I often pondered upon. We finally reached land and were getting ready to pick up our carry ons and bang! She hit her head. I was very close and offerred my hand to help – “Let me help you, please.” She smiled profusely as she received her carry on and from this point until baggage claim, we started conversing about our lives, backgrounds and the reasons why we were in the USA.
I learned her name: Willy Von Gool de Jager from Holland. She was traveling to the USA to meet with a number of students across the nation and share her knowledge, memories and lessons from friends and neighbors of hers who had been prisoners and survivors of the Holocaust camps across Europe. My heart shrank. I felt I was in the presence of real human history – one of those unforgettable moments of one’s life.
One conversation lead to another – I knew she had much to teach me, I was the student at that point as we must humbly become often when the time arises. We talked about life and survival, love and death, light and darkness. She was joyous and smiling in all her responses and reactions – a gentle spirit in all explanations. I asked her how she felt about technology and the overload of social media and communication that almost defy human communication – I explained that, though I’m young I sometimes feel so close yet so far from those my age, that as a writer, it is almost a need for me to express myself but that I always struggle with the use of technology often retreating to pen and paper instead, that I like coffee or tea and good, deep, meaningful conversation – and that human expression, love, and friendship have almost taken on a platonic meaning today because of fast, superficial media interactions.
She listened so carefully to my questions – focused with the same gentle smile and then answered “Francesca, you must keep on reflecting at your own pace and writing. You must only be yourself. And when you want, give me a call or write me a letter – I don’t have email and don’t use the computer much…..”
Our luggage arrived……I accompanied her to her driver……and we parted ways with a big hug.
Today, in remembrance of the atrocities of Auschwitz, other Holocaust camps across Europe and those who either painfully survived or never made it back to light and life……I remembered the precious lessons of Willy Von Gool De Jager and hope that they will touch your heart as much as they touched mine…..
Here’s a photo I took with Willy that October day………and one of Anne Frank and her diary – an inspiration for all of us on the simplicity and joy that real life and real love should provide.
“Quanto sarebbero buoni gli uomini, se ogni sera prima di addormentarsi rievocassero gli avvenimenti della giornata e riflettessero a ciò che v’è stato di buono e di cattivo nella loro condotta.” (Anna Frank)
“How good would men be, if every night before falling asleep they would relive the happenings of the day and would reflect on the good and bad in their conducts.” (Anne Frank)