One of the first sentences I heard today was “I think you’re too hard on yourself.”
The source was a man who I work with by association, and he barely knows me.
I tend to take all comments to heart. I absorb them, dissect them, process them.
This morning though, not so much. I just said, “Yeah, I think you’re right”
And he is.
I need to be kinder to myself.
Just this weekend I realized in the process of striving to grow, heal and improve – I had become my own bully.
I find the people that barely know me, have a better perspective than those with a lot of information.
Who we are on the surface, if we’re being authentic, really is a very accurate glimpse of who we really are deep inside.
You can judge my book by my cover apparently – as I’m very easy to read and wear my heart on my sleeve.
And I’m open to hearing what my cover is saying to people.
I think that for me, not wanting people to judge me until they know ‘the whole story’ is a cop out. It’s directly contradictory to the theory that we decide how to behave and choose who to be. My story is nothing more than an excuse.
My actions today – my cover – my choices … are who I am.
My interview with Rainer Höss. Part I
**In honor of Rainer’s book release in Germany, I am reblogging this interview from May. Click on the Amazon link within the interview to purchase the book. There still WILL be a part II to the interview, Rainer has been very busy but things seem to be finding a chaotic rhythm for him lately. On a personal note, congratulations Rainy on the book – I’m so proud to see you holding it! 🙂 **
It is 3:15 am in Germany as I begin my writing. My friend ‘Rainy’ is sleeping. I miss the ‘ding’ of the email as he shares more and more about his journey, his hopes and his fears.
He is a book I cannot put down – a person I have come to deeply respect and care for in a short time. I do not know what time or even what day it will be in Germany when I finish. Or if I’ll ever be finished.
While it has to be mentioned to make any sense, this post is not going to be about his grandfather, Rudolf Hoess, (Höss, Höß) Commandant of Auschwitz.
It’s not for at least two very good reasons.
1) I am smart enough to know that I am too ignorant on the topic to have the nerve to offer any opinions or insights. There are far too many souls who have been personally harmed. I will not rehash only what is available to me on the internet and in history books. That information can’t begin to afford me the experience to decide how it must have felt, how it must have been. I will not disrespect those who have personally been affected by the holocaust.
2) My intention from day one was to offer Rainer’s story. His story, in my voice.
When I first saw him in a documentary I was immediately pulled into his world.
He cried, I cried. He was nervous standing before a group of students, I was nervous. He looked around the Villa where his father grew up on the grounds of Auschwitz, I was peering around the corners with him.
Rainer outside of the Villa at Auschwitz, where his father lived
So engrossed was I in that documentary, Hitlers Children, that it affected me profoundly.
We all have family secrets … personal shame about something or another and a lot of us must confess to having at least one ‘monster’.
That in mind, I could not fathom the magnitude of bearing the weight of not only having a most well-known ‘monster’ (I have a problem using that word) in my past, but it not being a secret.
Far from it.
Once Rainer shares his last name – the speculation and judging begins.
It is here that I will offer my ever so humble opinion.
We cannot be great people because our ancestors have done great things, so it stands to reason that we cannot be evil if our ancestors have done evil things.
I believe that those in fear, and still suffering, need something tangible to blame. Someone in the flesh to hear their story and to turn their anger on.
And that is not fair. And that is not right.
Rainer has said often he fears he has his grandfathers evil in him, “As if it could be inherited.”
My heart swells and my instinct is to protect – I do not believe for one minute that evil can be inherited. I believe that we choose our own paths and that we are not defined by our forefathers deeds. Or, more to the point, we don’t have to be. Sometimes our circumstances make it harder to take a different route, but it can be done.
As Rainer said to me, “To come to terms with your past, it takes a lot of strength, but it is also worthwhile to confront his demons. Rising to the task, and where there is a will there is a way. Of course, the path is sometimes rocky and hard, and not immediately visible. Giving up is too easy.”
Let me tell you about Rainer Hoess, who chose not to give up.
His favorite color is blue. “I could paint everything blue around me. The blue color gives me a sense of harmony and security.”
He likes to sit outside on his terrace and look at the stars at night, thinking about nothing. Sometimes with one of his cats in his lap.
He loves diving in the ocean, kickboxing, jogging, cycling.
He practices Tai Chi and Chi Gong daily for focus.
He is well-traveled, educated, genuine and loves his family. He often mentions his 4 beautiful children and his two beloved grandchildren.
And yet, in his words, “Often you stand before the mirror in the morning and look at yourself, similarities, comparing yourself with this monster. The worst thing is that you being to ask yourself the question, what I have of him that I do not know yet?”
I argued with him – pointed out how very different he is from his grandfather, from his own father even! But how can I think for one minute I have the right to do that? I am not walking in his shoes.
He went on to say, as we discussed his never-ending research, “I am always deeply penetrated into the psyche of my grandfather and have therefore often put myself in danger.” He was speaking of his health – his obsessive research in an attempt to understand, resulted in 3 heart attacks. He immersed himself in a desperate quest. (Which resulted in this book.)
But Rainer is also a thrill seeker – an adrenaline junky. “It gives me the opportunity to make myself free of these constraints of society. Myself to determine how far I want to go. There is also a kind of therapy to overcome boundaries.”
I think it’s also a vehicle to get out of his own head, if only for a little while – to feel something other than the weight of his ancestry.
Good thing he has a God of his understanding on his side.
Rainer also studied theology in his ‘free time’, “To cover all eventualities in my research and to get answers of my questions”
He went on to tell me, “But in churches I encountered a lot of misunderstanding after my questions. Faith as a shield and excuse for such crimes I cannot accept. And especially the denial of this crime by some churches and their leaders.”
Rainer is not in denial.
Rainer in the barracks in Birkenau
“To me it’s important that my generation had the chance to speak. Because what we have seen and experienced applies to everyone, and not just for descendants of Nazis.”
And speak he does. To students, to survivors. Rainer is on a mission to speak out in hope of understanding, healing and prevention for all who care to listen.
“Many believe what they read in the media, whether it’s true or not. They want to get to know me really the least, because who would gladly look in the mirror of his own soul through me?”
I wanted to look.
And as for the ‘Rainy’ nickname at the beginning. I know Rainer isn’t pronounced like Rain-er in German.
But when I saw the man who was raised to believe “A Hoess does not cry!” shed tears at Auschwitz – I cried along with him.
This morning I said to him,
“I’m glad to know the Hoess that DOES cry.
Tears are cleansing.
(All photographs copyright of Rainer Hoess. Used with permission. All quotes and material is owned by Debauchery Soup/Amanda Hoskins.)
Prelude to something big …
Not in my wildest dreams could I have conjured the events following my post “There is such good …”
The following day, I checked my email as usual and promptly sat with my ipad as if I were holding the most precious, fragile item with shaking hands.
An email – from Germany.
Not just any email. An email from Rainer Hoess.
“Thanks for your comfort article at your website (There is such good) Warm and friendly regards from Germany“
I haven’t been in shock many times in my life. I can assure you, I was, at that moment, in total and complete shock.
It’s not often the subject of something that touches you so profoundly contacts you. Okay, NEVER does the subject of something that has touched me so profoundly been in contact.
I did not know what to do. Other than sit – and stare at my email as if it were going to suddenly delete itself if I looked away.
Do I reply?? I thought perhaps not – I didn’t want to bother him with my gushing compliments and over the top thank you’s for taking the time to write a note to me. But, then I thought, WHEN am I ever going to have this opportunity again?
So I proceeded to embarrassingly gush and thank.
I hit ‘send’ while holding my breath. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t breathing anyway.
I’m barely functioning at this point. How to read when my vision is swimming? Comprehend the words when my brain is doing some odd dance in my head? And how to use the touch screen when I can’t feel my extremities??
I’ll save the rest for the big event, but let me just say, after some 32 emails back and forth later – he graciously agreed to allow me to interview him.
I know how huge this is. I know.
And a part of me is terrified I’m going to let this amazing man down. But he trusts me.
And I trust my voice.
And I want to be a part of his generations effort to offer healing and hope.
I want to focus on his journey. A man who has struggled with coming to terms with his past. A past he had no part in, but is still persecuted for.
So watch this space.
I’ll be continuing to get to know this funny, insightful, delightful, strong, brave and caring man.
Then I will share some of him with you.
Laundry, BTK and me.
I think I must be having a growth spurt.
I have not been able to turn off my thoughts of late. My imagination is working so much overtime, its in danger of having it’s hours cut back. I can’t afford to pay it.
Here’s an example – not the most profound, but the most recent. So I’m at the laundromat (surprise!) and on the way, had to stop at the pharmacy. I go in, purchase my items – have a brief interaction with one of those cashiers that make you feel like you’ve just interrupted them, then get back in the car.
Now, I have a very acute sense of smell. I can tell you what you’re having for lunch from the scent of the microwave, I know what perfume you’re wearing and I smell a fire from miles away.
So I’m in the car … and the scent of ‘man’ washes over me. Not a bad smell … but out of place in my car. My mind races to that urban legend. You know the one, the woman stops for gas, thinks the attendant is creepy when it turns out the attendant is just trying to warn her about the real danger. The man who got into the back of her car. Yeah, I’m there in my head.
I turn around truly expecting there’s a possibility some murderer is hiding behind my seat and then … mentally thunk myself on the forehead.
Oh, that’s right. There IS a man in my house now. He calls me mom.
But then that thought segued. As all my thoughts do. I had watched a documentary this morning about Charlie Otero, a surviving family member of some of the BTK’s victims. Super touching. At one point, they interviewed another man, a son of a woman Rader killed.
The camera panned in to a pot belly, scratched up swollen hands, fingers grasping a cigarette in one and a can of beer in the other.
The man spoke about Rader and blamed everything on him – from his past drug abuse to his current alcoholism. He self tattooed to experience the pain that seemed to sooth. At first I felt sorry for him. I know what it is to want to hurt. Sometimes you just want to feel. Just feel. Then you surpass that and don’t want to feel anything at all.
BUT. Then I was a little mad. He was 5 when his mother was murdered. I don’t know if he had support or a healthy environment after that. He sat with the man the documentary was about and they both agreed, yes, they were a product of their environments.
But … no.
I had an internal argument with myself. On one hand, yes, traumatic events manifest in ways that are deep and permanent. On the other hand, you get to decide how the rest of your story goes.
Then I felt guilty – what if he hadn’t been given tools to cope? What if he didn’t read? We can only know what we experience. We can only experience what we explore.
THEN I get to thinking – who am I to judge this man?? Who says I get to sit on my couch and have the thought that he oughta be deciding to be happy.
There are certain sounds I hear that trigger a visceral physical reaction. Smells and textures too. My stomach will literally drop, a WHOOSH of cold spreads from the bottom of my feet up my leg and into my gut. I know that trauma manifests and leaps out at you from out of nowhere sometimes. So what makes me different from that man?
For years and years I chose NOT to be happy. Lost myself in mind numbing. Ended up only giving myself more reasons to want to be numb.
So because I had an epiphany – because I dove into healing – does that entitle me to sit on my purple couch and tut at someone who is still in the numb phase? No.
I think in this case it’s me tutting at behaviors I used to engage in. I was looking into a mirror.
So lately that’s what’s been going on. I need to learn that not everyone is on the same rung. I have far to go myself. I just need to love everyone around me and stop comparing.
Also should probably check my car before I get in it – just in case. My journey does not need a stowaway.
The ugly truth
I’ve put this off – taking people’s feelings into consideration. But it’s time.
I felt brave this week – wearing the brighter lipstick, the eye makeup. As a rule, I only wear rice powder, light mascara a little color on my cheeks and a swipe of lipstick.
I wanted to try something different.
I even wore a beautiful large necklace on Monday – I felt like I had a neon sign over my head ‘LOOK!’
Please don’t look I was saying on the inside.
I’ve been told, and I know that by societies standards, I’m pretty. I don’t consider myself beautiful – but I had nothing to do with my genes and it is a fact, I am not ugly.
Besides not liking to wear makeup, I can’t wear necklaces with earrings at the same time and vice versa.
I can’t wear clothes that draw attention to myself. (Someone complimented me on a particular outfit – that someone was male. I haven’t worn it since).
I don’t want to be looked at for my outside appearance.
I don’t want you to tell me I’m pretty.
Pretty hasn’t served me well.
Pretty has littered my life with ugly.
I have been molested, I have been raped. Multiple times. I have been disrespected, I have been leered at.
I want my soul to be seen. My soul is pretty.
I want my mind to be seen. It is sharp and full of interesting things.
I want my deeds to be felt – my abilities recognized.
I want my heart to be heard beating – maybe that’s why I have tachycardia … maybe it’s trying extra hard?
I want to one day, be in a relationship and not cringe at a touch. To be able to be told I’m pretty and glow with appreciation.
I’ve forgiven the many men who have hurt me. I have forgiven myself for the promiscuity bred from being taught that was love.
But nurture has made more of an impression on my psyche than nature.
I will heal. I will. I have come so far.