I‘m 6 months past 73 and folks around me are often sick. There are major and minor illnesses. There are major losses, like death, and less major losses: hair, flexibility, resilience, energy. Less sex.

I have been basically very healthy. “How are you doing?” someone might ask after detailing his/her difficulties and challenges, and I say: “I’m very well.” I counter my friend’s litany of illnesses with three simple words: “I’m very well.” I don’t take my health for granted, feel very grateful for these beautiful days of my life, but the experiences of others have an impact on me.

The photos above and below are the last I took in Chatham, Cape Cod, where we stayed for a week. When we first arrived, none of the peonies were open at all. The next day one opened. The day after that, another opened, and then, little by little, a few others opened. Not all, as you can see.

As the days went by, I noticed that a few had begun to droop before they’d opened. The petals of another turned brown right away, while another just seemed to stay young and gradually open the entire week we were there, not showing the slightest hint of a droop. All kinds of other things happened in the meantime: a gentle rain on our third day there followed by a crashing thunderstorm the night before we left, sunlight, clouds, gentle ocean breezes and very brisk winds. Karma happened, and each peony responded differently according to its genetics and where it grew in the garden. Some were gone before others, some died before they seemed to live, some seemed primed to live forever (which they won’t).

It was the most gorgeous week for peonies.

Consider us humans, as Aussie calls us. Some of us are sicker than others, some healthier, some younger and some older. We have different genes and face different life events, interacting with them differently from others. We get gentler, angrier, sweeter, frustrated, resigned, more tired, more energized.

“What are you doing now work-wise?” I ask an old friend.

“I’m completing things. You?”

“I’m starting things,” I reply.

There’s no unanimity anywhere, just like there’s no unanimity among the peonies.

But peonies are beautiful.

Human beings are beautiful.

Today, Juneteenth, based on an order freeing enslaved people in Galveston, Texas in 1865, we celebrate emancipation and freedom. I have no way to fathom slavery and its transition into freedom by decree. But this morning, after lighting incense to honor the day, I remembered my mother’s release from the concentration camp of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia.

“How did that happen?” I asked her when I was a young girl.

She shrugged. “The Russians came.”

“But what was that like?” Didn’t they celebrate? Didn’t they eat as much as they could after near-starvation? Didn’t they dance? Weren’t they happy they’d survived?

She shrugged again, as if I didn’t understand. “Of course, it was a good thing,” she finally said. “But then what? So many people dead, so much destruction. You’ve lived through so much. Finally you’re free and can leave the camps, but now what?”

It was one of many times when I realized that no matter how many times I listened to my mother, I could never really understand her because I’d never walked in her shoes, just like I never walked in the shoes of the black people in Texas when they heard about the emancipation.

You’re free—so now what? My mother returned home to Bratislava, most of whose Jews had been murdered, to the absence of a father and three siblings. You won’t die today or tomorrow, but life may well be a slow death, lived on the barest of sustenance, on relentless struggle, on unfulfilled dreams. Maybe you can walk farther than ever before, train up to Chicago and get a job in the slaughterhouses. Or like my mother, learn to sew to make a living, then leave Europe for Israel with an orphaned 3-year-old nephew.

One step at a time would have meant something very different to them than what it means now. Now it’s a reminder to stay grounded and mindful. Then they took one step at a time because there was little energy to take more, because there was bewilderment at these new circumstances, a gathering of family remnants, and a sense that this was going to be a long trek.

Today is Juneteenth and the trek continues. Now what?

Finally, a couple of days ago I checked my mailbox after not visiting it for 10 days and, among other things, retrieved an envelope from a man I never met who lives in Santa Barbara, a city with many warm memories for me. For several years he has sent me two checks each month. The larger one is for immigrant families, the smaller one for this blog. I’m so grateful to him for helping people he’s never met.

And while the smaller check is for this blog, I love it. Without this blog I can’t raise funds to send children to camp or to pay rent checks or utilities bills to keep homes warm in winter, get school supplies for the new school year or holiday gifts. The blog takes work and technical supervision. Some of the readers I know and some, like the gentleman in Santa Barbara, I don’t know from Adam. And still the flow continues.

I’m not much of a saver for old age or long-term care; the life this minute, this hour, is what counts. Every new situation that arises is not just a gate for me to explore more of this life, a demand to pay attention, it’s also another of life’s eyes seeing itself through my eyes, my experience. I face the challenge to put that into words every time I sit down to write. In the end, all I do is share the effort by putting useless words together.

You can support the blog using the button below. Many, many thanks.

                            Donate to My Blog                   Donate to Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.