An Obituary and a Family Plan

There’s nothing like reading a great obituary to start my day. One in today’s New York Times is a case in point.

Headline, “Paul Ornstein, 92, Holocaust Survivor Who Promoted Self-Psychology, Dies.”

He met his wife as a young teenager.Their story is bafflingly beautiful. They fell in love. They were separated during the Holocaust. They both miraculously survived and assumed the other had died in a death camp. Later, they found each other. She’d been liberated from Auschwitz. He’d escaped his forced labor battalion. They both then enrolled in medical school.

The following words in the obituary shocked me: “He…enrolled in medical school in Hungary to pursue a career in psychoanalysis, inspired by his curiosity about what had motivated the anti-Semitism he experienced.”

Curiosity? Can you imagine? Of all the things he could be have been motivated by after surviving the Holocaust.  He chose curiosity about the mind of the enemy.

The obituary continues:

“Dr. Anna Ornstein [his wife] said in an interview on Monday…‘It was never easy to be a Jew in Hungary, but when the ultimate hell broke loose, we were extra fortunate in terms of the parenting, the care and love we had as children,’ she said. ‘We had very sturdy self-esteem. As much as we were humiliated, we never felt demeaned because we came from a culture and emotional environment that we could be proud of. We were called ‘dirty Jews,’ but we knew who we really were.’”

I paused my silent reading at the breakfast table and began reading out loud to my children.

I don’t know what their future holds. I can pray they have the kind of self-esteem that dear Paul Ornstein had which is not the mushy, “everyone-wins-a-trophy” kind of self-esteem so prevalent in American culture.

But more than a prayer, I can do the work.  I can come back to our Family Plan. Within it is our family’s mission statement and our statement of identity that begins with the words, “Who Sandefers are.”  We framed this long ago and I tucked it into a drawer as it started gathering dust.

Today I will take it out, dust it off, and put it back out on the family counter.

Part of the Hero’s Journey is discovering who we are. Part of being an Acton family is taking charge of claiming your identity and recalling it often, together. Writing a Family Plan is a solid process for doing this.

This is not merely to feel good. It may just be to survive.