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The Future is Now

April 5, 2020 Leave a comment

NHT

At 2 years and 10-months he started school; Pre-k, 3-days a week. His first day was two days after 9/11. I’ll never forget the unsettling, hollow feeling that overwhelmed me as I dropped him off that day. He, seemingly had no idea that our lives had just changed forever. Smiling from ear-to-ear in excitement, he was ready. I was lost. I suspect we all were somewhat fragile at that time; young mothers and fathers just dipping their toes into this new phase of parenthood. How could you leave this totally-dependent, tiny human-being whom you are 100% responsible for, with strangers?

They don’t know him like I do. They don’t love him like I do.

Those thoughts alone are enough to rattle even the most confident among us when it comes to our kids but on the heels of 9/11, there was a much deeper sense of uncertainty that consumed me. For me, the fundamental definition of safety as I knew it, as an American and now, in the most important role of my life as a mother, was completely compromised.  There was little time to process or find any perspective in 9/11 when, like herds of deer caught in headlights all over the country, we took our children to school for the very first time.

It wasn’t long before it became clear to me that even though he may have been too young to understand exactly what was happening at the time, he too had obviously been effected. Maybe it was me or the vibe of all the other adults around him projecting this newfound fear & uncertainty but there was undoubtedly an emotional takeaway of that time period for my pre-schooler. It showed itself that December when he and his classmates made candles for their families right before the winter school break. Each child was asked what they wished for everybody.

I wish that everybody would be safe.

Next month that same curious, little, blond-haired boy who I was so afraid would be misunderstood and not seen in the same wonderful way in which I see him, graduates from college. All across the country, graduation ceremonies have been cancelled  because of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Our 2020 graduates will not wear caps and gowns this year. They will not walk across a stage to receive their diplomas. There will be no celebratory dinners, gatherings or parties. For his and the health of our family, we won’t see my son that day. I’m not actually sure when we’ll see him next. He’s been distance-learning this last semester from his apartment in Pennsylvania near his school and we live in New York.

I can’t help but be struck by the parallels between these two pivotal times in his life. I’m reminded about the swirl of uncertainty that permeated the air when our children began their educational journeys and I think about how next month, so many of these children will leave their formal education amidst a similar, life-changing event, also riddled with an unrivaled uncertainty. These college grads were the pioneers of growing up, learning and living in a new America, never knowing a time when, “If you see something, say something.” wasn’t a household phrase. Now, almost 19 years later, that candle remains on my mantle, a subtle reminder of what has become an underlying mantra that has guided this boy’s life ever since, and I wonder. I wonder about these graduates all across our country. Those young adults full of hope and promise, on the verge of beginning their lives. What were their takeaways 19 years ago when they began school, full of hope and promise? What mantra has steered their lives ever since? What will become their driving force now, as a result of all of this? What will guide them through?

Perhaps it’s befitting that these people are, at a second crucial point in their lives, pioneers, again. This time, they’ll take the reigns in an unprecedented, unfamiliar way of living, in what will no doubt become a new America, again. It makes me wonder too, about the irony of these two critical times and whether or not there’s something bigger at play. Our children are our future and for many of us, the future is now.

I’m curious and feel hopeful that the future is in the hands of those who wish, everybody to be safe.

 

 

Guenter J Szczuka 1940 ~ 2017

July 27, 2017 8 comments

I had the honor of writing and delivering my Dad’s eulogy at his funeral recently and wanted to share it with those of you who knew him but were unable to attend his service. 

my dad

My Dad was born in 1940.

Family en Szczuka

(R-L) Guenter, Papa, George, Irene, Mama, Christine

His early childhood was spent in war-torn Germany where he experienced firsthand the horrifying atrocities of war. He witnessed things no child  should ever have to see or suffer through.

At age 18, he left his parents, a sister and a brother to immigrate to this country. He followed in the footsteps of his older sister, my Tante Christine, in search of a better life.

For my Dad, that “better life” began when he met a beautiful, Irish-born woman who made my sister, myself and my brother, first generation Americans and to whom my Dad lovingly referred to as his Dah-ling.  Always.

They married in September, 1961 and while there were many things we didn’t understand about my Dad, there was never a doubt that he adored and cherished our mom. This year they would have celebrated 56 years of marriage.

kiss

My Dad had a strong work ethic, something he passed along to myself and my siblings.

He worked hard at everything he did, although work didn’t always come easy to him in the early years. Initially, he was a painter’s apprentice. My mom used to say it was “Feast or Famine” in the beginning of their marriage.

He was resourceful though and my mom would also, often, tell the story of how during one of those famine-years, when my older sister was first born, my Dad scoured the streets picking up discarded bottles in order to collect enough “return” money to  make sure there was a gift from Santa under the tree for her first Christmas.

young dad

Food was always a big part of my Dad’s life. I think because he had so little of it during the war.

He couldn’t bear to see it wasted.

He loved cooking and baking and was pretty good at it — most of the time. smile

treats
Special thanks to my niece Veronica for making “Opa’s -famous- Treats” in his honor for the luncheon after his funeral.

I have fond memories of my Dad making caramelized candy and fonder memories of him making donuts — real old-fashioned, delicious donuts in our kitchen.

The hardest part for us kids would be waiting for the dough to rise. It felt like forever but once it did, he would roll it out on the counter, flour the end of a drinking glass and drop the dough into hot oil. He’d sit us up on top of the refrigerator so we could watch the doughy-circle-molds expand into pure donut yummy-ness!

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My Dad loved chocolate, dressing up for masquerade parties, soccer and hockey. Pele was his man and the Islanders were his team. For most of our childhood, we lived on the 4th floor of an apartment building in New Rochelle and everyone, I mean EVERYONE in the building knew when the Islanders scored a goal.

He loved music. While other kids grew up listening to the Beatles, we grew up listening to the ever-popular, traditional volksmusik-singing-sensation & one man wonder — Heino.

Over 50-million records sold!smile

My Dad’s childhood left many scars on him. He was a complicated man.

As a teenager in High School I tried to make a connection with him. I would make his lunch every night for work the next day and leave a small note in his bag letting him know if I had a test, a game or if something special was happening that day. Sometimes I would just write “Have a good day!” but he never responded, acknowledged or mentioned them to me.

Many years later I found out that he had kept those notes, each and every one of them, in a box in his drawer.

He and I walked a similar path in some respects. We shared some of the same struggles. It was difficult for him to express his feelings — until recently.

What happened to my Dad changed him.

circle

I’ve come to view his recent stroke — as devastating as it was to all of us, especially him — as a blessing in a way.

He showed us again and again how strong he was at the core of his being.

After 3 weeks in the ICU, we were pretty much lead to believe that the chances of him ever speaking or walking again were slim to none. And although his dementia progressed during this time as well — so did his ability to let go of the chains of his past, allowing him to be the man I think he always wanted to be. He became oddly contented. He was more open and mellow. He was always happy to see us. He had a pleasant demeanor. He was clever and funny, full of playful humor, eager to engage in any way he could, be it a nod, lifting a hand, pointing a finger or sticking out his tongue.

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He worked hard at his recovery. Not surprisingly, he DEFIED the odds.

We saw him walk AND heard him speak again — in English AND in German.

walk

Some might say that was a miracle. At a minimum, it was a gift.

And as difficult as this has been for our family — especially my brother who so gallantly & lovingly navigated my Dad’s care — we are blessed and feel grateful to have had this time with him.

Ihre arbeit ist getan Papa. Wir Lieben dich. Mögest du in Frieden ruhen.

all

Your work is done Daddy. We love you. May you rest in Peace.

Obituary

Photo Credits: ©2017 Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

 

Web

September 5, 2016 12 comments
Web

An early morn’ encounter with a web unleashes a host of provocative thoughts.

spider

The Spider and the Fly

 

“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to show when you are there.”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
-can ne’er come down again.”

Photo Credit: Web ©2016 KarenSzczukaTeich&Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

We The Jury ~ And Then There Were Six Part III

July 19, 2015 4 comments

ajuror

Opening Statements on Tuesday took the entire day. The Plaintiffs’ attorney spoke first on behalf of his clients, a man and his wife. The couple had five children and had been married for nearly 40-years. Basically, the attorney outlined their case, telling us a tragic story about how a seemingly healthy, happy, successful man in his late 50s went to the hospital on a cold winter’s day in January six years ago with chest pain. The man was given an electrocardiogram (EKG) an essential, initial evaluation of a patient suspected to have heart problems. It’s a non-invasive procedure whereby 12 small, sticky electrodes are placed on various parts of your chest. The electrodes monitor the electrical activity of your heart and transfer the information to an EKG machine which prints the heart’s activity out in wavy lines on special graph paper. After having the EKG, it was determined that the man should be transferred to a local hospital that had a Catheritization-Laboratory (Cath-Lab). This is a special room that has diagnostic equipment that allows a doctor to view and treat arteries of the heart.

aheart

In the Cath-Lab, a stent (small expandable metal tube) was placed in the man’s left anterior descending artery otherwise known as the widow maker. A stent holds the artery open while allowing blood to flow freely. Unfortunately, the stenting process resulted in a jailed artery. This happens when plaque is inadvertently moved by the stent or metal from the newly placed stent blocks a side artery or branch during the procedure. The heart surgeon attempted to re-open the side branch unsuccessfully and to avoid further risk to the patient, made the decision to close off or jail the side artery. The Plaintiff was sent to the Cardio-Thoracic Step Down Unit (a recovery floor that is one step below an intensive care unit and one step above a general surgery unit). Here, the attorney alleged, due to negligent care, the man suffered a third heart attack, resulting in subsequent operations and procedures including having to wear a heart vest (much like a wearable defibrillator), having a Dor procedure, having a battery operated left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted under his skin and ultimately a heart transplant followed by several open heart surgeries because due to infection. Needless to say the man’s ability to work and function as a husband and father was changed for the rest of his life.

So began the trial and a journey among strangers that would ask us to settle what we would deem a perfect storm. What happens when a group of people spend the majority of their waking hours together, often confined to a room for long periods of time, every day for what would turn out to be several weeks in a row, each being exposed to the same experience yet undoubtedly processing it differently? You get to know people in a way that you don’t get to know even your co-workers whom you might see daily when you are in a situation like this. All of the superficial, ritual fluff that comes with the process of getting to know someone is immediately shed exposing the core of them, their struggles and strengths, their values and beliefs rather quickly. There’s no time or space for anything less.

Life is a series of stories and each of us has our own to tell.

Juror #1, Gloria
First on the daily sign in sheet, first on line to enter the courtroom, Gloria sat in the first row, first seat closest to the witness stand in the jury box. A retired caretaker in a rehabilitation center, she’s a woman in her 60s, of medium height with short, silvery hair parted to the side and curled around the edges. She’s a smoker with a slightly weathered exterior. Gloria was a solid woman; very smart and of humble beginnings who had mothered four children who were now grown. She had a terrible condition that often caused her to cough uncontrollably at random times during court, causing the Judge to sometimes pause the proceedings and offer her water, to which she said, “only made it worse.” After about two weeks into the trial, a witness, who was a nurse, tried to offer her assistance from the witness stand. The judge gently admonished the witness. No communication of any kind is allowed with the jury, at any time. Gloria was relieved as a juror shortly after that. I was never sure if it was because of her condition, the interaction with the witness or both but she told us she was glad to leave, saying she didn’t think she would have been able to make a decision in the end. I was sad to see her go.

aview

Photo Credit: Juror #2, John, who took this picture while flying his helicopter over the courthouse one weekend during the trial.

Juror #2, John
John is 60. Second in line, second seat in the jury box. A white-haired retired detective who also flew helicopters for the police department and coast guard in earlier days. Nowadays, he flies for a private company that services very wealthy people and celebrities including Bon Jovi, Jerry Seinfeld and President Clinton. After the first day or two, John suggested we go around the jury room and tell everyone a little bit about ourselves. It was the starting point of getting to know one another in a meaningful way. His presence had a stabilizing effect on the dynamic of our group. John’s story like so many others includes a tragic, heartbreaking event. We learned that he lost his 17-year old son in a fatal car crash. Ironically, as I learned about John’s son, my own 16-year old son was taking his road test for his driver’s license. I couldn’t bear to think about John’s loss and I truly marveled at his pleasant demeanor and even-temperament. John came to the jury room with a new joke every day.

A cat and mouse went to heaven. When up there, the mouse met up with St. Peter who asked the cat what he thought of heaven. “I like it lot,” he said. “Although, it’s just very big and hard to get around sometimes. If I had a pair of roller skates, that would helpful.” St. Peter quickly granted his request, and off the mouse went. A few days later St. Peter bumped into the cat. “How are you finding heaven?” he asked the cat. “Well, at first I thought it was, eh, okay,” the cat said, “but when I realized you had a Meals on Wheels program, I thought it was great!”

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Juror #3, Dolores
I can’t explain why but from day 1, I felt very connected and drawn to Dolores. She is a very attractive African American woman in her late 70s. Her facial features are pointed, small and clearly defined. She wore just enough rouge to highlight her petite cheekbones and smooth, glowing brown skin. A tall, thin woman, her hair is the color of a cultured pearl, arranged in soft, short, dangling cornrow braids that cover her whole head although don’t fall too far below her ears. It was so beautiful. I wanted to ask her if she did her hair herself but Delores is a private, proud person and I didn’t want to be intrusive. She kept many of her opinions to herself except when it came to voicing her opinions on politics. She has strong views, as most of us do. The mother of three children, two boys and a girl, one of her sons was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was in his twenties. Dolores’ husband suffered a stroke and she was his caretaker for 28 years before he passed. She worked for Planned Parenthood for over 30 years and was now retired. There is a quiet, self –assured-ness about Dolores that exudes wisdom. I saw a rock-solid, inner strength in her and an inner peace that I aspire to have one day.

I was Juror #4
Fourth in line, fourth seat in the first row of the jury box. Although I was not seated in the middle of the jury box, I was seated in the middle of “the well”, the space between the Judge’s bench and the attorneys’ tables. The podium used by the Defense attorneys stood right in front of me. The court reporter sat slightly to my right in front of the Judge’s bench. I could read on her laptop screen what she typed on her stenotype machine. I had a perfect view of the courtroom. I felt honored to be a part of this process and recognized that so many other things, so much bigger than what I could see around me at the time, were happening.

Juror#5, Christina
Christina was the fifth and last person seated in the first row of the jury box. She is twenty-one and goes to college in Tennessee. She studies Intercultural Studies and Business for Non-Profits. Home for the summer, she’s the oldest of three siblings and the youngest among the jurors. She was also, the most quiet. Although when she spoke, she was articulate and thoughtful with her words. It was clear she had been paying attention to every word that was said around her. Like myself, she brought a book every day. Occasionally we would read during down time. She started and finished The Hobbit during our time in the jury room. I started and finished Legend, the first in a series of three books written by Marie Lu and recommended by my daughter. Christina radiates the promise of youth. Her presence was like a breath of fresh air. She’s genuine, sweet and honest and I have a feeling she will do great things in life.

Jurors #1 through #5 sat in the first of two rows. Jurors #6 through #10 sat in a raised row behind the first row.

ajuryduty

Juror #6, Debbie
Debbie was the sixth person in line and the first person to sit in the second row of the jury box behind Gloria. She does not like to be called Deborah and I felt bad, having made the mistake a few times before I was able to catch myself. In grammar school, catholic school, the nuns called her De-bor-ah and she hated that. Debbie wore a string of pearls with each outfit, everyday. She emits professionalism. Until of course she laughs, which she does a lot, then, she’s just a regular gal like the rest of us. An IBM Executive, IT Project Manager, Debbie oversees 29 people in her division. None of who live in the United States. In fact, she’d just received her new crew the Friday we were called to jury duty. She tried to make a case when she was chosen as a juror to be excused but the lawyers would not want to let her go. Debbie was usually the first to arrive every morning. She, like the rest of us often felt frustrated by the amount of idle time we had to pass. She had lots of ideas about efficiency. It’s no wonder she has the job she does, we half expected her to send the Judge a report at the end of the trial on what she should or could do to improve juror conditions and move a case along faster. Debbie is going to win the lottery. She told us so. In fact, she told us every day, three times a day. It’s part of her mantra to make it happen and one day, it will happen. Divorced with two grown children, it was Debbie that I felt I had the most in common with. I could relate to where some of her struggles have brought her too. She’s a competent, capable woman, deeply influenced by strong moral beliefs and I have much respect for her. Debbie has a big, beautiful heart and I’m honored to call her my friend.

As a means of helping us pass time in the jury room, Debbie brought in Table Topics, a game that uses a series of cards to ask engaging questions that inspire conversation. She would pick a card, read the question and we would go around the room and answer or not answer it, if we didn’t want to.

Some of the questions and answers that linger in my memory:

Who has inspired or acted as a mentor to you?
Juror #3 Dolores: Maya Angelou and Mahatma Gandhi.

What is your astrological sign?
Juror #2, John: Aquarius
Juror #5, Christina: Capricorn
Juror #6, Debbie: Virgo
Juror #9, Joe: Taurus

What is a goal you have?
Juror #5, Christina: to write a book.

What is the most important quality you look for in a friend?
The majority of us had the same answer, integrity and honesty.

Describe a life experience that has helped make you a stronger person.
This is the question that exposed of core of many of us.

acladdaugh

Juror #7, Michelle
Michelle was seventh in line and sat in the second seat in the second row of the jury box. From day one, we each claimed a seat around the conference table in the jury room and kept it, except for Michelle. Michelle chose not to sit at the table. Usually she sat closest to the door in one of the chairs that lined the wall but she never sat at the table with us during the trial. She also stood a lot in the room during breaks. Many of us did. After sitting for hours at a time in the courtroom, standing was a welcome relief. A single woman in her mid-forties, Michelle is tall and athletic, caring and sensitive. She teaches Social Studies and English to 6th graders in a nearby public school. During the summer months she works in a pro shop at a golf course. It’s evident that she loves her jobs and her Irish heritage. When she speaks about her mom who (just like my mom) is an immigrant from Ireland, she can’t help but talk in a perfect Irish brogue. It’s endearing, as is Michelle.

apin3

Michelle has dual citizenship in the US and Ireland. She’s guided by her deeply rooted, Irish-Catholic beliefs and is a Pioneer, an Irish person who made a promise at her confirmation not to take a drink. Ever. At 44, she has never had alcohol. I never knew what a Pioneer was until Michelle told me. After the trial, when I asked my mom about it she said, “Oh yeah, your grandmother was a Pioneer as well”. This was news to me. My mom was actually in possession of my grandmother’s Pioneer Pin and gave it to me after I asked her about it. When I was seven I went to Ireland with my mom and younger brother. That was the only time I’d ever met my grandmother. She gave me a Claddagh ring, a traditional Irish ring representing love, loyalty and friendship. The ring was eventually stolen, so to have her Pioneer Pin now was extremely sentimental and meaningful to me, and I have Michelle to thank for that.

Juror #8, Cameron
Cameron was the eighth person in line. She sat behind me in the jury box. I liked Cameron a lot. She’s a soft-spoken, level headed, kind, woman; a college counselor at a local private high school. Cameron is a thinker. A week into the trial, she received word that her father-in-law who was in Hospice care was near the end and requested to be excused. Her request was granted.

Within the first two weeks our Jury of 10 had become a Jury of 8. Now only two of us would be alternates.

Juror #9, Joe
Joe is the fourth person to sit in the second row. He’s a middle-aged, bald man in his early 50s who works at Home Depot. Every day he wore either a navy blue Ralph Lauren baseball cap with yellow stitching or a black Tommy Hilfiger cap. You’re not allowed to wear a cap in the courtroom so he’d leave his in the jury room. He also had an earring hole in his left ear but never wore an earring. Joe’s a friendly guy. He’s not married and has no kids but lives with his partner. He likes to cook. He usually came in with a cup of coffee in the morning and like many of us, brought one back after the lunch hour. Joe played solitaire with Julie (Juror #10) every day. On the last day of the trial when Closing Statements were made, he finally won. Joe’s a deep thinker. You could tell he gave careful consideration to his answers when we played Table Topics. He took being a juror seriously. We all did. In fact, we all talked about the responsibility that came with being a juror and how important that was.

acopter

Juror #10, Julie
Julie is a woman also in her 50s. Her brownish hair has an eggplant colored hue to it. She works at JC Penney and has two grown children who live in another state that she doesn’t get to see much. She’s also a smoker. I would see her and Juror #1, Gloria (before she left) sitting outside having a smoke at lunch when I’d go across the street to get a cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts. It’s been close to 14 years since I’ve had a cigarette and sometimes I enjoy a second hand waft. Sometimes during a break, Julie would head downstairs for a quick smoke. Because the door was locked from the outside, anyone entering the jury room other than the court officer who had a key, would have to knock. Michelle who was usually closest to the door would answer but not before jokingly asking for the “password” which was Helicopter and a nod to John’s profession.
adimeJulie has common sense and some street smarts behind her. There is something quite compelling about her. She described a difficult childhood to us and I wondered how her life may have differed if she had more opportunity growing up. Julie works at JC Penney and brought us all coupons one day. She also shared an interesting story with us about James Cash Penney, the founder of JC Penney, who hated Franklin D Roosevelt and his policies so much that he refused to carry dimes in the cash registers in the stores because they are imprinted with Roosevelt’s picture. The only dimes in the cash register at a JC Penney (to this day) are those circulated by customers. The stores never order them from the bank.

These were the ten of us, who became eight within the first two weeks. Two of us were alternates yet we had no idea who. As the days and weeks began to pass this would loom above each us. Who would ultimately stay and deliberate? Who would not? How and when would we know? While the process of selection fascinated me, who we were individually was equally if not more intriguing.

It didn’t take long for me to realize there was nothing arbitrary about who had been chosen for this specific case. As different as we learned we were, together we were a balance and there was (thankfully) a very strong, common trait that we all shared, one that presented itself loudly and clearly:

Each of us had a deep desire to do the right thing.

Note: If you would like to read And Then There Were Six Part I, you can find it here.

Part II, The Jury Assembled can be read here.

The Jury, Assembled ~ And Then There Were Six Part II

July 4, 2015 7 comments

ajefferson2

 

Monday, May 18
There’s a special holding room in the Commissioner of Juror’s building for returning, potential jurors. Upon arrival Monday morning at 9:00am, the Commissioner asked us to sign in.  Close to 10:00am, a court officer escorted us out the back of one building and into the back of the other, where once again, we placed our belongings in bins and walked through the body scanner. Just like Friday, I took the stairs up to the 4th floor with a few others while the rest opted for the only elevator in the building.

The attorneys were waiting and wasting no time in the courtroom. The eight that were left in the jury box on Friday resumed their seats, while the rest of us headed back to the gallery. The next part happened so quickly; it’s a bit of blur in my memory. I don’t think we were seated for more than a few minutes when the door behind the bench closest to the jury box opened and the Judge’s assistant entered holding a piece of paper. She came into the courtroom periodically on Friday, I suspected to see how things were going. After a very brief consultation with the lawyers, she turned to the jury box and asked the eight from the box to rise and follow her and a court officer out of the courtroom.

It was stunning.

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Just like that, we went from 20 potential jurors to 12 gaping and confused gallery sitters, in a New York Minute.

What just happened? I thought to myself. Where did they go?

In short order we learned that 3 of the 8 people in the box were in another room being sworn in as jurors and the other 5 were being released. That’s why we were kept waiting in the holding room for almost an hour that morning. They were choosing the three jurors, but which ones did they keep?

We didn’t find out because they were allowed to leave for the day.

We barely digested what had just happened when the male lawyer from the Plaintiffs’ team, whom I’ve ( fondly, with no disrespect intended) nicknamed, Jiminy Cricket, went to work, turned the crank and started picking names from the clear tube on the council’s table. When the name is pulled one of the attorney’s slides it onto a wooden board about 9” x 12”, through slats which are used to hold the name cards. I’m pretty sure it indicates who is sitting where in the jury box. The questionnaires are pulled from a pile and a copy is given to each side for review. My name was the 4th or 5th of a new set of 8 that were called. I took a seat in the box accordingly. Four people remained in the gallery.

I was impressed at the effort that was made by all of the attorneys to address each of us by name. They referred to our questionnaires and asked us specific questions.

asoftballFirst, the softballs were tossed.

 

From the Questionnaire ~ Question #17 reads:
What are your hobbies or recreational activities?

My Written Answer: I enjoy reading, writing and movies.

Jiminy Cricket, the Plaintiffs Attorney, to me:
It says here you like movies. What is your favorite movie?

Me, In My Head:
Oh, God! This is his question? Did he really just ask me that? I have no idea what my favorite movie is! I can’t even think right now. (Cue internal panic.)

Me, (Responding Calmly) Out Loud:
I really don’t have one favorite. I like lots of different kinds of movies. I’m a big J.K. Rowling fan, so I enjoyed the Harry Potter movies.

He smiled at me knowingly, which made me think that he really didn’t know who Harry Potter was.

Then the hardballs were thrown.

 

Defense Lawyer For the Doctors (Good Cop/Dad of 3) to me:
Tell me a little bit about the school you work in.

Me: It’s a small, private, progressive school in Wappingers.

Defense Lawyer For the Doctors (Good Cop/Dad of 3) to me:
There’s an admissions process and you make a lot of decisions in your job, fair statement? I nodded in agreement.

Side note: I later learned, that a nod in court is unacceptable.
You must answer every question out loud so the court reporter can record your words. Although, the court reporter is not in attendance during jury selection and jurors are not allowed to speak during the trial. Phew!

Defense Lawyer For the Doctors (Good Cop/Dad of 3) to me:
Sometimes, you have to tell people they can’t come to your school, correct?

Me: Yes. Not often but sometimes.

Defense Lawyer For the Doctors (Good Cop) to me:
It has to be a good fit, right?

Me: Yes. Exactly.

Questions were asked to all of the potential jurors and interspersed was much pontificating by all sides. For example, it was made clear to us that if we were picked we would hear “expert testimony”.  Then another side made it clear that the “credibility” of “expert witnesses” would be something we would have to consider. We were told that we would likely hear a heartbreaking story that we would be asked to make a judgment on and award sums of money. Then we were told that sometimes, bad things happen to good people and it’s no one’s fault.

afastball

Finally, a fastball came.

The Viper (Defense Lawyer for the Hospital) approached the podium in front of the jury box.

Viper: Well. Let’s just  get this out of the way. Some of you checked boxes on the questionnaire that we need to speak to you about.

Viper to me: Ms. Teich, can we speak with you privately?

Well, I knew this was coming; although, kudos to the Viper for cutting to the chase.

Into the hall we went. Four smiling attorneys huddled around me. The Viper noted that I’d checked off that I’d been the victim of a crime in question #14. He asked me if I could tell them about that.

Keep it simple and succinct, I thought to myself.

Sure. I said. A couple of years ago our home was repeatedly broken into over a period of about 8 months. Ultimately my husband and I setup a motion sensor camera in our living room and my husband called 911 when images of a burglar in our house were sent to his phone through email. The guy was caught coming out of our house by a State Trooper who responded to the call and it was our neighbor.

The woman attorney for the Plaintiffs put her hand to her mouth as I spoke and when I finished she said,

Oh, that is terrible.

Yes. It was terrible; although I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything.

However, in addition to competence, maybe it was also a sense of compassion that I saw in this woman on Friday. Hers was genuine and it wouldn’t be the first time, I’d see it either.

There was a very brief pause.

Here it is I thought, the end of my line.

You are after all automatically released of jury duty if you’ve been the victim of a crime, right?

Nope.

Thank you, they said. You can return to the jury box.

Question #14 also asked whether you’ve been….
· accused of a crime
· convicted of a crime
· a witness to a crime

….and if you’ve testified in court or sued someone.

More private meetings; 4 more people in the box were let go. The 4 remaining in the gallery were called in. A few more questions were asked. We were told that this would be the only time the jurors would be able to speak or interact with the lawyers. Once the trial began, we would not be able to talk to them or anyone connected to the case; not even each other, until it was time to deliberate. We were reminded that the case would take a while, possibly three weeks.

One man who had been quite vocal (although not obnoxious) during the process put his hand up and stepped outside with the attorneys. After several minutes, the lawyers came back into the courtroom without him.

“Well,” said Jiminy Cricket, “It looks like we have our jury.”

acommitment

It was official. I was a juror.

And so were the other 6 people that were in the jury box with me. Something didn’t add up. Together we were seven and we’d been told that three were picked that morning. That makes 10 of us.

A civil case requires 6 jurors and 2 alternates to hear the case.

We’ve selected 4 alternates instead of 2 because of the length of this trial one of the attorneys told us.

The Jury was assembled. My recall here is a little fuzzy. I’m not sure if it was the Assistant or the Judge herself but one of them, and I’m leaning toward it being the judge, came through the door behind the bench next to the jury box and asked us to stand. We did. She administered the Juror’s Oath. We held up our right hand and pledged to act fairly and impartially and follow the law that would be explained to us.

We were instructed not to speak about the case to anyone and to come directly to the Courthouse and report to the Jury Room across the hall from the courtroom the next morning at 9:00am for Opening Statements. Opening Statements marks the start of a trial. It gives each side an opportunity to let the jury know what to expect during the trial. It’s designed to serve as a guide. It sets the stage, introduces the players and speaks to evidence that are intended to be presented. Typically, the Plaintiff goes first in a civil trial.

Coming in through the front door Tuesday morning was a little different. Three officers “manned” the entrance to the courthouse. Similar to coming over from the Commissioner of Jurors’ building (or going through security at an airport) you place your belongings in a bin and walk through the body scanner when the officer waves you in.

I’m not an elevator person. I prefer the steps. Besides, there was a bathroom on the 2nd floor. Bathroom-ing in this building seemed to be a bit of an issue. There were only two small, (public) one-person bathrooms on the 2nd floor that we knew of. I stopped there on my way up, not knowing when I would have the chance again. The lock didn’t work properly and as I was washing my hands when a woman about 15 years my senior walked in on me. Clearly embarrassed, she quickly apologized and left. Later that morning, I recognized her to be the Plaintiff’s wife.

The door to the Jury Room was open. It was a large, oblong room. Inside was an oval-shaped conference table with 9 chairs around it. There were a few additional, comfortable-looking chairs against the wall at either end of the room. As I walked in, I noticed an old-fashioned, green chalkboard that stood in its wooden frame against the wall to my immediate right. A private bathroom was in the corner to my left.

aperk

Nice! I thought. A perk.

The officer assigned our courtroom that day came in and introduced himself as Steve. He had filled two pitchers of ice water and set them on the table for us. Myself and another juror asked Steve if we could take notes during the trial. He said he would let the judge know we were wondering. Then he put a sign-in sheet on the table and asked us to sign in, in the box next to our names. All ten names were typed on the computer-generated form in what appeared to be random order. Or was it? They weren’t listed alphabetically by first or last name, nor were they in numerical order by our juror identification number. But there was definitely significance to their placement, a thought behind the order, because after we had all arrived, waited (again) for the court to be ready and were finally called into the courtroom, Steve instructed us to line up in the hallway in the order that our names appeared on the paper. By the time Steve had us line up, he had memorized all of our names. Even though Steve was not always assigned to our jury room from that point on not matter when or where he saw us, he addressed each of us by name.

When we were all in our places, he knocked on the courtroom door, opened it and announced, “Jury entering.”

Everybody in the courtroom stood and we filed into the jury box stopping in front of our seats, taking them only when the Judge told us we could be seated. I was juror number 4; fourth seat in the front row. There were five seats in each of the two rows. I sat in-between the oldest and youngest members of the jury, a college girl named Christina was Juror #5 on my left and an elderly woman named Dolores was Juror #3 seated on my right. Both of whom would become a source of inspiration to me through their decorum and demeanor throughout the trial and both of whom I became quite fond of over the next several weeks.

The judge greeted us and immediately addressed our question. She said while some judges allow notes to be taken during the trial, she did not. She felt it could become distracting and we might miss important details about the case if we were focused on writing.

No notes.

Then she advised us that we would not be told who the 4 alternates were until it was time to deliberate. She said we were all needed and it was important that each of us paid close attention.

And with that, the trial began with Opening Statements…

 

 

Note: This is Part II of a multi-part posting describing the process of becoming a juror on a civil trial and the extraordinary experience that ensued.  If you would like to read Part I, you can find it here.

In Any Form

January 4, 2015 12 comments

kindness

Get up!

Get off that floor.

Can’t you see it’s filthy?

Startled by this stern command, I raised my head from where it had been resting — cradled in the palm of my hands — to see who would have the nerve to disturb my sorrow so abruptly. He was a big, brown man, dressed in green and a thousand thoughts ran through my head in the span of ten seconds or the time it took for us to “see” one another and him to push the empty gurney passed us, through the automatic doors beyond us.

Although his statement was directed toward us, he wasn’t talking directly to me. That was clear. I was in a chair. He directed his remarks toward my daughter who sat on the floor next to me. We were sitting outside of a “room” in the ER of a local hospital. A dusty, powder-blue curtain acted as a door and was pulled “closed” for privacy. Privacy from sight perhaps but certainly not from sound. I could hear the effort that was being made to keep the groans faint. That’s how I knew he was in so much pain. He was trying to hide it. I’d never been in this section of the ER before. It’s where you’re brought to when an ambulance brings you in, where my 15-year NTeich2old son laid behind the curtain.

Several days earlier he’d broken his collar bone during a soccer game when an opposing player, a bigger, heavier boy known for his mean spiritedness collapsed on top of him, breaking that fine line on his left side that connects your neck to your shoulder, in two places. Both boys had been jumping in the air to head the ball. My son needed immediate surgery, pins and a metal rod were permanently inserted into his shoulder reattaching the fractured bone. We were extremely fortunate to be put in contact with the head surgeon at NYU Hospital for Joint Disease in New York City who performed the surgery himself.

A few days after his surgery the boys from my son’s soccer team posted this picture on their team Facebook page after a big win that he obviously missed and couldn’t be a part of.

GET WELL SOON NOAH

GET WELL SOON NOAH

My son was deeply touched. I, was completely overwhelmed by the gesture. Honestly. I’m humbled to be witness to such an incredibly thoughtful act of kindness displayed by teenage boys.

The whole experience had been emotional, fraught with gut-wrenching, roller-coaster moments and as if that weren’t enough excitement for one week, here we found ourselves in a hospital again.

He’d been recuperating nicely up until this night, when he suffered a setback, out of his control and was in severe pain, so much so, that on advice of the surgeon, we called an ambulance to bring him to a local hospital.

Now we sat, my daughter and I, outside the room with the flimsy, ugly, powder-blue curtain acting as a door, between us and my son and his dad, waiting. We waited and waited and waited some more for the doctor-on-call to make his way to my son’s bed.

My heart was breaking as any mother’s would for every minute that passed, for every minute he suffered in pain. Trying to respect his wishes to ‘wait outside the room, please mom’, fighting back fear and tears, anxious for help, my nerves and patience were fried. Where was that damn doctor anyway? It’s easy to lose perspective. I did.

Now this? Really? Some big, barking man, clearly on-a-mission that had nothing to do with helping my son, has the audacity to growl at us, chiding my daughter as he strides by pushing an empty bed! That’s all I needed, maybe even what I was praying for these past few hours as I cupped my head full of worry into my hands; a justification, an opportunity I immediately realized, to lash out at someone, a place to displace the anger and hurt and most of all the helplessness that was filling up inside me bursting to get out.

Thank you and God help you, man.” I thought to myself.

You just barked at the wrong person, at the right time. You are the conduit for me to strike through. I was ready and eager as I looked up about to unleash a mother-load of mama worry on this unsuspecting passerby-er. I locked my bleary eyes onto his and before I could blast away he bellowed,

It’s not clean enough to sit on!

In that moment, when our eyes met, intention made itself known.

Clarity came.hope

Instantly.

Thankfully.

In the eyes of knowing, silence prevailed. This man’s growling abruptness was in reality, an act of kindness and genuine caring.

His scrubs indicated he was probably a doctor, maybe a surgeon and although he clearly lacked in bedside manner, his eyes spoke volumes. They told me his “scolding” was an expression of real concern that my daughter was sitting on this not-so-clean hospital floor. It was just the type of jarring I needed in that moment in time to pull me out of myself and become present, for myself, for my daughter who also waited in worry and for my son of course, who needed me to be there for him and not become lost in my own sorrow. Gratitude grabbed hold of me. Fast.

God helped me. Thank you.

This man snapped me back, which allowed me to be where I needed to be. It also allowed me  to hear the quiet words of an older woman who’d been pacing in and out of a room, two curtains to our right. I’d mostly seen the bottom half of her legs walking in and out when I held my head side-ways but I caught a glimpse of her when I’d occasionally looked up to see if the doctor was anywhere in sight. She was older than me but younger than my mom, probably in her early 60s. Other than knowing she was there, I didn’t give her or who she was with or why much thought until it was too late. When I finally noticed her, she was leaving with another woman, older than her. A nurse wheeled the older woman ahead while the younger, pacing woman trailed behind. As she passed me she said softly,

I hope it all works out for you.

I was so surprised; I barely got the words “thank you” out in time for her to know I’d heard her.

The doctor-on-call finally saw my son, treated him and released him after a few hours. His issue was fleeting in the big picture of things and although I am thankful for that, it’s the fleeting unsuspecting moments that interrupted my life in those hours of waiting that linger with me in a thought provoking way. Kindness matters. In any form.

Twice in one night I was startled by the kindness of a stranger. Two people, in two contrasting ways took notice.

Kindness can be so fleeting and even though it doesn’t always present itself in softly spoken words or a thoughtfully written sign, its effects are always the same; long lasting and profound. It makes a difference.

It did for me.

 


Six Degrees of Sadness

September 11, 2014 11 comments

Six Degrees of Separation

They say there are six degrees of separation.

 “Everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on Earth,..” ~ Wikipedia

I believe this to be true. One way or another, we’re all connected; especially when it comes to what happened on 9/11. Looking back, I’m certain that so many of us, knew somebody or knows somebody who knew somebody.

I knew somebody.

So many years later I still can’t talk about that day without becoming overwhelmed with emotion. I know I’m not alone.

Writing about it is almost as difficult.

I tried to think of something else to write about this week but the memories of that day are at the forefront of my mind and heart right now. I wouldn’t attempt to try to write about the profound loss of our sons and daughters, fathers and husbands, mothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, colleagues and friends.

I couldn’t.

All week long there’s been articles, photos, video, reports and documentaries reliving those events. I didn’t watch them.

I still can’t.

The point of contact between the planes and all three buildings is indelibly embedded in my mind.

I don’t want to see it again — ever.

There were however, a few poignant moments when I was alone that day that will linger in my mind’s eye forever; moments that caused me to pause and take notice; moments that changed my life.

I was at home with my two children; my daughter who was 6-months and my son who was 2 ½ years-old. I had the TV on, although I don’t remember what I was watching. It was interrupted by “live coverage” of the first Tower, just after it was hit by the first plane.

It seemed unlikely, odd. I couldn’t fathom the possibility of it. I was trying to make sense of what I was hearing when something surreal and horrific happened.

I watched the second plane hit the second Tower.

I remember being very confused and thinking…

“What are they doing? How are they showing something that just happened a few minutes ago?

How could somebody get this video?”

And as quickly as the thoughts passed through my mind, it hit me.

This couldn’t be video tape from the first plane because I could still see the black smoke coming from first Tower. This was live coverage. This plane was hitting the second Tower. It was a second plane crashing into the second tower and it was happening, right now!

My eyes could see the events unfolding but my mind couldn’t comprehend their reality. I could hear the reporter in the background saying with disbelief, that this was happening right now but I didn’t understand.

There were so many surreal moments that day.

Later, as I sat on our porch smoking a cigarette trying to process what I had just seen on television, I had the realization that my life, our lives as we knew them would never be the same. An overwhelming feeling of sadness slowly began to overtake the initial feelings of horror and fear that I had. Understanding of what I saw, found its way to my brain. Now, when I recall that slow, creeping feeling of sadness, I think about how Ron Weasley described the presence of the Dementors on the Hogwarts Train;

“I felt weird, like I’d never be cheerful again”.

That’s what it was like for me.  I couldn’t imagine being cheerful again.

While I sobbed uncontrollably for what happened, for what I saw and for what I felt, the deafening sound of silence surrounded itself around me. The quiet in the skies was unsettling. The more I noticed it, the louder it became. You don’t notice or really pay attention to the activity in the skies until it ceases. It gave me a sense of isolation which created a fear in me, I’ve never experienced before. I will never forget that haunting, echoing sound of nothing when no plane was allowed to fly in our otherwise free, blue skies.

On the porch that day, while my babies napped peacefully, I smoked a cigarette and mourned for the feeling of security I didn’t realize I had until I lost it, a feeling I knew my children would never know.

For weeks afterward, the winds carried the smell of death up the Hudson River. It was a smoldering, horrific stench that sat, heavy in the air. Unlike anything I’ve ever smelled before, or since, it was a foul and constant reminder of the devastation and loss our nation suffered.

Everyone I know, knows somebody or knows somebody who knows somebody.

There are six degrees of separation, they say. Six people between you and I, as strangers before an introduction. The world we live in is a small one. One way or another, we’re all connected.

I knew Somebody.

We all knew somebody.

Photo Credit #1: Six Degrees of Separation

Photo Credit #2: World Trade Center

Photo Credit #3: Connected

Full Circle

June 29, 2014 14 comments

6i1p55b

I work in a small, private, progressive school. We just celebrated our 50th Anniversary. Our philosophy begins with the premise that all kids are capable. From there, we pledge to nurture each child, every day in the hopes of fostering a love of learning that will last a lifetime.

Two weeks before the last day of school, she appeared in the doorway of our office. It was a Friday afternoon, only minutes before dismissal; the calm before the bus-boarding-storm. She was chattering a-mile-a-minute when I looked up from my desk and saw her standing there. She was an older woman, maybe in her early sixties, dressed more like she was in her thirties. She had long, wavy brown hair that was graying at the roots. There was something light even comical about her tone and her appearance. Her accessories jingled and jangled as she waved her hands to emphasize her words like a conductor would at a symphony. Barely stopping to breathe, she incessantly, repeated her name, asking if myself or my co-workers knew who she was , no — not her actually, but her daughter. Did we recognize her daughter’s name because her daughter went to this school, oh, about 30-years ago. Like a leaky faucet the words trickled out into a tale that finally ended with the keeping of a promise and a story that left a profound stirring inside me.

I did not know her, her daughter or recognize their name but our (interim) Director did, which didn’t surprise me. Before standing in as Director, while we searched for a replacement, Diane was a teacher for 34-years at our school. In fact, she was this woman’s daughter’s kindergarten teacher – oh, about 30-years ago and remembered them both well.

I was going through a very hard time back then, the woman told us. I had three children, no money and was in the middle of a divorce. Eric was running the school then and the tuition was $900.

Pause.

Eric was running the school then.

Eric, was Diane’s best friend for many, many years. He was also a teacher at our school for many, many years and although we didn’t actually have a director-by-title up until recently, by all accounts, Eric was the director here, for many, many years. Eric, was a very special person and much like Diane, beloved by hundreds if not thousands of students and parents. Eric passed away about 5-years ago from a form of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Sometimes in our day-to-day dealings, when there’s a hard decision to make at school, I think to myself, what would Eric do? I know my co-worker, our office manager and Eric’s sister, does too. She said those exact words just the other day. I’d bet, Diane has thought them as well. Eric would always err on the side of compassion, trust and human kindness.

It wasn’t a surprise for the three of us to learn that Eric told this woman not to worry about the $900 tuition for kindergarten that year and to pay it when she could.

She was only in this school for one little year of her life the woman said but I credit that year and her experience here with the success that she is today and every time I pass this school in my aluminum foil car I think about that and promised myself I would repay that debt when I could.

And so she did, that day, two weeks before the last day of school. She gave us $1,000 and vowed to continue to make a small monthly donation to the school from that day forward. Indeed, she kept her promise, to herself, to Eric and to the perpetuation of the human spirit.

The encounter moved me. Profoundly. It awakened in me deep hope that in an unsuspecting, fleeting moment, faith in humankind can be restored. It’s a testament in particular to the power of an act of kindness and what happens to it long after the deed is done.

It comes full circle.

What’s Your Word?

January 12, 2014 12 comments

faith2

January is my birth-month and always evokes reflection for me, which in turn, starts the mind- ball rolling and inevitably lands atop a pile of things I think I should, could, need or want to do in the upcoming year. I suspect I’m not unique. January after all, is the start of every new year offering the promise of a new beginning and of course, the making of a million resolutions.

UGH!

I’m not not very good at resolutions. My intentions are always good but, well, you know what they say about where the road that’s paved with good intentions goes. I’d love to be able to say I’m going to do X, Y and Z this year, do them and be thrilled with myself come the following December. I’d even be okay if I were able to get X and only part of Y done and somehow WASN’T disappointed in myself the next December when I realized I never completed Z.

But I can’t. I  am who I am and resolutions just don’t really work for me.

I do however like the idea of being able to start over. In fact, I wake-up every morning with the notion that it’s an opportunity to do better than yesterday. Begin again. I also like the idea of having a concentration; something I can work on or toward without the pressure of having a deadline to complete it. That’s why I love this idea and recent posting on a blog I follow about the concept of using a single word as a focal point to giving yourself direction and purpose.

The blog is Leadership Freak and the post was Don’t Make a Resolution; Find a Word“.

Whether your work is in a leadership capacity or not, or whether you’re a parent or not, or if you’re just interested in another interesting perspective on how to move forward in life, I highly recommend following this blog.

Dan Rockwell, invites you to look inward and think about what you need, what’s in your way and what needs to go” to help find your word. Actually, he suggests letting your word find you, without stressing about it by finding a quiet place to think about it. Let it come to you. Finally, he recommends that you live out your word where-ever you go. Keep it at the forefront of your mind. Apply it to everyday living.

This, I thought, I can do.

So  I did.

FAITH

That’s.  My.  Word.

This year for me, it’s about FAITH.

FAITH that “things” will always turn out the way they are supposed to.

Because they do.

FAITH that I can.

And I will.

Because I do.

FAITH that all things are possible.

Because they are.

Wordle: faith

Think about it and then come back and tell me.

WHAT’S YOUR WORD?

Photo Credit #1:  Google Images

Photo Credit #2: Wordle created by Karen Szczuka Teich

Into The Storm

December 15, 2013 11 comments

Storm3

She stood in the storm,

And when the wind did not blow her way,

She adjusted her sails.

                                                                                                                 ~ Elizabeth Edwards

Categories: Attitude, Challenges, Life Tags: ,

Pause

December 8, 2013 7 comments
Curtains 003

© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The holiday season has been creeping up on us since right before Halloween. Like a strong, silent ivy spreading its way through cities all across the country. It’s been lighting up homes and leaving its mark on lampposts and in storefronts everywhere! Neighborhoods are all aglow with colorful lights and twinkling trees peering through living room windows. It’s a special time of year that promotes peace and giving and kindness, which my 12-year old daughter recently noted:  is free.

The Holidays can be magical, often making the seemingly impossible, possible and like so many other people, it’s my favorite time of year.

For some however, it can be a struggle; a sad and difficult time, especially this year, with fewer than normal days of  breathing room in between the great feast of Thanksgiving and the arrival of Christmas Eve. Hanukkah is already over! There’s a rush to the finish and the hustle and bustle of trying to get there, can quickly lose its charm and become frustrating, exasperating even.

Curtains 004

© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Most people come forward with their best. But honestly, you never know what’s going on just below the surface of a carefree wave, an absentminded smile or a soft, slightly distracted gaze. Everyone has a cross or two to bear. It could be anything from a forgotten appointment to coming off of the end of a long work shift or suffering from indecision about something. Maybe you’ve had an argument with someone or are recovering from an illness. Perhaps there is a sick child at home or you simply miss someone, terribly.

Whatever the burden, no one is exempt from worry. 

Curtains 008

© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

This season, if you can, pause to be compassionate toward the people you meet.

You never know what someone is going through.

peace

Peace & Good Wishes to All!

Categories: Holidays, Kindness, Life, Parenting Tags:

Masquerade

October 31, 2013 16 comments
group

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

People wear masks all the time, covering up all kinds of situations and emotions.

Halloween is one of my favorite celebrations. In disguise, you get to openly be whatever you want to be and get a bag full of free candy to boot! My memories of Halloween as a child are filled with endless hours of trick-or-treating (mostly treating) first through the 5-stories of our apartment building and then, all over town until our legs could take us no further. After that, my Dad would put us in the back of his shiny, red, Volkswagen bus and drive us to friends’ houses until our bags were stuffed and our eyes were bleary.

I don’t cut my Dad a lot of slack when it comes to my childhood. I can’t sugar-coat fear or disappointment. No one ever wanted to be on the receiving end of his wrath. You never knew what kind of mood he would come home in, if, or when he came home. Every day was unpredictable. He enjoyed holidays and parties though and could really get into the “spirit” of things– when he wanted to. Despite his ominous nature, he was big on costuming and we could pretty much count on his help for a clever idea and creative way of making it happen. He had an impressive repertoire of costumes himself. I remember him spending weeks working on them before the annual masquerade ball he and my mom attended every February at the German Club they belonged to. (I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my Dad is from Germany.) Every winter, the German Club celebrated Fasching which is a German holiday that resembles our Mardi Gras and is similar to Halloween in that parades are held and “clubs” host costume balls.

My Dad’s costumes always won awards, if not First Place.

These are a few of my favorites.

mummy

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

My Dad, the mummy.

The old man on the right is my Dad.

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

This “old man” was only in his late 20s.

old group

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

A group shot of my “old man” and his date who, of course, is my mom.

Third man on the right. My Dad is the Godfather.

Circa 1970s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The Godfather (4th man in)– is my father.

One year my Dad went as the Statue of Liberty. Another year he was a Prize Fighter who lost to a midget. He even dressed in Blackface as a Minstrel which now-a-days of course, would be considered offensive.

The minstrel and my mom.  Circa 1960s

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The Minstrel and my mom.

Another questionable but winning costume; large, blond lady wearing a dress made from potato sacks.

This blond woman wearing the dress made out of potato sacks is my Dad.

Circa 1970s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

My Dad loved masquerades and wore many masks.

As an adult, I realize he was a resourceful, creative man and I often wonder how different his life might have been if he had been raised and educated in this country. Like many people, he had to contend with his demons while they competed with his redeeming qualities. He loved to cook and I have happy memories of him lifting me up and setting me on top of the refrigerator so I could watch him roll out the dough on the kitchen counter to make donuts or melt sugar and butter in a pan on the stove-top to make candy. He’d dribble the hot mixture into ice-cold water to form droplets of yummy home-made caramel. He took our family camping and taught us how to play Yahtzee and Monopoly and passed along his love for puzzling.  I love my Dad.

He did the best he could.

Children are resilient. Thankfully, despite the imperfections of our childhoods or the tumultuous relations we have with our parents, most of us also have unconditional love for them or at least forgiveness. I don’t deny the turmoil of my youth but I do try to have compassion for the fact that no matter how tough I believe some parts of my childhood were, my Dad’s was unimaginable; growing up in Germany during WWII. As a parent myself now, I realize we all just do the best we can and I hope that when my kids reflect on some of the mistakes I’m making, they will have compassion too.

Climb Every Mountain! Then Wait For Help.

September 22, 2013 8 comments
Country Playing

Summer 1971 Playing at the “country”
(L) Oldest Boy Cousin (M) Younger Brother (R) Older Boy Cousin
© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Unlike the song in the title of this post, there is absolutely no inspiration in the following story.

Although, it is true.

My parents are immigrants. I’m first generation American. Growing up was interesting—to say the least. Our extended family were all back in Europe except for two, older, boy cousins who grew up about an hour north of where we lived in Westchester. Their house sat on 6-acres of rustic, rugged and crude land which we lovingly called the “country”. Abundant in fields, woods and streams it provided a whole host of exploratory (if not dangerous) opportunities for kids who were allowed to roam free in the wilderness, which they were. I loved it there. Complete with a full-size barn and chicken coop, I have some interesting memories of our play-time together there as I’m sure they do too, for the times they came to terrorize visit us. Our environment was the extreme opposite. We lived on the 4th floor of a 5-floor walk-up that offered dumb-waiter service and pick-up kickball games with random neighborhood kids in the concrete parking lot behind our building. Instead of hiking through woods and streams in the summers, we walked to the local beach or tanned on tar-beach which was conveniently located on the rooftop of our apartment building and also doubled as a laundry facility for hanging clothes to dry. My cousins were a little “rough around the edges”. They had NO FEAR of anything or anyone and always left a clear and decisive impression if not ABSOLUTE FEAR in the hearts and minds of the neighborhood kids they encountered in our neck of the woods. When gone, the other kids often referred to them as “your crazy cousins” which, they were. Crazy and my cousins. Not that we couldn’t hold our own of course, but truth be told, it wasn’t the worst thing for a gal growing up across from one of New York’s many “Projects” to be able to say,

“Oh yah? You just wait til my cousins come back!”     Ahh, family.

Back to Europe.

When I was eight, my mom took myself and my younger brother to Ireland to meet her family. My grandmother lived in an authentic two-room, thatched cottage that had a red front door. The living and kitchen area was dominated by a constantly burning hearth. Inside, a black iron kettle always seemed to be bubbling or brewing something. I wasn’t surprised to later learn that the townspeople often referred to my grandmother as the local witch doctor. During our visit my mom got sick one day and whatever my grandmother gave her to remedy her sickness blinded her temporarily for several hours. My six-year old brother and I were my mother’s walking guide back to the outskirts of town where we were staying with my aunt. Later during that trip, my brother took ill and whatever was given to remedy his condition caused him to have fierce hallucinations in where he saw leprechauns in his room and feared my dad would be an old man when we saw him next.  Ahh, family.

Three years after that European vacation, I took a trip to Germany to meet the rest of my clan. While my other friends went to day-camp or Playland or the Jersey Shore, I was sent went to Germany.

For six weeks.

Alone.

I was eleven.

Did I mention I didn’t speak German?

Giving Oma a Rose

1976 Giving my Oma a rose upon arrival in Germany.
© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The upside of that trip was that one of my boy cousin’s from America was also going to Germany later that summer with his mom. At least I could look forward to some English speaking kin after a month of speaking very slowly and loudly and using multiple hand gestures to try to communicate. Why is it that people think people who don’t speak their language can understand them if they just speak slowly and loudly?  It was fun and tough and a whirlwind of meeting relatives before my aunt and 13-year old cousin got there. Sadly, my grandmother had Alzheimer’s and didn’t know who I was or why I was in their home. After a few weeks I began to understand the language much better than I could speak it and I could tell she was confused about the strange child staying in her house. I’d overhear my grandfather trying to explain to her over and over again that I was her son, Guenter’s daughter.

When my aunt and cousin finally arrived from the U.S., it was a welcome reunion. After a few days of re-adjusting, my grandfather took us on a tri-country tour. By car. Compact car, that is. The five of us (six if you count my Omi’s over-stuffed white handbag) drove from Germany, to Austria, to Italy and back again.

Me and Opa 76

1976 Me and Opa in Austria
© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich and TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The most memorable part of my trip lies within the Austrian mountains of Tyrol near the city of Innsbruck. We stayed in a small village surrounded by mountains for a few days of sight-seeing. After a day or two of exploring the village’s architecture and taking a cable car to the snowy top of one of the mountains, my cousin and I set out for some play-time of our own. After all, he was used to roaming free in the wilderness. Why should that be any different in Austria? And why wouldn’t I follow him when he said,

Hey, let’s climb the side of this mountain.

You never really know someone until you climb a mountain with them.

Instead of taking the dirt path that wound itself upward, we — he, chose for us to rough it, climbing partly on the mountain’s side and partly on the concrete boulders that were wedged into the mountain every 50 to 100 feet or so. There were several of them, leading upwards. Their purpose was to slow the onslaught of a rock or mudslide that could come crashing down into the village below. They were several feet wide and about 5 feet high, massive to a girl of eleven and vertically challenged. As height was not an attribute of mine, it was necessary for my cousin to climb first. He’d haul himself up and then extend a hand to help me up to the somewhat smoother part of each boulder as we made our ascent. Every so often the dirt pathway appeared off to the side of one of the concrete slabs and our intention was to take the path down when we were done with all of our climbing. Soon after our adventure began, my cousin started collecting “rocks” and insisted they accompany us on our journey. As the cool morning hours turned into a warm afternoon, his rocks grew larger and heavier and by mid-day there were far more than I wanted to deal with. I was exhausted hauling them up to him one, by one before he extended his arm for me. I was thirsty and hungry and tired and finally sometime in the late afternoon, I refused.

No, I cried. I’m not carrying your stupid rocks up this mountain anymore!

Fine, he said, then I’m not helping you up the mountain, anymore.

With that, he jumped off the concrete slab and onto the side of the mountain. He climbed his way up onto the pathway and vanished. After hours and hours of climbing together, he disappeared in just a few short minutes, leaving me with his stupid rocks, stranded, atop a huge concrete boulder, on a mountain, in Austria.

Alone.

I was eleven.

It was nightfall and several hours later before I heard the dogs barking and the men shouting. Flashlights blinded my eyes when the Austrian patrol finally found me and lead me safely to and down the pathway to a frantic grandfather and somewhat hysterical aunt.

Austria76

My Cousin and I in Austria 1976
© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich and TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Life lessons I suppose begin when life does. I’ve said it before and it’s warranted again:

If it doesn’t kill ya, it’ll make you stronger.

I am a bull, who is afraid of heights BUT not afraid of being alone in the dark.

It’s all good.

I’m not quite sure what happened when my cousin descended from the mountain without me that evening. I remember being given “medicine”  when I got back to my grandfather’s room. He fished a bottle of pills out of my grandmother’s big white handbag and gave me two, to calm me when I started to cry for my dad and wanted to call home. Whatever it was gave me a similar feeling to one I had thirty-five years later when I was prescribed Valium before having a dental procedure. Only instead of lasting a few hours, it lasted the whole next day which I remember as a haze, literally. I didn’t call my dad and my fearless, crazy, rock-loving cousin was much nicer to me for the rest of our trip. Things resumed to normal. As they eventually do, with family.

These days my cousin lives far-away in another state and I don’t get to see him much but whether it’s two years or ten that pass between meetings, it always resumes to normal.

I miss and love him dearly.

Restitution

September 8, 2013 6 comments
bees

© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat…..Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive…..Forgiveness does not excuse anything…..You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness…..” 

~ Wm. Paul Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity

Three years, thirty-three checks and $10,544.28 later, recompense has been paid and restitution made for some of the items that were taken from my previous home over a period of several months.

I’ve “let go of his throat.”

Now that all the money is in the bank, the question is, what should we do with it? How do you spend restitution money? Do you split it two ways or in our case, four ways? Should it be put toward education or bills? Should we go on vacation? Give it to charity?

What would you do with it?

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© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

After catching this “burglar” in our home three years ago, we’ve moved on, mostly. Although the journey continues. Two of us have left that house and relocated.

My Edward still stands guard in the window where I left him, where the rest of my family lives, right next door to where this thief lives.

The sun has faded Edward some but his effect is the same. Creepy, like my former neighbor.

Edward

© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

An Order of Protection remains in effect until June, 2015. It’s a silly piece of paper if you ask me, considering the Order prohibits our neighbor from being within 100-yards of any of the four of us, yet there’s barely ten-feet of shared grass that sits between his house and ours.  Even though I’ve “let go of his throat”, truth be told, every time I drop off or pick my kids up from that address, I’m tempted to call the police. He is after all, in constant violation. He has been since the day the Order was signed, despite the pictures I provided the court. He’s also Caucasian, in his early twenties and always wears a hoody. I was suspect of him before I knew he was the one repeatedly breaking into our home and I will continue to be leary of any person, boy or girl, that chooses to hide their identity beneath a hood in public. I don’t care what color skin they have. I trust my instinct.

Two days before the last check was deposited, Diane from Probation called me.

It’s Diane, she said. I’m just checking in to see if you can speak on the 26th?

The other two woman who have sat on the panel with me since Diane started it two years ago will also be there. Twice a year this Impact Panel speaks before an audience of convicted felons. They’re required to attend as part of their sentence.

Yes, of course I will, I said.

It’s hard for me to say “no” to Diane when she was the only person in the judicial system who took the time to really listen and try to understand the impact of what happened to my family. She stood by my side when I spoke before the court the day of the sentencing.

Even though life goes on and we’ve all moved on, they need to know. They need to hear first-hand about how their actions can affect the lives, for years to come, of  the people they’ve committed crimes against. In our case, months of trauma was endured while we tried to figure out who and why? My kids were only 8 and 11. Now, we’re a family that’s been torn apart and all of our lives have been changed forever.

While it’s important not to dwell on the past, it’s equally important not to forget it.

The past can not be changed. It is, what it is. Our lives today are what they are, not because of the past but because of how we chose to deal with it at the time.

Hey, if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. Right?

I am a bull.

Besides, restitution has been made, a debt has been paid and I’ve “let go of his throat.”

LastCheck

© 2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Grace. Equanimity.

July 14, 2013 12 comments

grace

“When we make peace with life events, even when things don’t go the way we want, we exhibit grace. When we manage stressful situations with humor, we exhibit grace. When we are accepting of others, we exhibit grace. Grace is not about physical beauty or having a ballerina’s poise. It is composed of generosity, forgiveness, and equanimity in the face of trying times.” 

~Sarah Brokaw

Putting life’s challenges into perspective.

You can’t let an event in your life define who you are. It’s not what happens to you but what you do; how you respond to what happens to you that becomes part of who you are, defining your character to yourself and others.

Living life on life’s terms is not always easy or easily understood. In times of confusion it’s important to seek calm, and trust instead.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”       

                                                                                      ~ Martin Luther King Jr

What matters in life is the motive behind our approach; how we treat one another and the messages we send through that treatment.

What matters is what we learn; that we learn, in order to affect change.

Grace.  Equanimity.

Photo Credit: Google Images

Categories: Challenges, Life, Love Tags: , ,
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