Journey of the Dreamer

Journey of the Dreamer

All black, yet still he sees.
Images flashing through his mind, a smile upon his lips.
All around, there is a buzzing but he hears it not.
Music plays in his ears.

Haze lifts, transforms into white and gray cotton-ball looking
Clouds rise up, blue skies appear
Pure blue into the horizon where the sun brightly

As the world moves by, thoughts move
The future.

Ideas pervasive.
Opportunities endless.

Shaking slightly, sometimes more.
May be present but maybe distracted.
Happily perpetual motion.
Brightly. In the eyes.
Lines distorted, forward.
On the journey.

I Close My Eyes And Smile

I close my eyes and smile.
Not because something amazing just happened.
Just because.
Just because I was thinking.
I was thinking about what makes me happy.

I close my eyes and smile.
You see, I was looking at old pictures.
Old memories.
Old memories of meaningful times in my life.
I was thinking about the people who are important to me.

I close my eyes and smile.
I hear music from my earphones playing softly.
Playing meaningfully.
Playing meaningfully through these memories.
I was thinking about how our senses are intertwined with memories.

I close my eyes and smile.
Not because someone just did something extraordinary.
Just because.
Just because they were, they are.
I was thinking about what makes me smile.

The Station: A Poem

Trains come rumbling through the station all day.
Nearby, roads are crumbling under tires.
Black locomotives glow from the sun’s ray.
Smoke fills the air blown by the coal fires.
Inside, the clink clank of change in machines;
A man waits on the chair, tears in his eyes,
Dressed in a flannel shirt and baggy jeans.
Dragging paper bags, he thinks of the lies.
So long ago he was sent to the street,
Left with nothing but the clothes on his back.
Never had money or enough to eat.
Ready for change he looks out to the track.
Black smoke rises, it won’t be a while.
Taken aback, he’s greeted with a smile.

Either Way

I used to write poems.  I have not, however, been all that into poetry in a few years, but I think it is a good way to express myself.  Perhaps, the meaning through complexity allows me to express myself without explicit commitment to the words I write?  Maybe I like the ambiguousness?  Maybe there is potential for the future?

Regardless, I’ve written my first poem in a long time.  I hope you like it.

Either Way.

Coming home.
Upon the ground there are red roses, lying on white.
As I walk through them, I approach the darkness.
Strong.  Blue.  Black.
Can’t hear, but I see smiles.
Whose smiles?
Movement.  Feel it.
Can’t do it.
Who is this?  I didn’t know, but now I am sure.
From where? Leaning.
But is it sturdy?  What happens if it is not?
I do not know.
Tell me.  I wish I knew.
Why risk it?  Why invest?
Maybe it is worth it.  Maybe it is not.
Lying.  Future.  Possibility.
La la la.
Why not?
I want to see the options…
Where are they going?
I wish I knew.

Unetanneh Tokef

One of my favorite poems of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is the Unetanneh Tokef, which includes the ever powerful “On Rosh HaShanah it is inscribed and on Yom Kippur it is sealed” – driving home the point that what we do now really does matter.  Read the words below and reflect on their awesome meaning.  I am hoping only for the best.

בְּראשׁ הַשָּׁנָה יִכָּתֵבוּן וּבְיום צום כִּפּוּר יֵחָתֵמוּן כַּמָּה יַעַבְרוּן וְכַמָּה יִבָּרֵאוּן מִי יִחְיֶה וּמִי יָמוּת. מִי בְקִצּו וּמִי לא בְקִצּו מִי בַמַּיִם. וּמִי בָאֵשׁ מִי בַחֶרֶב. וּמִי בַחַיָּה מִי בָרָעָב. וּמִי בַצָּמָא מִי בָרַעַשׁ. וּמִי בַמַּגֵּפָה מִי בַחֲנִיקָה וּמִי בַסְּקִילָה מִי יָנוּחַ וּמִי יָנוּעַ מִי יִשָּׁקֵט וּמִי יִטָּרֵף מִי יִשָּׁלֵו. וּמִי יִתְיַסָּר מִי יֵעָנִי. וּמִי יֵעָשֵׁר מִי יִשָּׁפֵל. וּמִי יָרוּם וּתְשׁוּבָה וּתְפִלָּה וּצְדָקָה מַעֲבִירִין אֶת רעַ הַגְּזֵרָה

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed and on Yom Kippur it is sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be born into it; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But repentance, prayer, and good deeds can remove the severity of the Decree!”

Gemar Chatimah Tovah!  May we all be sealed in the Book of Life for good!  Have an easy fast!

Fire At Majdanek

The title of this post seems a little eerie.  I feel like it would be inappropriate if it were not true.  And by being true, the title seems to remind us of a not too distant past of horror and of the ability of humans to be led like sheep – both by force and by propaganda.

I was at Majdanek in the summer of 2005 with USY Poland/Israel Pilgrimage (a program of my youth group).  We spent a week in Poland and five weeks in Israel.  Visiting Majdanek was one of the most meaningful and impactful experiences of that summer, even my life.  It is still difficult for me to look at the pictures from that visit to Majdanek – the concentration/death camp near Lublin, Poland.

In case you have not heard, a fire recently destroyed most of the original barracks of the camp that contained shoes of the camp’s prisoners – seeing/smelling/being in the midst of all of the thousands of shoes of real people is a saddening and real experience.

A picture I took in 2005 of the shoes barrack at Majdanek.

Information about the fire seems to be inconsistent.  Nevertheless, here are two articles about the recent fire:

From the JTA:

Op-Ed: The Shoes of Majdanek

By Michael Berenbaum · August 26, 2010

lOS ANGELES (JTA) — Reports of a fire at Majdanek that damaged the barracks housing hundreds of thousands of shoes of the Jews murdered in the death camp should cause us to shudder. Something monumental has been lost.

A word about Majdanek: The camp is situated in a valley just outside the major town of Lublin, in proximity to Little Majdan, from which it derived its name. It was situated in the Polish territory annexed to the Third Reich. During the war, it was part of Germany proper.

Majdanek was captured whole in July 1944. Unlike at Auschwitz, the Nazis had no time to evacuate the camp or to burn its contents. Its liberation was featured on the front page of The New York Times. H.W. Lawrence, a correspondent for the Times, wrote: “I have just seen the most terrible place on Earth.” These revelations were not given much credence. The very existence of something as awful as a death camp seemed impossible. Even graphic films of the camp shown in Britain and the United States were dismissed as Soviet propaganda.

Because Majdanek was captured whole, those who visit the death camp see far more than they might see at Auschwitz. As any visitor to the camp will tell you, Majdanek is more primitive, more actual, more real and more powerful.


Visitors to Majdanek would walk through the barracks of shoes, the shoes of the 500,000 Jews from the various ghettos and camps who entered but did not leave. To me, that barracks was the most powerful part of a visit to Majdanek, more moving even than the gas chambers and crematoria that one sees intact at the top of the hill, more powerful still than the pyramid of ashes that form a mountain just outside the gas chamber.

Moses Schulstein, the great Yiddish poet, wrote of these shoes in his poem “I Saw a Mountain”:

I saw a mountain
Higher than Mt. Blanc
And more Holy than the Mountain of Sinai.
Not in a dream. It was real.
On this world this mountain stood.
Such a mountain I saw — of Jewish shoes in Majdanek. …

Hear! Hear the march.
Hear the shuffle of shoes left behind — that which remained.
From small, from large, from each and every one.
Make way for the rows — for the pairs,
For the generations — for the years.
The shoe army — it moves and moves.

“We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.
We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers.
From Prague, Paris and Amsterdam.
And because we are only made of stuff and leather
And not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire.

We shoes — that used to go strolling in the market
Or with the bride and groom to the chuppah,
We shoes from simple Jews, from butchers and carpenters,
From crocheted booties of babies just beginning to walk and go
On happy occasions, weddings, and even until the time
Of giving birth, to a dance, to exciting places to life…
Or quietly — to a funeral.
Unceasingly we go. We tramp.
The hangman never had the chance to snatch us into his
Sack of loot — now we go to him.
Let everyone hear the steps, which flow as tears,
The steps that measure out the judgment.”
I saw a mountain
Higher than Mt. Blanc
And more Holy than the Mountain of Sinai.

The shoes of Majdanek are rotting. They smell. The rot and the smell viscerally illustrate the distance that stands between that time and our time. They bear witness to the erosion of time, which we want to decouple from the erosion of memory.

In a barracks adjacent to the barracks housing the shoes, the visitor files past the uniforms of men and women, even of children who lived in this camp, who died in this camp. Human beings once wore those uniforms and those shoes; once, they were alive; now, they are dead. One can sense their absence; the visitor must imagine their presence.

How did the shoes and uniforms arrive at Majdanek?

Majdanek was the place where the warehouses from Aktion Reinhard (Operation Reinhard, the Nazis’ code name for their plan to exterminate Polish Jewry) were located, where the clothing and valuables taken from the prisoners were collected, sorted and stored, and shipped back into Germany.

The death camp was also the headquarters for the destruction of regional ghettos and the place of supervision for the Aktion Reinhard camps — Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka.

So much was lost in the fire – the material remains of the people who were consumed there and elsewhere by fire, and whose burial place was the sky.

I cried when I heard of the flames that consumed those shoes, and then I thought again. Perhaps after 66 years of bearing witness to the hell fire, the shoes – made of fiber and leather – were reunited with the grandfathers and grandchildren from Paris, Prague and Amsterdam, the men, women and children of flesh and blood.

(Michael Berenbaum is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. He was the project director for the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Museum and is the former director of its research institute.)

I recently saw that poem and the some of the shoes at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

An article from the Jerusalem Post:

Majdanek: 10,000 pairs of shoes burnt

08/10/2010 14:37

A fire broke out Monday night at the Majdanek concentration camp barracks in Poland and destroyed ten-thousand pairs of shoes belonging to former prisoners, according to Majdanek Museum Director Tomasz Kranz.

The fire, which seriously damaged two-thirds of the wooden structure, occurred at midnight and took six hours to put out, a spokesman from the Lublin fire brigade reportedly said.

On Tuesday, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev expressed support and assistance to Kranz following reports of the fire.

Shalev conveyed deep sorrow that such a historic landmark and invaluable artifacts suffered such damage.

“The damage to these irreplaceable items is a loss to a site that has such historical value to Europe, Poland and the Jewish people,” Shalev told Kranz.

Authorities have not been able to locate the cause of the fire yet are investigating all possibilities.

The site manager stated that the cause of the fire was unclear but it was likely that it started as a result of a power outage.

Majdanek concentration camp is located near the southeastern Polish city of Lublin.

Over 360,000 people, over half of them Jews, were murdered at the camp.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp also suffered damage this year as heavy floods covered the site and nearly destroyed the memorial area.

Apparently there was also flooding at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Click here to read about it.

I kept a journey during my trip to Poland.  Below is an unedited copy of what I wrote at/about Majdanek:

Journal Entry of June 24, 2005

Majdanek Death Camp, Lublin, Poland

“Words can’t describe emotions right now.  We are currently at Majdanek (pronounced My don ek).  The crows call above us.  Constantly calling out as if to say ‘here lie the dead’.  I’m sitting on a piece of concrete in front of a barrack.  I don’t know what to write.  I feel guilty?  Lucky to be alive?  Hopeful for the future?  Worried for my kids?  The crows seem to be mocking us.  Rattling Nalgene bottles, beeping digital cameras – how?  How do we allow ourselves such luxuries in the place of countless dead?  We walked through our first building & saw an experimental gas chamber, real showers, Zyklon B storage room & real gas chambers.  Not until sitting outside the buildings did I realize what I’d just seen.  It was in there!  There people were not killed or murdered but exterminated.  Ah the crows!  Kids ride their bikes through the camp as a shortcut home.  People live right next door.  We saw a van drive through.  How?  How does this happen?  The barracks are larger than I thought & many have museum exhibits.  I was looking for one to still have the bunk beds.  I’ve yet to find it.  Creaking floorboards, wet, moldy, perhaps, rotten wood.  How?  Why?  Evan asked me to read part of a poem as we do our memorial service before we leave, but not yet though.  At least I’ll be able to do something in memory of the 350,000 dead.  They wanted us to bring water bottles.  How?  I couldn’t eat or drink in this place.  They wanted us to wear hats because of the sun.  How?  It didn’t matter for the prisoners.  I want to show off my yarmulke as if to say ‘A Jew still lives!’  The crows!

“We just did our memorial service.  We’ve seen barracks from different stages of the camp.  We walked through fields.  Saw the guard towers.  We went into the last building.  We saw the dissecting table where gold was removed from the dead.  We walked through a dark, damp, cool crematorium.  Ah! The thoughts!  The feelings!  Oh God!  We entered the room housing the crematorium.  What to think?  I’m so mixed up, sad, angry, I don’t know, I don’t – I don’t know what to do.  18,400 Jews were killed one day in pits behind the crematorium because of revolts at other camps.  It’s hard to write.  I want to cry but the tears won’t come.  I want to hug someone – to feel someone close to me to know others are still alive.  The crows keep making noise & now dogs are barking.  Everyone has different reactions.  The tears on many!  There is a monument/mausoleum where a pile of ash is under a stone dome.  We did our memorial service.  We read a poem about the blue on the walls of the crematorium from the poisoned breath.  Reading it was very moving.  I was shaking (like I am now) so badly I was afraid I would fall into the ash pit.  Elana read the poem ‘I am a Jew’.  It has new meaning having been read here.  Marc read the memorial prayer & asked us not to close our eyes.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, looking over the camp.  Oh God!  I can’t write more.  I’m shaking too badly.  The thoughts!  The feelings!”

Me and two friends writing in our journals at Majdanek, 2005.

The Call of the Wild

At each opening and closing campfire at summer camp, a staff member of the Ranger Program presents a poem/story of some sort and recruits for the program.  These stories are inspirational, motivational, and meaningful.  They tend to (appropriately) relate to the outdoors.  One of my favorites is “The Call of the Wild”.  This poem by Robert Service is not the same as the story by Jack London, but is nevertheless a challenge for exploration and understanding.  It is definitely worth reading and considering.

The Call of the Wild

by Robert W. Service

Have you gazed on naked grandeur
where there’s nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley
with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence?
Then for God’s sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.

Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation,
The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?
Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation,
And learned to know the desert’s little ways?
Have you camped upon the foothills,
have you galloped o’er the ranges,
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa?
Do you know its moods and changes?
Then listen to the Wild — it’s calling you.

Have you known the Great White Silence,
not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver?
(Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies).
Have you broken trail on snowshoes? mushed your huskies up the river,
Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize?
Have you marked the map’s void spaces, mingled with the mongrel races,
Felt the savage strength of brute in every thew?
And though grim as hell the worst is,
can you round it off with curses?
Then hearken to the Wild — it’s wanting you.

Have you suffered, starved and triumphed,
groveled down, yet grasped at glory,
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
“Done things” just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul?
Have you seen God in His splendors,
heard the text that nature renders?
(You’ll never hear it in the family pew).
The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things —
Then listen to the Wild — it’s calling you.

They have cradled you in custom,
they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you’re a credit to their teaching —
But can’t you hear the Wild? — it’s calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night-wind,
there’s a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling. . .let us go.

Robert Service

As Our Lives Change, Come Whatever, We Will Still Be Friends Forever

Graduation is coming up.  For DU, it is Saturday, June 5, 2010.  Because of the Dual Degree program I am in, I am not technically graduating (I’ll stay an undergraduate for the fifth year).  I am walking with my class though.  As the University of Denver Class of 2010 graduates, I will be forced to say goodbye to some of my closest friends and some of the best people I have met in my life.  I certainly hope that some of these people will still be in Denver with me for at least the next year, but whatever happens, things will change.  I can only hope that we will be friends forever.

I have been trying not to think about any of this because it makes me sad.  I watched How I Met Your Mother tonight though, and the whole “Robots versus Wrestlers” episode was basically about friendship, friend groups, and how things change and people move apart.  It made me start thinking again.

Ted shared a poem titled “Friendship” by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

A ruddy drop of manly blood
The surging sea outweighs,
The world uncertain comes and goes,
The lover rooted stays.
I fancied he was fled,
And, after many a year,
Glowed unexhausted kindliness
Like daily sunrise there.
My careful heart was free again, —
O friend, my bosom said,
Through thee alone the sky is arched,
Through thee the rose is red,
All things through thee take nobler form,
And look beyond the earth,
And is the mill-round of our fate
A sun-path in thy worth.
Me too thy nobleness has taught
To master my despair;
The fountains of my hidden life
Are through thy friendship fair.

He concluded by narrating to his future kids as follows:

Kids, I’d love to tell you that over the years we didn’t all drift apart a little at one time or another.  We don’t mean for it to happen.  But it does.  But no matter what, to this day, come hell or high water, we still all get together every year for Robots Versus Wrestlers.”

While he ends on a light note, the purpose of his quote is not missed.  Even if we do move apart, we can still come back together, be with each other, be there for each other, and celebrate each other just as we always have. 🙂

One graduation song always touches my heart – Graduation (Friends Forever) by Vitamin C.  While the song is really about high school, it could also be true to college.  This song always makes me want to cry.

To my good friends: I truly hope that we really will be friends forever!  You mean so much to me!