Wednesday, June 15, 2016


The day after I fly back to Vancouver Island, I go to visit my father and Sandy. I don't tell them I am coming. They have been away and have come home early after he put his back out tying lines at the dock. "We've just been reading your blog," Sandy says, as she greets me at the door with a hug. My father comes in from the living room. He's crying. I haven't seen my father cry, that I can remember, since I was 10 years old and we were spending the last night in an apartment he rented during his divorce from my mother. Suddenly, I realize, stupidly late, that people have been reading these words. That my difficulty has been their difficulty these last weeks. I've brought a guest and we spend the next four hours missing ferries and talking and talking and I feel encompassed and made of air.

The sorting out continues. I am told by people this will be a long process. I traveled back, with a stop in Toronto to hug and spend time with as many of my friends as possible, with a growing sense that what I did over in Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and what I saw, was both necessary and totally ludicrous. The care my friends take of me in Toronto is stupendous, exquisite. But the reality of what the Jewish archivist told me begins to sink in. I may have sung to ancestors in two graveyards in two countries, but they may not have been mine. I may have the wrong information. They may be in the next shetl over. They may be lying 100 kilometres away. There is a sense of having cast a voice out into the air, with no way of knowing how far it will carry, or what will be heard. I remember leaving the town of Berdychiv by car, taking a different route back and realizing that I would likely never return, and sobbing briefly, before I had to get it together, knowing there was no one else on this trip to make the travel arrangements for the next day, to get us back safe to Kiev, to buy dinner. I stopped crying.

Then there is the issue of what I say to those I love when I return. My father only said, "good, I'm glad you're going," when I told him I was going to Auschwitz. He said nothing of what he saw. And so what do I say? To those who have not read this, what is the protocol? I decide to follow suit, and use words like "challenging" and "intense" when people ask me how the trip was. I don't elaborate. I take back a gardening contract, turning water systems on and off and working the earth. I walk my dog and swim her in the cold winds and water of a summer that leaves the night after I arrive. I spend the first night back in the back garden and then am driven back inside, missing the heat of Europe, missing Mexico. I miss everywhere I've ever been. I feel like my feet aren't even touching the ground here, as if I've been taken under in Poland's forests or on the banks of the Neris in Vilna.

Finally, there is the idea of home. How does one come to a new land? I've now taken the same journey as my grand and great-grandparents, albeit by different type of vessel. We have both passed through a European theatre; we have both arrived to what is ultimately a foreign destination, however much I feel Saanich, in the end, however much my life centres here. In the end, the feeling I'm left with is perhaps less settled than the one my ancestors felt after 41 years in America: discombobulation, confusion, unease, mixed with total familiarity. I drink. I fiddle with my meds. I fight over issues that don't need to be fought over. I gain and lose equilibrium in the space of five minutes. I check airline ticket prices. I take jobs I don't want. I can't quite cry.

It was Gary Snyder, I think, who said the best thing we can do for the environment is to just stay home. What do you do when your home belongs to the Coast Salish First Nations, and the home of your ancestors is a giant pit of burned human ashes at the edge of a concentration camp, marked with a plaque and topped with a few pebbles that some people have thought to bring (in their suitcases, and what a strange thing, to put a pebble in a suitcase and bring it half way across the world)? My pebbles from my garden are in Berdychiv's cemetery and on the Auschwitz memorial plaques made by some artist who made something that no one understands, apparently (according to my guide) and in the Łomża cemetery. It's not enough. It will never be enough. I smile at the beyond and drink another glass of wine.