Who do you think you are?

Once again I’m breaking with my plan to post what I’ve written about my process as it relates to my decision to quit my job as a therapist in a university counseling center due to the more pressing and tragic events in Belgium. Rather than have my fears stoked by the major networks especially given the fact that my husband is in Paris, I went to the pool to work out my fears and anxieties. I thought of a lot of different things while swimming, which made an hour in the water fly by. But before I get to that I want to describe briefly my great-grandmother Louise Nobyn D’Haene who made the bead work above over 100 years ago. She was left on a doorstep as an infant in Ghent Belgium around 1860 and went on to own her own business (D’Haene’s) as a dressmaker involving elaborate bead work as shown above and Belgian lace. She traveled back and forth between Belgium and the United States where she set up shop in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. She is “a famous woman in Michigan,” and it took some guts to do all that as a woman at the turn of the twentieth century. As a descendant of a gutsy, creative against all odds Belgian woman, my thoughts and prayers go out to all Belgians today.

The voice I kept hearing in the pool, however, was my mother’s, a gutsy Irish woman. As the mother of a large brood of children, she was the one who made sure we all got along, played nice, and contributed to the whole rather than drain off the whole. As a family we rose or fell on her efforts. If you hit a brother or sister, took more than your fair share, said mean words, didn’t clean up after yourself, lied, cheated, or stole this is what we’d hear: WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? A phrase my husband describes as the Irish ontological question. Are you contributing to make the world a better place or are you taking at the expense of others? My parents made sure we knew the world didn’t owe us anything. The question was what were we doing to be of use to others. Unless we all start to realize that we’re in this together…well the consequences are becoming glaringly obvious. One thing I know we will rise or fall as a whole.

The other thing I thought about (and I’ve written about this and will post it soon) was when my brother died in an airplane crash in 1974 we didn’t know about terrorism. I’ve thought about and experienced a lot of fear since then. Terrorism or no terrorism people suffer in this world. None of us escapes suffering. What I know is this: 1. We must keep moving and living as well as we can (and by that I mean as a contributor) while we can. 2. I would much rather be on the side of those who alleviate people’s suffering rather than those who inflict suffering–for my sake as well as for the sake of other people. So to all you mothers out there, if your child is behaving badly, I don’t care if he is nine or sixty-nine, say it with me now–WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

One last thing on Belgium. One of my favorite cookbooks of all time is Ruth Van Waerebeek’s “Everyone Eats Well in Belgium.” Check it out.

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