Mortality’s Pink Slip

Today I spoke with a young romni (Romani woman) about finding my gr-gr-gr-grgrandmother’s name on a list of slaves on a Barbados plantation, and also about our attempts every year to persuade the UN’s office of Holocaust Outreach to include us in their annual remembrance ceremony. We both cried a bit. 


Tonight I read the poem by Rachel Hadas, “Pomegranate Variations,” with these lines:


The fruit we pass around is recollection

. . . .

Mortality’s pink slip,

ticket to a certain season . . .


In my novel, Eve’s Garden, Eve’s grandmother, Evangeline, explains to her children how her Romani ancestors came through such oppression as being driven out of their homes by arson, were denied housing and safe passage, and were ultimately sold into slavery. She plants for the children cuttings from the pomegranate trees grown by her own grandmother, trees from which she harvested the fruits, processing the seeds and pulp into extracts to help her neighbors, in that time before pharmaceuticals, to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Those same neighbors turned against her, the same lack of charity experienced again and again, experienced even today, by Romani families in France, in Italy, in Hungary, and more places, but especially in parts of Eastern Europe. 

Today, as we observe the anniversary of the night when the remaining Romani women, men, and children were murdered in Auschwitz, I think of my ancestors, what they have endured and overcome to bring us here. And what yours must have done to bring us alive, together, to this moment.

Mortality comes for us all. Compassion takes but a moment, but may be remembered for a lifetime, and celebrated for many lifetimes. May we live so that they survive forever. 


How Can I Keep From Singing?

I’m happy to be a resource for the above article.

It is humbling to know that had my ancestors not persisted through war, famine, pestilence, persecution to the point of becoming human game, and the many dark trials of slavery, I would not be here. In truth, many of our ancestors, no matter our origin, delivered us to this moment after great tribulations. Present fears may yet lead to future triumphs. I try to remember that when looking at our momentarily grim world.

It is my honor to bear my ancestors forward to whatever the future holds. And that future will certainly be forged through the present and future generations. I treasure my time spent with our young people, for they are optimistic and full of promise. If I can armor them against the world’s cruelties, even a little bit, by giving them a word, a song, a tool to fight despair, why would I not?

It is difficult to think of those Roma turned out into the streets in deepest winter, shut up into tenements without water or sanitation, accosted on their way to market or school by hardened souls, negated again and again by faint-hearted politicians who have not the courage to acknowledge our common humanity, or to prevent anger and hostility from taking hold.

Yet I am reminded of the Quaker hymn we sang in the civil rights movement.

In prison dark and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them are winging.
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?

My friends are fighting back, and I must take up the song.

Romani Clarinetist Ismail Luminov

Romani Clarinetist Ismail Luminov

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