2016……and it ain’t over yet

This year I got to see two places that I have always aspired to go to ever since my teens, and maybe even before then. The first was New York, the second was Krakow, but the main incentive behind my most recent visit to Poland was Auschwitz. Yes, these places are a little at odds with each other. But my creative day dreamer wanted to see the city that inspired me so much on screen and the historical, realist wanted to see the place that woke me up to the harsh realities of the world. Whilst months have passed since my travels, I can’t forget what I’ve seen and how I felt when I was there and even more so in the last few days.

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I was Rachel on Wednesday, no denying it

For me personally, in the scheme of things – I am lucky.  I have an amazing, supportive network of friends and family who are constantly by my side when things get a little too overwhelming. I have family and friends who believe in me when I don’t believe in myself…which can be a little too often. And even though I am in my mid-twenties and have definitely learnt so much in the last few years – I still feel just as lost and confused as ever.

Just as lost and confused as I felt walking around the concentration and death camps of Auschwitz on a hot, Sunday afternoon. Wondering how people coped in such horrific, unexplainable cramped conditions and knowing all too well that these were their last moments. And I knowing even then in my gut, despite the supposed lessons learnt…that these cruel atrocities continue on today even at that very moment I walked slowly around the tight spaces in the blocks of Auschwitz.

I remember also feeling just as lost and as confused walking around the 9/11 memorial. I remember being pelted by heavy, freezing rain, which literally travelled through my bones. But I remember mostly standing still; taking in the names of those who died that horrific day and watching the water seemingly disappear in the big fountains below. Feeling for the poor families of those lost knowing this is all they left of their loved ones. I remember being shocked over the fact that the  tarmac on the roads surrounding the memorial were still crumbled. It  was an area that was recovering but still not quite healed.

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When my friend revealed the result of the American Election to me on Wednesday, I just lay in bed taking it all in. Knowing all too well that this was the world we live in now and understanding all too well why it happened, but at the same time hoping I was wrong. The thing is hatred is so easy to give into; it’s so easy to be negative and expect the worst of people. I know myself that I am guilty of this. I get told constantly to cheer up and think of the best case scenario. But I don’t like lying to myself nor do I like lying to others.  And to be honest, most of the time and I know you will roll your eyes reading this, but I am right. The Brexit referendum happened, Trump has been elected the 45th president…we have the same party in government that got us into the mess of a Recession four years ago (I will never forget that, I will never forget their mistakes and how it affected my generation, my friends and yes, myself).  I like to think I am better than I used to be but it’s hard to be positive at times like this. It’s hard because I remember touring around Krakow’s Jewish Quarter and seeing the memorial to victims of the Krakow  in the form of over sized bronze chairs on the Plac Bohaterow Getta. I remember trying to hold back my tears on that tour bus on seeing the sculptures which symbolised the loss of so many Jewish women, men and children. I remember not crying at Auschwitz II–Birkenau because sometimes you cannot express the amount of sadness you can feel in one moment. But I do remember walking down those train tracks in complete silence because even after all these years, you could still feel the pain, the sadness, the loss.

I want to believe that neither is linked…I want to believe that the hatred that’s spewed on a daily basis is “harmless”…and it’s all talk and no action. But what I see overseas seems to reflect otherwise.  How can it not affect you in some shape or form when you’re constantly surrounded by it? When you see so many people listening and even agreeing to such hatred, and then seeing how it affects those that are the constant targets of such vile abuse.  I’ve gotten to the stage where I can’t look at the news anymore, which saddens me because time last year I was so engaged. I was constantly lecturing my friends to pay attention to the world around them but now it’s gone so beyond a dystopian nightmare, it would be easier to get more upset over Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games.

That’s right it’s easier to obsess over TV shows now, because at least when things go wrong there, at least I know it’s not real. I want to believe that everyone in the world lives in my nice little bubble of unity, equality for all, kindness, decadency, logic, common sense…when we know in reality it’s all too different. We are seeing more and more the reality of what occurs for those who cite free speech as an opportunity to promote hatred in disguise of solidarity. When in reality it’s just to promote their self-interests, and I hope, I hope that we won’t have to wait years before that light bulb finally switches.

While on Wednesday I reflected on the time I regretfully (regret it more than ever) stepped into Trump Towers last April.  (In my defence it was the only place that was open and warm {temperature wise} ok and he wasn’t the Republican nominee then). But even seeing then the rhetoric on sale of what was to be the future pinnacle of the now president elect of America is frightening to the core. (We didn’t buy anything Trump related, we got coffees from Starbucks because it was freezing and nothing else was open in that area during that time in the morning).

But while my trip to New York maybe marred by that, I will remember what it felt like to walk on Fifth Avenue a few hours later after visiting Trump Towers (fun fact I was also outside Lady GaGa’s apartment which is way more important/awesome). I walked the same path of the many personalities who have inspired me, but most importantly I stood outside the spot of a woman who inspired and still inspires me to become a writer; Candace Bushnell. Yes, I was freezing cold on that Sunday afternoon (weird it all seems to happen on a Sunday) but it also stirred in me a reminder of the person I always wanted to be. Someone who is determined to be the best she can be not just for herself, but for those who constantly stood by her side. Someone who will stand up for what she believes in and acts on it even if it scares her to her core. Someone who will strive to achieve her ambitions, but will not to lose herself in the process. But most importantly someone who is content with who she is and shouldn’t feel any less because of it. And yes of course, I am still striving every day to become that person.

That Sunday was finished by a second visit to the 9/11 memorial and then completed with an evening at the One World Trade Center. And as I reached the near top floor of the One World Trade Center, I along with my family watched the sun set over a city filled with nothing but possibilities. It was then I finally felt at peace with who I was and who I wanted to be.

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I remind myself more than ever of the feelings both of those trips stirred in me; fear, sadness, anger, resolution and hope. I remind myself of consequences  I’ve seen first-hand of what such hatred can lead to and the reality of turning a blind eye to it all.  Because while I think in these unsettled times as easy as it is for me to wallow, I need to take action. I need to still strive to be that person not just for myself, but for the challenges we all face ahead. I am a pessimist but I believe that we can face these challenges, even at the moment it seems impossible. I know it’s going to be tough, but I have faith in the future. I have faith because I see the positive actions people have taken to target hate straight on and to help those who need it the most right now. All this pushes me even more to the person I strive to be, because I have to believe more than ever that we all want that not just for ourselves, but for each other.

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But then again I acknowledge I am one of the lucky ones.

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2 thoughts on “2016……and it ain’t over yet

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