Ellen Blum Barish

Ellen Blum Barish

A few months after 9/11, as a columnist for a parenting newspaper, I felt compelled to share how I was feeling about what we were calling the new normal.

I’m not familiar with lightning bolts of fear interrupting the course of my day, I wrote. This is the first real event that has forced many of us to consciously confront large-scale sacrifice for the first time.

I was exploring the meanings of security and sacrifice in a column titled “The Price for a Safe Haven.” My argument: We couldn’t have one without the other.

Not a popular term, sacrifice, I wrote. We think of it as barbaric … relegated to animal offerings from Bible stories…. But sacrifice comes from the word sacred… What freedom we think we have has not been possible without sacrifice.

Because I was writing for a parenting publication and my daughters were elementary-and-middle-school age, I frequently saw the world through motherhood metaphors.

Security and sacrifice are present during gestation and birth, I wrote. Baby’s lives develop in the protection of amniotic fluid but the delivery process can be painful and risky for both mother and baby … We too often enjoy a sense of security about our lives, I wrote, without remembering that it couldn’t exist without its very unpopular counterpart, sacrifice.

I share this with you because during these weeks of quarantine in which all of us are sacrificing  – freedom, health, jobs, money – I was thinking back to that other life-altering moment 19 years ago. I wondered what I was thinking and feeling in the weeks after 9/11. What was front and center for me then?  Were there any insights? Could I learn something from my younger self in the midst of a crisis?

The column concluded with questions about what I might be willing to sacrifice in order to feel safer. Would I fork over more tax money? Enlist in the military? Ration food or gas?

Though I desperately hoped I wouldn’t have to make those decisions, I felt that the dance between security and sacrifice was worth exploring, worth talking about with my children. They were so young. So impressionable. My hope was that they might grow up with a better understanding of the relationship between the two.

My daughters, now in their late 20s and early 30s, are navigating this version of new normal with incredible poise. I still worry about their health, especially for my youngest daughter who is living in Brooklyn. But their composure has been a balm for me.

Rereading this column from almost 20 years ago got me thinking. Could my daughters familiarly with navigating frightening global events be one of the reasons they are coping so well? While I grew up during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, these events didn’t impact the day-to-day sense of security for every single American as 9/11 and Covid-19 do.

Returning is one of the many rewards in writing stuff down. You can go back and see how you were taking it all in. Rediscover your observations which may, decades later, provide perspective, self-discovery, even joy.

What we leave behind can be even more compelling for the generations after ours. Imagine discovering letters or notebooks from your mother, father or grandparents describing how they responded to the Depression, World War One, emigration, slavery or internment? Wouldn’t it be a delightful find?

Words as valuable as gold, if not more so.

Get those feelings and stories you have having out of your head, through your heart and into your hands. Leave them on the page or screen. To get them off your chest. To come back to. Or to leave behind for others.

We stay safe by staying at home. But our thoughts, feelings, stories, stay everlasting on the page.

Photos courtesy of Ellen Blum Barish. Ellen feeling safe and secure with her mother, father and grandmother.

Upcoming Workshops 

Inspiring Sparks for Spiritual Self-Care, Beth Emet The Free Synagogue, Sunday, May 31

Truth in Memoir, Lighthouse Lit Fest, Wednesday, June 10

Essay as Song, Lighthouse Lit Fest, Monday, June 15

One True Sentence, Lighthouse Lit Fest, Tuesday,  June 23

Eight Elements of Essay, Story Studio Chicago, Monday, July 13

Writing for Wellness: The Healing Power of Personal Narrative, Ruth Naomi Cohen Institute for Mental Health Education, October 2020 (Date TBD)

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