A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Saturday, March 14, 2020

One Century

Back: Reuben, Irwin, Sarah, Fenya
Front: Elizabeth, Pauline
circa 1915
Pauline, Irwin, and Elizabeth circa 1980

Dear Great-Grandma Fenya Zlochevsky – I never knew you, but I see you. You were a wonderful woman – strong, brave, and loving even in the face of the steep challenges of escaping the Russian Revolution, immigrating with three young children, making a life in a new country that was not always welcoming, and trying to build a feeling of love and safety during a worldwide war.  My grandma, your little Elizabeth, told me about you, her mother.  She was in her seventies then, and I was ten, but there were tears in her eyes nonetheless.  You died when she herself was ten -- in the influenza pandemic of 1918.  But I see you still.

Dear friends in vulnerable categories – older friends, friends with medical conditions, friends with compromised immune systems -- maybe you are struggling.  Maybe you are worried.  Maybe you are feeling blamed, or ignored, or sidelined, or already triaged by a cold and indifferent world.  You deserve better.  You deserve everything humanity as a whole can muster to keep you safe. You are us, and we are you.  I see you.    

Dear friends who are healthcare professionals – doctors, nurses, aides, all of you -- you have done the math, and you know exactly what this may look like, and you know how horrendous your world may look, for weeks, for months.  You know how many hours you may work, what hideous life and death choices may be placed in your hands, and what huge risks to your own health are looming.  You will do your best, because you are incredible human beings, but you’re painfully aware that your best may not be good enough.  You need the rest of us to do whatever we can to lighten your load.  I see you.

Dear friends who are not in a vulnerable category – you may be struggling in other ways.  You may suddenly be stuck at home with kids too young to care for themselves.  You may not be able to do your job, or earn a living.  You may be uncertain as to whether you’ll be able to get groceries.  You may be facing the cancellation of something you endlessly trained for, or rehearsed for, or longed for.  You may be unable to visit people you care about – and may never get another chance to see, ever.  You may be wondering how you can help, and feeling lost in your inability to do more.  Your hands may already be raw from washing, and your heart may already be raw from uncertainty.   I know.  I see you. 

Dear friends everywhere -- I won’t mention your names.  You don’t need to be called out.  You are already aware of who you are – in some cases, all too aware.  But I am thinking of your names.  Graphs are important.  Graphs remind people who have forgotten their algebra exactly what uncontrolled  exponential growth looks like.  But graphs show numbers, and mathy folks like me are often reminded that most people don’t think in numbers.  They think in names.  So I’m thinking of the numbers, but I’m also thinking of your names.  I see you.

Dear Great-Grandma Fenya Zlochevsky – You were a wonderful person. I know this because your sister and all three of your children told me so.  They all lived long, interesting, and productive lives.  Your husband and son lived to old age.  Your sister lived far into her eighties.  Both your girls made it to their mid nineties; they saw the turn of the millennium.  The millennium!  It’s a different world now, from the one you left 102 years ago.  But it’s also the same world.  We have terrible problems, and wars, and sad inequities, and we don’t treat immigrants the way we should.  But we want and hope and strive to be better than we are.  We love our children.  We love our grandparents.  We do the best we can.  Your little Elizabeth was my grandma.  She lived to see three great-grandchildren, and to know that two more, my twins, were on the way.  I’m looking at those twins right now.  I’m looking at the girl I named Elizabeth, after your Elizabeth.  I think you’d like to know all this.

I see you.


  1. I had just a few weeks ago talked to my mother about how her mother weathered the 1918 flu. My grandmother was a young teacher in Minnesota, boarded out to a farm family. She caught the flu, far from family, and was left in her room to sweat it out, with her meals left at the door. She survived, as did her brother, on a transport trip back from Europe - though his lungs and body were always weak thereafter. I was consoled by this remembrance. That this is the human condition, weathering hard times. Thanks Nancy.

    1. Oh, wow. So many stories. So many individual humans, each with a whole universe of experience. Thanks, Marin.