This I Believe

Madelyn - Tomales, California
Entered on January 3, 2007

I believe in a triumvirate. There are three things that, braided together, give my life meaning and worth. I believe in making a contribution. I believe in standing up for what is fair. And I believe in appreciating and enjoying the good things. Each of these, alone, helps to give my life a meaningful structure, but the three together provide balance and harmony that none of them can on their own.

I was raised by war refugees. My parents came here from Europe after World War II, much of which they’d spent, like Anne Frank, in hiding. My father got a job working on a dairy on the coast of northern California. I grew up on that farm, nourished not only by fresh milk and the beautiful, peaceful countryside, but on stories of courage. I heard, for example, about the woman in Amsterdam who pushed a baby carriage through the streets, delivering concealed food coupons to families sheltering hidden Jews. She was risking her life in making this contribution, trying, in a world that had gone tragically wrong, to do what she could to help those in need. Stories such as this one were told as celebrations, honoring those who worked to help build a more just world — those who, even against great odds and in the face of danger, stood up for fairness.

Complementing this was a deep appreciation for beautiful things. We walked along the beach, marveling at the grace of gliding pelicans. There was music played and loved, from Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor to Marion Anderson singing “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” On a drizzly morning, bringing in the cows to be milked, my father would collect fresh mushrooms in his rain hat, and my mother would fry them in her homemade butter with eggs I’d collected from the chicken house. Through this all, there was a tangible feeling of gratitude for these blessings. We were very fortunate, and I was helped to both appreciate and celebrate that.

My teenage years were darkened by the Vietnam War. I had lost relatives, including my grandfather, to World War II, (he died at Auschwitz), and though this was a different war in a different time and place, there were victims very like my own family, caught in its fire and crossfire. I wanted then, as I want now, just and lasting peace — a world in which people everywhere could build and enjoy a good life. How could I possibly help make that happen?

I worked my way through college and a teaching credential program, and have been working with children in classrooms ever since. And whether I’m teaching eighth grade English or sixth grade geography, always underlying the academic lessons are the lessons of my own childhood: Learn to find your way to contribute; learn to be fair; and learn to appreciate your blessings, that together we can help shape a world that truly does have liberty and justice for all.