Living a Heart’s Desire

Living a Heart’s Desire can be an overwhelming knowing, an elusive felt sense, or something that shows up when the conditions are right. It is a deeply felt need to have something in your life that moves you forward. I found a new heart’s desire when I changed schools and found out the new school had a TV studio to teach students how to use this technology. Discovering and learning to embrace our Heart’s Desire is one of the beautiful possibilities of Wholebody Focusing. It helps us say “yes” when needed and keeps us connected to what our heart wants.

Approximating a Heart’s Desire

While I occasionally was in a play, I realized that I was more comfortable making costumes and organizing the box office. At least the actors invited me to the post-production parties. However, when I saw the TV studio, I immediately thought about all the possibilities it could provide. Finding  a way to make this opportunity mine became my obsession.

I eventually became the “TV Producer” of the TV studio. I had many happy years of working with students, teaching them how to develop stories, act them out in front of a camera, and record and edit these stories to show them to others. These experiences have continued through the years as my job titles, locations, and resources changed. However, an acknowledged Heart’s Desire always finds a way.

A Life Long Heart’s Desire

The following video is an interview by a friend about how this Heart’s Desire lives in me. It connects to my authentic self, and how it inspires me to find ways to continue creating using video. Wholebody Focusing has been the guiding light to keep me connected to this desire. It helps me say “Yes” whenever needed.

Please enjoy the interview about the creative process and the video “We Are the Sea,” which we share while celebrating Earth Day on April 24.

Videos to Explore


We are the Sea

Since “We are the sea” was written, the Northern Gateway pipeline and associated tanker traffic through Hecate Strait on Canada’s west coast has been rejected by the Canadian government. This was the result of years of legal challenges by First Nations, and vocal and sustained solidarity from Canadians from all walks of life. Subsequently the Canadian government passed the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, which prohibits tanker traffic along the north-west coast. This is a grassroots success story worth celebrating.
Unfortunately, at the same time it rejected Northern Gateway, the Canadian government gave the green light to expanding an existing pipeline from the tar sands to Burnaby, B.C., despite opposition by First Nations on whose territory the “twin” pipeline and terminal would be built. Tsleil-Waututh First Nation continues to oppose and fight against Trans Mountain pipeline and tankers project. Learn more:
Ana Simeon

Digitize Me?

Living guided by body wisdom is a process, not a solution. But, each step of the way, my body wisdom is central to any deliberate change or belief I might have about how I can be healthier and happier.

Digitize me, or don’t digitize me–that is the question: whether it is healthier to be with oneself and experience the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take up digital arms against a sea of trouble by opposing, end them.

Lyndsay Crouse, a New York Times editor and producer, took up this question in her op-ed, I Ditched my Smart Watch and I Don’t Regret It.   Crouse takes on what happens when we turn over control of our bodies to digital devices. It is worth the one-dollar special offer for a week’s access. She describes how, at some point, the information from her devices overtook her own confidence in her body’s wisdom.

“It (a device) can interfere with our ability to know our own bodies. Once you outsource your well-being to a device and convert it into a number, it stops being yours. The data stands in for self-awareness. We let the device tell us when and how to move, when we’re tired and when we’re hungry.” Lindsay Crouse

My First Digitized Experiences

The first device that determined my worth was the scale. When I hit puberty, I gained weight. It happened at the same time my mother began worrying about her weight. We went on Weight Watchers together. The process included weighing ourselves every week in a public place to determine whether or not we had successfully lost some pounds. We were happy if the scale told us we did and sad and ashamed if we didn’t. We got claps or sighs from our group depending on if we lost weight or not. Before digital devices, a scale had diabolical power over my sense of self-worth.

As an educational administrator, I worked in a large NYC high school with two and a half miles of hallways. I know this because my Fitbit told me so. The building had five floors and was three blocks long. My goal was 10,000 steps a day. I seldom missed my mark, adding the distance to and from public transportation. It made me happy to quantify how much energy I expended during my day. The Fitbit information matched my exhaustion when I arrived home. I would need a 20 minute Yoga Nidra to get me to the dinner table, after which I slept on the couch while I pretended to watch TV until  I was dragged to bed at 9:30 PM by my husband. Because I was achieving this magic healthy step goal every day, I didn’t question if my life style was out of wack.

Not Digitize Me

At the same time, I studied Wholebody Focusing with Kevin McEvenue and Karen Whalen in a three-year-long training program. I was learning to sense into my body. It was a delightful and exciting process.  I became fond of being in grounded presence without words or goals. Starting in a standing position, I grounded to the energy of gravity and the planet Jupiter. There was  a simple question. “What does by body need now?” My body responded with movement, sounds, smells, images, and sometimes answers.

I became entranced with the idea that my body was creating sign language  to help me understand it. When I Give My Body Permission to Lead When I held space for something in particular, for example, my relationship with my mother, a specific movement would show up. My right hand would rest on the upper left corner of my chest area. Sometimes, a tapping movement would start at various velocities as the time spent in this position continued. I didn’t necessarily “know” what it meant, but some part of me had a process to work through, and I was a willing partner to give it the time and space it needed.

My Body Shows Up

The next stage came when my body took the lead even if I was not in grounded presence. It sometimes shows up when I need to make a choice, even if I wasn’t aware of that need.

I was on a treadmill even though I had never been an athlete. When I retired, something in me said that this was my time to “get into shape.” What I didn’t expect was how there was another part of me that didn’t want to “get into shape.” I started having panic attacks over whether to go faster or not on the treadmill. While my mind was arguing about the benefits of going faster, my right hand lifted and moved toward the button to go faster. I stopped that movement and then realized this was my body wisdom speaking. My hand moved again toward the machine and pressed the button to go faster.

I was in a gem store walking around picking up stones and enjoying being in the presence of all these new gems. As I got to a particular spot, my hand reached out, picked up a clear green rock, and placed it under my nose. It was a swift and determined action that didn’t leave me any time for me to censor it. I read the explanation of the benefits of the gem. It was not only suitable for my emotional state (anxiety) my hand had moved the stone to a point under my nose that in acupuncture helps reduce stress. I immediately went to the cash register and bought gem, and we have lived happily ever after.

The New Devices

Covid-19 and my lifelong struggle with weight and insulin resistance brought me back to digital devices. By this time, the devices had advanced from measuring your steps to including heart rate, sleep quality, blood sugar levels, sleep apnea, stress management, daily readiness, heart, lung brain synchronicity, level of exercise, health metrics, and hydration.

I deeply wanted what the devise seller promised—to become a healthier person. But, unfortunately, using these devises led to every moment of my day was being measured. I was trying to feel the security in that, but it raised my anxiety levels and had no actual positive outcomes. So I joined Lindsay Crouse in ditching my devices and have gone back to my WBF practice in a new way.

Digitized Chaos

As a child, I felt “less than” because of the numbers on a scale. Even if I lost weight, some part of me thought, “I can eat “forbidden foods” because I lost weight. The numbers on the scale had a profound impact on me, no matter what they were. 

The same was true when I monitored the number of carbs, fat, and protein I ate. The goals set by the apps were not realistic for my body. Instead of having a “coach,” it felt more like my grammar school teachers, who were nuns. The nuns gave us impossible goals to meet without real change occurring, along with warnings about our failures.

Return to Body Wisdom

First, I ditched the apps and devices. Second I did nothing. Without the “critics,” I could enjoy some space to sense into “I’m okay just as I am.” Then I allowed myself to notice what made my body feel good and what made it feel worse. Two culprits emerged–dairy products and wheat. So I decided to eliminate them from my diet again and wait to see what would happen. 

I had so much less digestive stress, and, subsequently, I slept a bit better. Not surprisingly, my weight also started to decline. This time I wasn’t thinking, “I can eat these foods again.” I felt a calmness that supported keeping away from these foods. Instead of an outside source telling me not to eat certain foods, my body was clear that these foods caused me distress, and I had a choice to eat them or not. It seems easier not to eat them because it is a body choice.

I see this process as a path to a more authentic self, guided by body wisdom instead of electronic device calculations, app priorities, and the abundant pseudo health industry that markets all kinds of cures for bodily discomforts. My junk email usually has numerous invitations to lose belly fat, sleep better, and be perfect by taking  magic pills.

Living guided by body wisdom is not a solution. But, each step of the way, my body wisdom is central to any deliberate change I might have about how I can be healthier and happier. It also frees up a considerable amount of time I was monitoring apps, feeding information into them, and living with a sense of failure created by what Crouse describes as some app’s aspirational goals.

This video shows how an Apple iOS upgrade changed my desktop about the same time I start thinking about how digital devices impact our relationship to our bodies. 

--Diana Scalera

Nowhere to Stand

Nowhere to Stand, K. D. Lang’s song touched a place in my heart for its truth about the long-term impact of child abuse. As a high school teacher, people would ask me, “How can you stand being with so many teenagers?” My answer was that the students were my gift for putting up with the crazy adults that run the schools. These interchanges made me aware of how little our society values teenagers. As a result, schools often leave students adrift in this particularly challenging time of their lives.

Nowhere to Stand for Students

When we do not address the challenges that students face, we pay the price of raising adults who cannot manage the memories of the abuse, neglect, shame, and outright exploitation that they often suffered. As K.D. Lang’s song says, “the rights of children have nowhere to stand.”

Currently, there is a tug of war between those who insist that sending students at all costs, even into COVID-19 infected schools, is in the best interest of students and staff. Yet, at the same time, students, parents, and staff members are fighting to make schools safer so that this generation of students will not lose more education.

I offer K.D Land’s song to help us open our hearts to solutions that take into account the experiences of students and staff and the impact some of the current policies might have had on their lives.

The school districts that have managed to provide safe learning conditions are thriving. At the same time, other communities have chosen to do the minimum needed to show they have COVID-19 protocols in place. They do not meet the school communities’ medical, social, and emotional needs. Both students and parents have become deeply distrustful of the conditions children must negotiate.

With equal and positive regard, we must hold the need for quality education and proper COVID-19 protection. The medical profession has shown us how school districts can do this. Many hospitals have created protocols that keep staff, patients, and caregivers safe while providing proper medical care.

Providing safe schools and quality education will significantly reduce the future symptoms of trauma that can emerge for all those impacted by the current conditions. Anything less is extraordinarily problematic and a sign of our society’s lack of value for students’ lives.

Link to You Tube  Nowhere to Stand


As things start to surface
Tears come on down
Scars of childhood
In a small town
Hurt she pushed inward
Starting to show
Now she’ll do some talking
But he’ll never know
Tables have turned now
With a child of her own
But she’s blind to the difference
What’s taught is that’s known
Numbed by reaction
Stripped of the trust
A young heart is broken
Not aware that it’s just
A family tradition
The strength of this land
Where what’s right and wrong
Is the back of a hand
Turns girls into women
A boy to a man
But the rights of the children
Have nowhere to stand
But the rights of the children
Have nowhere to stand
Memories of children
Are written in stone
Some they get buried
Not to be shown
Still they do linger
Deep down inside
Like a seed that’s been planted
And won’t be denied
A family tradition
The strength of this land
Where what’s right and wrong
Is the back of a hand
Turns girls into women
A boy to a man
But the rights of the children
Have nowhere to stand
But the rights of the children
Have nowhere to stand
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: K. D. Lang

The “Holding Both with Equal Regard” Challenge

The Tug of War


There is a Tug of War taking over the world. It is not new, but it is currently very potent. A spiritual guide from my Buddhist community shared this information with me. “Be the peacemaker,” the spiritual leader said, “in the tug of war that is overwhelming us individually, socially, politically.” How can we mediate and moderate this energy pattern that has taken over our minds as Omicron has taken over our bodies? What guidance can Wholebody Focusing provide?

Tug of War: Holding Space for my Heart

The spiritual guide suggested that I start with the Tug of War in my heart. I found that quite prescient since holding space for waring parts of me has recently become central to my WBF experience. How do I reconcile my traumatized self that doesn’t want to change anything for fear it will cause more significant harm with the part of me that needs to heal.
My body leads me in holding both parts with equal positive regard. Through movement, each traumatized part receives the time and space to process whatever is there with love and compassion. There is space for the “not knowing.” Many resources will help me, including my WBF partners, my spiritual practice, and my ability to share this struggle with others. My highest and greatest good will be served by connecting to these efforts with patience and faith.

Tug of War: Holding Space for the Personal, Social and Political

My spiritual guide indicated that holding space for the global “Tug of War” is part of my healing. So how can my Wholebody Focusing practice become a vehicle to guide others to hold space for whatever shows up with equal regard.

When unvaccinated family members recently became infected with COVID-19, I began to open up to an expanded view of anti-vaxxers. Instead of only seeing them as the cause of the vastly increased transmission of COVID-19, I asked for guidance in what I do not know about their situation. I became open to learning what else was there.

Opening to More

  • Anti-vaxxers become an easy target because they lead the surge of new infections.
  • There is no free universal health plan in the USA or even an agreement about whether we should have one.
  • 42% of Anti-vaxxers are without health benefits.
  • Many others have inadequate health insurance that doesn’t cover COVID-19 costs.
  • Some anti-vaxxers live in impoverished neighborhoods so full of violence that preventing COVID-19 is not a priority.
  • As a Highly-Sensitive Person, I can sympathize with people who do not want any vaccines.
  • Some US leaders and the media encourage anti-vax arguments in opposition to scientific explanations.

Moreover, I realized that what has been missing in our relationship to COVID-19 is a national consciousness of oneness. Our country has not promoted a sense of common good. Capitalism, by its nature, is about a small group of individuals using their power to have more than the rest of us. It is challenging to cultivate a sense of a “common good” under these conditions. When I listen to people’s thought process about moving forward, it seldom includes a consideration of how their actions might impact others. What I hear is “they are adults, and they make their choices.”

Instead of blaming anti-vaxxers, I can recognize the suffering they are experiencing because of the choices they feel compelled to make. Their grief may also include remorse for infecting others. Therefore, I hold anti-vaxxers, some of whom are my family members, with compassion for how their choices cause them increased suffering and, in some instances, how they have increased the suffering of others.

Be the Peacemaker

The most important thing I can do to be the “Peacemaker” is to live my practice—to not contribute to the Tug. It doesn’t mean not having opinions but having an expanded understanding of the situations in which people find themselves. We can share that compassion with others due to showing compassion for our personal situations. As we support our heart’s Tug of War, we can learn to be a peacemaker for the global Tug of War. So give your heart a hug, not a tug, today.

The Inner Core Muscle of “Holding Both”

When Art Just Happens

Two human hearts, the song of insects, and the movement of the sun conspired to give us a chance to stop and open ourselves to what can come from our ability to pause and notice what is present.

Sometimes art just happens. Maybe someone is there to observe it. Another person can also be inspired by the moment as much as you might be. It is about sensing something, observing it, slowing down, being present, and having an open heart to know when this moment arrives.

A friend, Liz Taub, aka Violizzy, an excellent violin and fiddle player, and her son, Jonny Warschauer, also an artist, were on Tybee Island, Georgia, at dusk. It is the 17th year of the cycle of the local cicadas. They were out in full-throated song. The sun was setting. Liz had her violin as she picnicked  along  Tybee Creek with Jonny, who had his phone.

The video below is a document of that moment. It is when two human hearts, the song of insects, and the movement of the sun conspired to give them, and now us, a chance to stop and open ourselves to what can come from our ability to pause and notice what is present. So Liz and Jonny decided to become part of the moment by contributing what they had to offer.

With great delight, we share this moment with you. Enjoy.

Rumi on When Art Just Happens

This Rumi poem below speaks to the spontaneous nature of art and how is it constantly in our lives.

In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.

You dance inside my chest,
where no one sees you,

but sometimes I do,
and that sight becomes this art.

Drum  sound rises on the air,
its throb, my heart.

a voice inside the best say,
“I know you’re tired,
but come. “This is the way.”

Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
Why would you refuse to give
this joy to anyone?

Fish don’t hold the scared liquid in cups!
They swim in the huge fluid freedom.

The Essential Rumi 
Translation by Coleman Barks with John Moyne
Pages 122 and 123

You can see another example of art coming from a heartfelt place from the Blog: Billy Holiday and Holding Both

Something Stops Working

Recently I have noticed my reaction when something stops working for me that is typically so quickly done it is almost automatic–like signing into a much-used app. Since I spend so much time online, I usually face things that sometimes show up as obstacles. Today, I signed into Zoom to start my session with Kevin McEvenue, and Zoom said my password is incorrect.

Something Stops Working, and I Start Worrying

After typing in my password many times, several narratives quickly came to the forefront of my consciousness.

“This is Zoom forcing me to change my password.

“I am losing my mind because I have typed this password every day for years.”

“Kevin will be impatient with me for not signing on in time.”

“It will take me 10 minutes to change the password.”

“I hate being late.”

“I have to warn Kevin, so he won’t think I’m irresponsible.”

“Kevin will think badly of me for being late.”

Once I sent Kevin an email, I paused and held space for all that was there. A simple inability to sign into an app brought all these feelings into consciousness. It felt compelling to acknowledge this. It also opened me to a new solution. Since Kevin sent me the link, I didn’t have to sign in. I could click on the link he sent, and the app would open.

I Find My Way

When I connected to Kevin, we worked through all the narratives that arose from the inability to sign in to Zoom. There is the arbitrariness of how apps function. I am often baffled by how apps change to meet the needs of newer generations of users. If something I usually do causes me distress, I wonder if my brain is failing. Then the shame comes. Why can’t I be as efficient as I think I am? How did it happen that I am late for my session? What will be the impact of not functioning at total capacity on my relationship with partners or participants?

Fortunately, it was Kevin that was on the other side of the camera. We took time to be with all of these narratives. What came for me was how the narratives are related to my background feeling of “there is something wrong with me.” I had a chance to hold space for this complicated felt sense simply because I could not complete a well-known repetitive task. Then it dawned on me that this was a great opportunity.

Each time I can make a choice. I can indulge in the “something is wrong with me.” or I can hold space with equal regard for it and allow it to find its own way. What happened when I worked with Kevin was that by letting “something is wrong with me” pass through my body, I came to the point of “something stopped working for me.” This statement leaves so many unknown opportunities for healing to occur.  

Suggested Readings

I suggest reading Kevin’s article Wholebody Focusing: Life Lived in the Moment.  He talks about how Wholebody Focusing evolved, and the first time he connected to his inner self. It is an excellent read to help one see how habitual experiences can develop into openings. Kevin talks about how holding space for a felt sense can give us “several options for living my life more fully beyond what I already knew.”

My response to the locked password was to go into a hyper-problem solving mode motivated by fear of criticism and failure to meet some standard that I think everyone shares. By being compassionate with all that came, something new emerged. I heard, “something stopped working for me.” At that moment, I felt very joyful and free of the earlier narrative voices. 

I look forward to being aware of how I react when something stops working for me.  I pause, and hold space for what is there. I ask for support and wait to see what comes.

My Background Feeling: Unprepared for Life  is a joyous poem by directencounter asking for support to be with the unknown–the very support I need right now.  

Other Worlds Around Us


I want to get lost in the other worlds around us. I’m talking about the worlds we walk by and seldom see or hear. Our attention lately is frequently drawn to the larger picture–the health crisis we share with the rest of the world along with the political and financial upheaval.  How can we find a way to go on vacation from the Big Picture?

What Other Worlds?

I was in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in Wyoming a while back with some friends.  They were ambitious and wanted to hike up a mountain.  I wasn’t interested. So I found a rock on which to sit overlooking the Gorge. It was a sunny day and this was  a gravely overlook.  Siting on a rock looking over the gorge meant that there were no humans, cars, airplanes or anything else with a motor anywhere in sight. This was my first experience with other worlds.

Insect Worlds Around Us

The silence felt like my ears were relaxing.  Nothing to pay attention to, or so I thought.  As my body relaxed, I started to I enjoy the silence and the calm. Then, I began to hear a crunching sound.  It sounded like someone walking over gravel. I waited and listened.  No person or animal in sight.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. Then I didn’t see it.  The movement was in rhythm with the crunching  sound.  I looked down and saw a team of unidentifiable insects walking across the sand in front of me.  Was I really hearing the sound of insects walking?

Barbara’s Plant Worlds. Photo Credit: Barbara Fotta

While I was contemplating  the walking insects, something flew past me.  I was sure it was a large bird but no bird appeared.  I began to hear the sound of something flying from a distance and listened as it came closer. Once again I realized it was an insect!  Then, more insects buzzed by like airplanes on a recognizance mission.

What occurred to me was, that as I sat in this location that was completely devoid of the human noise, my body reorganized itself to be part of the world that is hidden by human sounds.  I felt very privileged that I had this time to learn that there is so much more life around me.  My  ability to hear the insects helped me understand that we have layers of perception. Some layers are so loud they block out others. “Civilization” makes sentient beings that exist around us  mostly out of our range of perception. When we allow these energy patterns into our awareness, we expand.

The Plant Worlds Around Us

My friend, Barbara Fotta, in one of focusing sessions, spoke about her walks through a cemetery in Pittsburgh as a place of calm. Here is her description of her experience.

 I love wandering through cemetery parks. I have fond childhood memories of adventuring in the cemeteries near my house with my brother. Since then, I never fail to find refuge and solace there. The cemeteries feel sacred and quiet and weeping is allowed. Combine that with the natural wonder of trees and shrubs and a cloudy sky and I’m in heaven. There is something about seeing clouds that can shift my mood dramatically. They can take my breath away. And I am unquestionably a tree huger to the core! So living in Pittsburgh is a blessing because we have an abundance of both here.

What we Learn from Other Worlds

Deni’s Plant Worlds. Photo Credit: Deni Tessarolo

Nature shows us that it exists and keeps on functioning according to long established processes whether humans recognize it or not. Insects continue to be insects and can even take some time out of their busy day to check out a human sitting on a rock.  It makes me think about how nature photographers find that the animals they photograph often come and crawl all over them.

It is known that cells of plants communicate with each other across species for each’s mutual benefit. These ecosystems surround us no matter if we live in a crowded city or the countryside. When the lock down started in Italy, Deni Tessarolo was limited to staying within 200 meters of her home in the small town of Marostica. She described how she spent time learning to appreciate her garden and how that relationship supported her.  She wrote:

This time helped me to discover the expansive effects on my body that contemplating the beauty  of the flowers initiated and how the act of looking at them filled me with wonder by opening a space of time where I could rest.

For Barbara walking through the cemetery…

The cemetery I walk in almost daily is atop a hill, full of trees and a panoramic view of the sky that has me turning in circles to admire all the sights. I feel cradled in its arms. It is where I first experienced a deep sense of the beauty of all things. Sometimes I try to capture what I see with my phone’s camera. I thought that then I could hold onto it in some way. Then the realization came that nothing of real value is ever lost. The essential matter is the capacity to see the beauty that is always here and everywhere whenever I’m willing to let go of my guardedness and open to it. I aspire to have my feet on the ground and my head in the clouds like a tree!

Otherworld. Photo Credit: Barbara Fotta

For me, sitting on the top of a gorge, I learned something that has stayed with me for life.  My surroundings impact my  perception in any given moment, as well as my willingness to notice, and the forces of energy around me.  Many things obfuscate my ability to perceive the fullness of my experience.  In any situation, I might ask myself “what is here that I do not perceive,” then I wait for it to show itself to me.

Otherworld Vacations

I invite everyone to reconnect to or to find their own personal otherworld vacation and share your stories with this blog. It will help us to remember that we are part something much larger than ourselves. We can also observe how these ecosystems communicate and mutually support each other.  There are things we can learn from this–we are part of this system; and enjoy its benefits. We also have a responsibility to create mutually-beneficial environments for all sentient beings.

How We Find Our Way

These albums documented how one family used the available means of communication (photography and letter writing) at the time to support each other through a challenging time. Twenty years later, my aunt and her daughter used audiotapes. Now online videoconferencing is giving us a medium to hold onto ourselves and those we love.

Many generations have survived pandemics, wars, and political strife. I’ve looked back at how generations of my family used our need for connection with each other to stay whole and survive.

The Attic

When I was a very young girl, I escaped to the attic to find out information about my relatives. There were steamer trunks my Italian grandparents had used to travel to the US in the early 1900s. At that point, they were full of old photos and artifacts from my parents, grandparents, aunts’ and uncles’ lives.

I would spend hours looking at pictures, trying on dresses, and holding each item in my hands. I could see photos of everyone so many years younger and wondered what secrets these images, old dresses, scraps of material, baby shoes, and other everyday items held. It was my favorite place to be, and it was part of my ongoing need to gather information about the past.

The War Albums

My Dad with his Dog

My favorite images were from my father’s photo albums from when he was in Europe during World War II for three years. He had three albums of photos. I could spend hours looking at these photos and making up stories about who Dad was, what happened to him, and how I could relate the essence of what I saw in the pictures with the man who was my father.

How My Father Survived World War II

My father’s approach was unique for his time. Instead of being caught up in the fervor of nationalism, it was clear to him how the Army used working-class men as cannon fodder in the war. “The Red Ball Express.” was a movie about one of the platoons in which he served. When we watched it on TV, I asked him which character he was in the film. He answered, “the guy who peeled the potatoes.”

As a young girl, I felt crushed that he wasn’t one of the “hero” characters. As an adult, I admire him for being honest even though he knew it wasn’t the answer I wanted. It taught me that jingoistic responses were of no value when you are talking about living through wartime.

Many years later, one of my brothers scanned the albums and gave me the files. On a whim, I set up the photo albums as a screen saver. I was sitting with a friend when the photos started rolling onto my computer screen. My friend and I paused and talked about the images. She loved seeing them and asked a lot of questions.

Later I looked at the photos one at a time. I already had a pattern from my childhood: Who are they? Where are they? What relationship did they have with my dad?

What Emerged from the Photos

Soldiers who transformed rail cars into hospitals  for victims of war

Initially, I saw each picture as a separate story. And then I paused. Something new came to me. These pictures tell the story of a family with a son in the theater of war during WWII. The images were from two locations–Europe and the US. Some were the pictures my father took of his experience in Europe (mostly England). My father worked as a carpenter transforming rail cars into hospitals throughout England. He was mainly on the periphery of the war in small villages that had train stations.

What happened during an air raid in war time
What happened during an air raid in war time

On the back of one photo, my father’s friend documents that his friend kissed the woman he loved at 11:30 pm on April 23, 1943, during an air raid in Swindon. When I read the back of the photo, what came to me was the joy at finding happiness despite the horror. Almost all of the  pictures were of my father being with people on bike rides, in the countryside, dressed in his uniform and street clothes, smoking cigars, working on the railroad, and fixing things. He documented what made him happy. That’s what he sent home to his family.

He had lots of pictures of his fellow carpenters. Each image of a person had a name and address written on the back in a handwriting that was not my dad’s. Most likely, the script belonged to the person in the picture. These were relationships which both partners wanted to keep for longer than the war. Others had commentary from my dad about why the day was essential to him.

There were no pictures of dead bodies, destroyed buildings, or any evidence of war. They could have been a series of images from someone who spent a few years abroad. But it was not. My dad only chose to document his experiences that were pleasant and life-affirming.

He once told me as I was going into surgery to treat cancer that he knew what fear was. My father said he was fearful that he would die each day for three years when he went to war. Dad assured me that there was a way to be with both the fear of the moment and the hope that everything will be okay.

The pictures tell that story. My dad chose to get to know the people he had never met, form strong connections, and enjoy every minute he could. He also documented them to help him keep going. After D-Day, he went to France and participated in one of the most dangerous assignments—he drove gasoline trucks that refueled tanks across France, Belgium, and Germany under fire and mostly without sleep. There are no pictures of those times. Maybe the memory of these pictures kept him going. Maybe there was no time to take new ones.

How the Family Survived World War II

The new generation: Ron, Betty and Marie

His family’s pictures told how, when my father was in the war, his brothers and sisters started their families. They had  had four children while he was in Europe. My father’s twin sister took on the role of the family communicator.

Below is a picture of my grandmother and my oldest cousin. The note from my father’s sister tells him his niece was a timid person. I love this short note and photo because it included my father in the family’s life. He got to see a picture of his mother and his niece, find out something about this young girl’s personality, and also how the family was improving their multi-generational home.

Grandma and cousin Marie during World War II

Many years later, when one of this aunt’s daughters became a nurse in Vietnam during the war, she did the same thing. She documented the family’s life so that her daughter could stay connected. This time they used audiotapes to communicate. My aunt would play the tapes from her daughter for us when we visited. Our nurse mostly talked about what she did when she wasn’t a caring for the wounded.

My favorite picture is the leading photo that I have spent many hours examining over the years. It is a picture of my grandmother’s birthday party (the lady in the back row with the flower on her lapel) in the garden of her brother’s house. Someone took the photo specifically to send to my dad to let him know that they held space for him. There are people you can immediately see in the picture–his parents and aunts and uncles. One can see parts of other people. This photo is full of wanting someone far away to feel loved and remembered.

How We Can Survive

These albums documented how one family used the available means of communication (photography and letter writing) at the time to support each other through a challenging time. They limited their communication to things that brought normality to their lives and shared their stories to reassure each other.  Twenty years later, my aunt and her daughter used audiotapes. Now online videoconferencing is giving us a medium to hold onto ourselves and those we love as we enter the second year of this pandemic. I thank my father and Aunt Virginia for teaching us how.

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