Monday, January 20, 2020

Black Coffee, Green Bananas and the White Fog of Winter

After a holiday season which bordered on indulgent, and passing through the time of the winter solstice, breezing right on into the new year, the days are getting longer. Every day, when it is born, will be the longest day of the year, until the summer solstice. It’s all uphill from here.

But the world of wine is lumbering in its own dark days, filled with fear, drama and uncertainty. It’s as if the bright place I would escape to, my little world of wine, has been infested with the same turmoil that the greater world is lingering over. It’s too much for this observer. There has to be a way out of this rabbit hole. Or, so says, the optimist within, the resilient one, the man in the back of the room who is not shouting “FIRE!”

So instead, I sit at this desk, black coffee in hand, a green banana by my side waiting its turn, and mulling about within this white fog of winter.

I’d like to say I really don’t have any more patience for it, and leave it at that. But something inside shouts another warning, this time, “WAIT!” Wait for what? Good news? Some Pollyanna version of events to come that will make it easier to get through the day, sleep a good sleep, and wake up refreshed in a new world without all the confusion and anxiety?

At the risk of sounding unconcerned, something inside me says, “stay calm.” Yes, there are high winds and storm clouds. And some of them have threatened a little closer to home than usual. But, living where I live and how I live, for many years, I have a safe room.

My safe room is not a place as much as it is a sense. Maybe it has been that for most of my life I’ve lived with the threat of planetary nuclear annihilation. Maybe I am numb because in my life it is hard to remember a year where there wasn’t a war somewhere in the world. And often the country in which I live has had its hand in many of them. We’ve squandered trillions of dollars and millions of lives have been lost.

Maybe it is because I no longer am in a career-driven part of my life. Work is not the defining factor of my life anymore. Oh, I get it for those whom it is. It’s a big deal. Or so it seems at the time. You need to keep the roof over the babies heads, buy them food and clothes, keep the rain out. And you need to have a dream of a future for you and them that will have a happy ending.

Something that comes up when I am in this mood is the spirit of a particular person. He is a 62-year-old man, a Jew, living in Germany, retired and beginning that stage of his life, the one I’m in now. He worked in the wine trade, selling German wine to America and importing French wine to Germany. He was successful, managed to save some money, put his three children though private schools, one through college, and lived a comfortable, peaceful life. And then, 1938 happened. And his life, after all the work and toil and hope and dreams, unraveled.

Throughout the ordeal, he managed to get two of his children, the youngest daughters, out to safety, to Emilia Romagna in Italy. But his oldest child, his son, the college educated one, and his wife, were swept away to a concentration camp, as was he.

The son and wife did not survive. And it was only through the sheer force of will, and resilience, that he was able to endure every conceivable onslaught against his body and his mind. But somewhere inside he thought of those two girls. He had to make it through these unendurable hardships to get to them someday. He would not be distracted or thrown off track. He needed a little luck, and that was all he got. After all, he lost his son and his wife. But he was undeterred.

He lived seven years in that concentration camp, and when it was liberated, he was 69 years old. He weighed 85 pounds. But he survived.

He spent time in the hospital, healing his physical ills. He gained weight and his energy returned. And as soon as he could, he left for Italy to find his daughters.

And he did. And they lived in Italy for several years. One day, he met an American lieutenant, who was in Italy for the Marshall Plan, and they got to talking about before the war. Come to find out, the lieutenant’s family were wine and spirit importers in America. Small world, what was left of it. They found that this older Jewish man had exported German wine to America and sold it to the lieutenant’s family business.

The two men built up a wonderful rapport and the lieutenant convinced the old man to come to America and bring his daughters. And so, they did.

I’d like to say the daughters grew up and went into wine in their adopted family’s business. And that definitely could have been a path one, of both, of them took. But that’s another story for another time.

The thought behind all of this now, is that there will be times when each of us face hardship and challenge in our lives, in our work and in our country. Right now is one of those times. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. It is another test of our strength, our will and our resilience. Eventually the coffee can be mellowed out, with a little cream and sugar. Eventually the banana ripens. And yes, eventually the white fog of winter lifts.

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