Would They Hide You?

Sharon April 23rd, 2009

My friend, Kathy Harrison, said something that really struck me while we were talking the other day, and I asked her to write about it, so I could share it properly with all of you. As the financial situation gets more dire, as we face more and more people suffering from state budget cuts, the loss of their pensions, the crashing of major industries, what we do have left matters more.  Kathy quotes a story told by Warren Buffet, and then muses on her own experience,

A woman by the name of Belle Eisenberg, who recently passed away, lost her entire family in Auschwitz. She was the only one to make it out. She told Mr. Buffet that every time she met someone she asked herself whether this was the type of person who would hide her from the Nazis. He said that if you had a dozen people in your life who would hide you and you them then you lived a pretty successful life. Mr. Buffet said that he knew billionaires whose own children would not hide them….

Some weeks we are on the recieving end of the favors. We have eaten countless meals prepared by others when I was ill. We have planted adopted seedlings and worn hand-me-down clothing. Our children have been minded by friends as have our animals and our plants. We have been picked up from airports and driven lent cars. Our life is a series of good deeds done by people who probably found it inconvenient but did it anyway.

This economic mess is a terrible thing for many families but when I look for the silver lining to a grim cloud it comes from the world getting smaller. Small makes it easier to hold hands with each other.

This, of course, is a very high standard of relationships – and yet, it is also, I think, a useful way of thinking about the depths of our relationships.  Ask yourself who you would risk your life for, who you would take in in very difficult times, who you would speak up for, who you would make sacrifices for.  Odds are good that some of those people are the ones who would do it for you.  The stakes of community really are not that low, and community should never be last on our planning list.

I’ve recently been thinking about relationships as well – last fall, my youngest sister and brother in law came to visit.  Now I adore my wonderful brother in law, but while my sister and I are quite close, and talk regularly, I sometimes feel like Billy and I go long stretches without connecting, and miss him - he works long hours, and so she and I chat on the phone or she comes out to visit without him, and often, when we do see him, it is at large family gatherings, rather than intimately.  This was a rare occasion when my husband and I got to spend some real time with Billy, which was wonderful. 

Our dining room roof leaks quite badly, and because we are in an extended conflict with the company that supposedly fixed the roof, but didn’t, we’ve been advised we can’t actually fix it ourselves without losing leverage in our ongoing process of resolution.  On the autumn weekend they visited, we had torrential, icy rain that night, and, not unexpectedly, our dining room roof was leaking horribly.  We’d just gotten the kids to bed, and were sitting around drinking beer and talking, when Billy turned to me, and asked whether we’d like him to go up on the roof and replace the tarp that was now failing to keep out the leaks.

And I was struck by this – how many people in your life will go up on the roof on a cold night in the pouring rain simply because they want to help?  It isn’t quite as dramatic as asking “would these people hide me from the Nazis” but it isn’t too far off, either – in both cases, the question is this – is the relationship deep enough to endure difficulty, cost, strain – and is the faith in the relationship sufficient to endure periods where reciprocity may not be possible? 

Now people have these relationships for different reasons.  Even though Billy and I don’t spend a ton of time together, I’m family, and both of us have a strong commitment to family.  Our friendship is real, but not deep enough to explain this – but the ties of marriage and blood are.  But I have other relatives who would never think to do the same.  Family can be the origin, but it isn’t always.

I have friends who I know would go up on the roof, would hide me from the Nazis, based on relationships we’ve had for years, people I would trust with my life, and who are as important to me as my family.  I sometimes struggle with the choice to live so far away from my parents and sisters – but the thing that keeps me here is that we’ve managed to build communities and relationships that are just as strong as the familial ones in many ways.  I feel very lucky and blessed to have such friends.

And there are a few people who would do these things not because they love me, or because I love them, but because it is the right thing to do.   There are those people who hid others from the Nazis not based on intense personal relationships, but because they felt it was right – people who show up to help out the neighbors even if they don’t personally like them, or know them very well, who are there with a helping hand.  Sometimes those people become your friends, your intimate circle.  And sometimes they never do – sometimes all you will ever be to one another are members of the same community, but that’s enough.

I hope, of course, that none of us ever need to be hidden.  But it is a fair likelihood that all of us will need help from someone at some point.  It is a fair likelihood that all of us will haev the opportunity to extend help to one another.  And every time we do this, we create something.  It isn’t always the same thing – not every relationship extends as deeply as the ones Harrison talks about.  Some things will go as far as the roof, but not as far as hiding you, or vice versa.  Some people will be able to offer different things. 

But it is worth thinking of these moments of exigency when we truly rely on one another when we inventory what we have in our lives.  I often talk about acquiring or making things that we might need – but this, I think, is the one thing we all most need to make – those ties, deeper than ordinary ones, on which we can trust and wholly rely.

 Sharon

16 Responses to “Would They Hide You?”

  1. Jenniferon 23 Apr 2009 at 11:32 am

    A lovely article – I’m lucky, I think, because I do have friends like that, though I’ve never been blessed with that sort of family.

  2. dogear6on 23 Apr 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Last year we moved from the Midwest to the East Coast. I really had trouble with being away from family yet again. O

    One of the things that really helped me was to see how our neighborhood pulled together when a neighbor had a medical emergency. They took turns providing supper each night for nearly two months, helped get the children back and forth to their activities, and took care of errands as needed.

    I was overwhelmed at how our subdivision helped take care of this family for that short time and it helped my attitude a lot for adjusting to being here.

  3. Annetteon 23 Apr 2009 at 12:44 pm

    I feel fortunate to have a handful of friends and family that I trust with my life. A very though provoking article. Tonite when I go to work, I look at people and wonder. . .

  4. Thoughtson 23 Apr 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I like the premise of the Nazi test. However, in our time I think Nazis are almost mythical. They’ve been mythologized into pure evil, instead of reflections of what is inside alot of humans around us every day. Let’s update question to make it more salient. The question might be better as something like, “Would you hide a drug dealer from your county sheriff?” What do you think?

  5. Sharonon 23 Apr 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Thoughts, I don’t think that works (and for millions of American Jews, the Nazis are not at all mythical, although I take your point) – why would I be hiding the drug dealer? This isn’t necessarily about identity persecution, the fact that anyone could be a victim because of their politics, religion or identity, but because of something someone did. Who is the Sherriff in relation to me? What kind of a drug dealer? Do I know them? Why are they dealing? What kind of dealing – pot or meth? I don’t think this can actually get us there, but your point is valid for those who don’t have a more visceral sense of this.

    Sharon

  6. Nadiaon 23 Apr 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I don’t know why I have never thought of this particular question during my lifetime. I know some family members and possibly one friend would “hide me”. But one family member, who would do it in a second, has 3 kids to factor in. She would take the risk, but could she put her children in the same risky situation? I don’t think so, even tho’ she, if alone, would guard me with her life. So there is more to this. Thoughts?
    Nadia

  7. Beaweezilon 24 Apr 2009 at 12:37 am

    Wow, this hits close to home today. Two months ago I was in a horrible car accident. I hadn’t set foot in my house for two entire months. There’s no way to list everything everyone has done for me, my brother stood beside my stretcher for an entire night and never sat down, my parents fed and looked after my chickens and my house all while being at my side every minute, my younger brother is fixing up a jeep so I have something to drive at the far end of this, my sister-in-law never blinked when it came became an option to have me move in. Today I went home for the first time and found my friends had finished a long overdue second floor laundry that I had start two years ago. They were concerned about me carrying laundry to the basement.

    Would any of these people hide me, yes, and I would like to think many more would. Would hide them at risk of my life? In a heart beat.

    I’m a lucky woman and really, today, I didn’t need reminding! Thanks Sharon for giving me a chance to rave about my friends.

  8. Keeping in Touch « Two Frog Homeon 24 Apr 2009 at 3:29 am

    [...] Simply Living, Spreading the Love No Comments  Is the measure of a true friend, one whom would hide you from the Nazis?  I admit that’s a huge bar to hold someone up to, but its an interesting discussion [...]

  9. Bettinaon 24 Apr 2009 at 5:29 am

    As you wrote a lot about relocating or thinking about taking people in your home when hard times come lately,
    I played the “nazi” game – not in the way “who would hide me” but like “whom would I invite to live with us?”
    I’m glad to answer that I would not mind to take about 8 of our nearest friends plus all our extended familiy in our home for a long time. (o.k they would have to sleep and sit on top of another :-)

    I’m not good at asking for help and so I’m often emberrassed when a friend says: Why didn’t you tell me? I’d have come and fix it for you (including a 1 hour drive to us). Or you talk about a problem with the grey water sewer under the house, and next day brother in law shows up with a special machinery (that he had to ask for at the place where he works) and cleans everything out.

    I try to give back as much as I can – sew jeans shorter for a friend, knit baby things (I’m good at it, so the gifts are much appreciated :-) , give away surplus from the garden or just helping people on the street that seem to have a problem (usually things like getting the right train or bus) or helping out in other ways.

    With neighbours it’s more difficult here *sigh*

    Bettina

  10. Pangolinon 24 Apr 2009 at 7:02 am

    For far too many people in the US the answer is no. There are several hundred homeless people in my town and I’m pretty sure that If I tried I could find there is an empty house or apartment for each and every one of them. These are unsold houses or vacant rentals but there they are, empty housing units, where people sleep in the streets. This isn’t even getting to garages, sheds or storage units that could be used for shelter.

    Don’t think because some neighbors helped family X that had a cancer case of family Y that had a broken hip that they would help YOU with your problem. Every person standing around with a “will work for food” sign had a mother and father; most had siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, coworkers and church affiliations.

    Yet there they are. Don’t believe for a minute that the profound social illness that is modern society is not willing to toss you in the discard pile also if you don’t meet expectations.

    Go down to your local shelter and talk to the people and you will realize that until whatever disaster befell them they were people as normal as anyone else. Nobody’s hiding them.

  11. Barryon 24 Apr 2009 at 8:28 am

    Have you ever seen Pierre Savage’s film “Weapons of the Spirit”? As a child he was hidden and protected by French farmers whose background I share(descended from the Huguenots). In the film Mr. Savage asked them why they hid Jewish children from the Nazis and their reply was that it was the right thing to do. Whatever one’s religious tradition, the best seems to be summed up in having a moral compass that compels us to do the right thing even if it puts our own lives at risk. I don’t know how many of us could do what these tough French peasants did during the Nazi occupation of France.

  12. MEAon 24 Apr 2009 at 9:00 am

    Nadia — I’ve often thought of the tremendous burden carried by those who hid people, and have decided that the greater courage was that of those who were hidden — they were willing to risk themselves and their friends in order to spare those providing shealter the guilt of not being able to help.

    Pangolin — the problems facing a homeless person are rarely solved by something as simple at their being given a spare room in someone else house. I don’t see the connection between hiding a person in danger of genocide and providing a bed for someone whose problems might be as simple as needing a job (and transport, clothing, dental care…) and needed specialized care or treatment for substance abuse. I am not suggesting that all homeless people are druggies or mentally ill, but you have to be open to that possibility.

    If you are housing a homelss person, more power to you.

    MEA

  13. EMon 25 Apr 2009 at 10:35 am

    Rather than the hypothetical question think about what you are doing here and now. What human rights groups do you support actively, not just in your mind?

    Support them now. It may be too late when you need support.

  14. Kateon 25 Apr 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Although never having been in such an extreme situation as the genocidal one cited, I have been in some intensely difficult ones. This much I can tell you on relationships and the people who will do whatever they can when the chips are down – it’s rarely ever the people you expect that come through in times of crisis. In fact, it’s often people you would never have imagined or don’t even know well.

  15. CLOUD SHADOWon 25 Apr 2009 at 10:37 pm

    Who needs enemies when you have friends and family. That has been one of the truths in my life.

  16. risa bon 27 Apr 2009 at 5:40 pm

    No, there reall can be such a thing as deep, rewarding friendships.

    My mom’s losing her best friend — almost 80 continuous years of “joined at the hip” — to diabetes. I asked her once about that kind of friendship, and she said, “honey, your real friends not only know where the bodies are buried — they brought a shovel and a sack lunch.”

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