More Than a Survivor

Her worn and wrinkled hands held a small newspaper clipping. Quivering slightly, she pushed it toward me. Did you see this? This lady is 102 years old, she just finished her final test, she’s received a doctorate.
The lady she was referring to was studying to become a doctor in Nazi Germany. After completing all but the final exam she was forced to leave school. Her father was a Jew.
This was my chance. I had been hoping it would come up in conversation sometime, but I didn't want to pry. Her past was a painful one.
How old where you when the war started?  She got that far away look in her eyes, she was remembering. In a German accent, one that gets thicker when she's emotional, her story began to unravel. 
I was just 13, still in school. My mother and sister and I lived in a small city. When the war started soldiers invaded our school taking over the second story - I never really finished school because of that, because of the chaos. Eventually I was forced to work in an ammunition factory. We were sheltered, we didn't really understand what was going on, we didn't know. 
I could see the pain in her eyes, I could hear it as her voice rose and fell, cracking. 
Our home was bombed. It was a miracle I didn't die, if not from the bombings, then from the parasites and tapeworms and hunger. Oh the hunger. 
I listened intently, asking a few questions here and there, but mostly listening. 
When I wrote my list of 23 things to accomplish before I turn 24, she was the elderly lady I was hoping to get to know. Every other week I clean for her, and over the years she has begun to open up to me more and more. I treasure those Thursday mornings where we chat and she shows me the latest watercolor painting she's working on, or insists I take a second of her famous chocolate brownies, because 'you work so hard, you'll just burn it off anyway'.
You know she wrote a memoir? You should ask to read it, her husband Tom casually mentioned when she left the room. 
Our conversation continues as I ask her when she moved to the States. She tells me about marrying her first husband. How she loved him, and how her and Tom's first wife were best friends. She tells me how tragedy struck, and her husband died, and how years later her best friend, Tom's wife, passed away too. When she mentions that her and Tom have been married for 16 years, Tom laughs and says, feels like only yesterdayThat's not what you said yesterday, she retorts.
Tom begins to pick on her for being a stubborn German, and suddenly it dawns on him that I am most likely a stubborn German too. He's out numbered.
I feel honored. She trusts me enough to share even the ugly and painful parts of her past with me. But I also feel so inspired by her courage and joy. She has been through hell. She's seen war and famine and the inhumanity of it all. She's grieved the loss of her dearest, and she's opened her heart up to love again. She pursues her passion through painting and is successful doing so. But most of all, she radiates love and reflects Christ. 
She is my friend Hannelore, and I have so much to learn from her.


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