Stan's World - What Is
November 15, 2019
I typically use Stan’s World as a space where I share with clients various experiences in my life that might relate to them. Perhaps it’s about a study I read that may be relevant to a few or a lesson learned that might apply to others. In this instance, Stan’s World will be about taking things for granted and not stopping to enjoy all that we have. You see, I visited a place which caused me to appreciate the timing of my life; maybe it will cause you to appreciate yours as well.
Last month, Pearl and I walked the killing fields of Dachau, the Nazi Concentration Camp located outside of Munich, Germany. (Frankly, what term other than killing fields can be applied to the grounds where so many died?) While technically not a death camp – Dachau was built as the model for Nazi work camps – Dachau certainly did its part in helping the Nazis carry out their so-called Final Solution.
To stand in the ‘showers’ where the elderly, women and children were murdered, and then walk past the ovens where their bodies were summarily disposed of, was sobering. I’m aware of an unknown number of distant relatives who died during the Holocaust, to include brothers and sisters of my grandparents, and their families. Conceivably, they chose to stay in their homes, not knowing what was happening in surrounding towns and villages. Or, maybe they weren’t able to leave. Maybe some were even taken to Dachau, to die under the same fake showerhead under which I stood?
As a child, I recall a relative who had a number stamped on her arm. I was too young to understand what it meant, and by the time I realized, she was long gone. At the time, I didn’t know that tattooing numbers onto prisoners was the dehumanizing way the Nazis kept track of inmates, a practice started at the notorious Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Think of what farmers do to cattle, but substitute people for animals.
While I often talk about perspective – understanding your circumstances while viewing the world around you – Dachau also teaches us the perils, and virtues, of timing. What if my grandfather, who was born in Germany, had never left? What if I was born 10 years earlier, to a family living in occupied Europe? What if the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center had done so years earlier when I was sitting at my desk on the 57th floor?
While traveling on a train from Munich to Salzburg, an inspector boarded wearing a trench coat and ID badge. He walked up to each passenger and asked to see their passport and tickets. He was polite, and when he handed back our tickets and passports, he wished us a good day, in English, with an accompanying smile. He was an official from some government agency, making sure that the passengers traveling between countries had the correct documentation.
I couldn’t help but turn to Pearl and wonder the outcome if the train had been traveling in 1940 and the ‘inspector’ observed that certain passengers were Jewish. After our visit to Dachau, that was a ‘What-if’ far too easy to imagine, made all the more realistic when the person asking for your documentation does so with a German accent.
While not drawing a parallel between a visit to Dachau and the business of financial planning, it is interesting to note that John and I spend many hours trying to rebut What-ifs in our business. What if the stock market goes down? What if I can’t save enough money? What if I can’t sell my house? What if I lose my job, or need care, or have to help my kids, or…….?
Perhaps the lesson from my visit to Dachau is to encourage others to celebrate the lives we have, warts and all, and to not dwell on What-ifs that are unlikely ever to occur. Perhaps the lesson from my visit to Dachau is to encourage others to spend more time focusing on What-is.