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Auschwitz and the the Liberation of Ruth

Auschwitz and the the Liberation of Ruth

“We” re survivors”, Ruth said, reminding me yet again that this too shall pass.

I worked alongside Ruth at a mental health clinic down in the bario, 3rd Avenue. The Bronx, as south as it gets before the bridge into Manhattan and slightly further, Queens, Astoria country.

Ruth had as much life in her as a woman half her age. I always felt my age around her. At the end of the workday, she was awake and talkative than I was, which wasn’t right because I was driving us both to our respective homes. We didn’t always get along. Well, that’s not true. I didn’t have enough to dislike her before she blindsided me with her lively wit and bold personality fearing nothing but learned helplessness.

Throughout her life, Ruth was bright and had learned how to survive in a world that was both cruel and relentlessly unforgiving. Because she was a product of her upbringing, Ruth learned the importance of learning from mistakes quickly. Between ongoing growth and priding herself on insight, Ruth had no shortage of experiences in life. I would hazard to say she surpassed most people her age and those she considered her elders when it came to lived experience.

Ruth never called herself a peer, but she was apart of the mental health movement as anyone I knew when it came to self-acceptance and owning her shit. So, when I say we didn’t get along, I mean I was out of my element. She put me there. Purposely, albeit, but successfully in the way a therapist gets you to question yourself and your stuff.

No need to explain how, because she didn’t just do it once or twice, but until the day we lost each other. We missed Ruth when it was time for her to move on from the clinic. She told us she was taking her power back. 

The truth was it was just time for her to move on in her life, and it pained us to see her walk. But she was no stranger to change, adapting, and moving forward in her life. She knew how to move on from the pain and leave it where it needed to remain until processed and ready for absorption for re-entry into the soul. Ruth’s soul ran as deep as mine, she would say. I was an old spirit in her book. I took this as a compliment and still do.

When Ruth moved away to be closer to her family and daughter, I supported her. We stayed friends. Phone calls, late-night chatter, and text tag in the early hours of our days to reconnect and remain kindred in our common fondness for each other. 

When Ruth was diagnosed with cancer, I wasn’t worried. Ruth was a fighter, a survivor. And that’s what Ruth did, from afar. Ruth fought the good fight and beat cancer

This fight wasn’t the first time either. I checked in with Ruth often. Listening to her progress, I was captivated by her courage. When she came back to town and visited, I saw how skinny she had become.

She had sad radiation was rough, and now I indeed saw what she had felt with and overcame. I took her to the diner and fed her as much as possible. When it was time to say goodbye, I reminded her to eat, and she did, putting weight on and becoming shapely again. Life turned its pages again. When I got the call that cancer came back, I was concerned. Ruth didn’t have to regroup to rally around in her weight and nutrition.

But Ruth, the survivor she was, fought on. The cancer was in full retreat. Nothing could stop Ruth, and I was shocked for my friend, a loyal comrade in the art of surviving and weathering the storm of life. 

When she returned, we ate good food and enjoyed the summer sun like the first time we socialized as friends years ago. Our journey took us to the Halocaust museum in NYC to the Auschwitz Exhibit. 

When we got there, we walked the exhibit again, awestruck, not of our micro tale in survival, but the Jewish people. Ruth couldn’t believe her eyes, and either could I, at the sights of resistance and oppression around us. We took pictures, read every notation, and watched each video to learn about survival. 

At the end of the exhibit, we walked over to the balcony. I was looking at the Statue of Liberty overlooking the Hudson River and all of the beauty around us. We looked at each other, knowing the trip was over, and we had to move forward or surrender to the day. Neither of us was willing to sacrifice just yet. 

When I kissed her goodbye, we promised to connect once again and be healthy with ourselves. Weeks went by, and I didn’t hear from Ruth. I left messages. One day I made yet another attempt to reach Ruth.

Her daughter picked replied that Ruth was sick and would be in touch as soon as she felt better. More weeks went by, and one morning her daughter message me Ruth had passed. I cried to myself until I realized she didn’t die. Ruth had done what she had always done. Ruth had taken her power back again. 

She survived cancer by moving on with her spirit to a place not even the most villainous evil could do her harm. Ruth was liberated from the poisons in her body and found peace along the way. For sprits like Ruth never die, as long as people like you and I remember what she taught us all about living.

J. Peters

J. Peters

Max Guttman '08, MSW '12, is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a 2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10 award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association. Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression, but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes on his lived experiences with schizophrenia. "I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery," Guttman says. "After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my 'break,' I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others." "In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing to a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients."

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