I want to tell you about a very special person in my life. Her name was Dr. Margaret Zassenhaus, and she was my hero, my mentor, my friend—not only because of her uncommon courage, but also because of her kindness.
Dr. Zassenhaus was our family physician. I remember days when Mom would squeeze all five of us girls into the car to visit the doctor. We looked forward to visiting Dr. Zassenhaus, who happily greeted us at the door with her thick German accent and ushered us through her waiting room and into her office.
Our visits always went well until the smell of cookies came wafting through the air. Once we began to smell the cookies, one of my sisters would begin to cry, then another and another, and before long, all of us would be in tears. The doctor's mother would come into the office with a plate loaded with warm, freshly baked cookies.
Why would we cry? You see, Dr. Zassenhaus, in her gentle and kind-hearted way, had asked her mom to bake us a treat on the day of our vaccine shots—a reward for what we would endure. But my sisters and I had come to know the routine, and although we loved the cookies, we knew that that smell meant the shot!
Dr. Zassenhaus' compassion and sharing of life lessons also manifested itself in every large and small action—in the way she extended her friendship, joined community boards, cared for patients and listened to them.
She also shared stories of the people who inspired her, like Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Gandhi, and taught us that every human being matters, that even the smallest gesture could affect the world in a constructive way.
I first heard the famous Gandhi charge from her voice: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." Schweitzer's message as well: "Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes the ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate."
Margaret was gentle and kind, but she was also courageous. Born in Germany, she was under the rule of Adolph Hitler during World War II. As a young medical student assigned by the Gestapo to monitor Norwegian and Danish political prisoners, she took it upon herself to smuggle in medicines, carry out letters and ultimately save many lives.
When I was a girl, I asked her, "Were you scared when you saved the lives of all those men?" and she replied: "Of course, I was very scared! But I was the only one in a position to help, so I did what I could do." I have come to learn that that is all any of us can do.
A basic, wonderful truth about all people is that through our choices and actions, we can and do make the world a better place. We don't have to do huge things to make a big difference. Even the smallest kindness has the power to resonate through this sometimes difficult and troubled world. Margaret was a mentor to me, and I have shared the lessons she taught me with others throughout my life.
A beautiful fact about mentoring is that it is contagious and the lessons learned will spread from one person to another and throughout generations, if we are lucky.
Begin your mentor-related activities for Week 7.