Tuesday, July 30, 2013

One Is Never Too Old To Learn, by Maria Zeeman

Facilitating this community of memoir writers has been a joy from the beginning. When I try to tell people just how special this group is, I suspect they must think I am exaggerating. Maria’s story represents what happens when people take time to listen to one another. Walls of fear and prejudice come tumbling down. And we are sometimes blessed with the privilege of being there to witness it.

I was in a concentration camp under the Japanese regime.
During the time that has passed since then, and that sure has been many years, I learned to forget and to go on. I had several friends that were Japanese. But I would never buy anything that was made there.  I even chose not to accept a better job when I found out that my supervisor was Japanese. It made me think of long past sad times.  I must say that almost all my life I was too busy having a good time. I always worked hard and studied hard, wanted to be the best mom I could.   But I really never took time out for just me. My inner self.

Then I retired, earlier than I wanted. Again my time went for extra work to make money for the care of my children and grandchildren.

Then one day a lady from the Netherlands came. She was looking for any survivors of the Tjidang camp in Djakarta, Indonesia during World War II. And I am one of them. She talked to me  for a long time. Then she offered me a visit with a psychiatrist and he referred me to a counselor. I still see her. This Dutch organization gives me some money for the rest of my life.

I still carried a grudge that I was hurt not only by the Japanese, but also by the Dutch people. Because when we came to Holland, nobody was nice to us. I know that they went through a war too, but they weren’t skinny and hungry. A Dutch organization gave us double coupons to obtain food. Others were envious of that. And, of course, we spoke Dutch, but with no dialect. They thought we had our noses in the air.

In school they laughed and teased us because we were far behind in every subject. I was 9 years and had to do grades 1, 2, and 3 in one year. No wonder I was still undereducated for my age. I made up for it for many years to come. The older we get the more we learn and understand. This counselor helped me a lot.

Now I’m a senior and am in this writing class. When I listen to the other people in the class, I learn and take time to understand other people and how different they are. When I listen to Kay (she’s Japanese) she makes me think of her and other people from a very wise and humble standpoint. I finally felt that I could love her for what she is, Japanese or not. And I felt such a burden of relieve fall off me that I was quiet and thankful. When we left and I saw her outside, I called her and hugged her, thanking her for being Kay, wise and understanding.

Yes, even at 78 years one can still learn a lot in life. 



  1. Maria,
    Your story touched my heart deeply. You have been through things in your life that I can't even imagine. I learn a lot every time I hear you read. We can all continue to learn. It is never too late. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Your writing shows how it is that we remain young at heart - we are never too old to take a different perspective and learn new things. I am so glad you are in the class. You have shared so much with us and we have learned new things too.

  3. Maria-- It is so true of the saying "War is Hell" You experienced things so many of us have no realization of. And learning never stops as long as we are willing and open to hearing. Our writing class has been more than writing our own stories, it has been learning what has happened in the world to others as they tell their stories. I never knew about the Japanese internment camps here in America during the war until I heard Kay and Nobuyo's stories of being prisoners. So many innocent people have suffered at the hands of war which they had no part in causing. Hearing these stories helps us all to learn. Those who need healing for their mistreatment and those who've never known. This class helps us grow emotionally and spiritually. We are glad you came.