My Anna, thank you for being here with me.
Telling my story to you and to others helps me remember that I am part of the world. Most of my life, in different ways at different times, I have felt that I did not belong on this planet.
My parents taught me early on and fervently that my place was in heaven alongside god as a permanent example of his mercy. Even while they raised me on earth, in their eyes I had no future on earth. The place where I grew up in northern Norway reinforced this lesson, and as a young child I learned and internalized my position in society so strongly that well into my adulthood I never or rarely doubted that what I was told about myself was anything other than natural and true.
Even later as a grownup, I often still did not know that I was part of human history. History was made by nondisabled men like my father and their supporting wives like my mother. As a child, I did not understand that I was both impacted by my family and that I was no doubt also contributing to the functions of our family life. Families were kept together through the contributions of young people like my sisters who were deemed capable, but not by polio survivors.
For years after immigrating to the United States, I continued to feel that no one believed that I was in fact integral to the culture of both of my countries. In the early eighties, when I met and became more involved with disability rights activists like Deborah Cunningham, I finally started to learn that I was very much part of history — a part that had been systematically marginalized and deprived of self-knowledge. Myself and many others had been cut off from understanding the ways that we were an integral part of history and of society. Sometimes, I still forget today that I belong here. In moments like these, I am sucked back down to a younger place inside myself where I can again feel unearthly, my father or mother crooning over me about god’s pity.
But most of the time now I know that I do belong here. And a lot of that has to do with telling my story, making myself part of the world, inviting the world to meet me where I am.
In the past, I fought my way into mainstream spaces. But with your help, I’m learning how to make myself belong by loving who I am enough to bravely tell people to come to me instead, to join my struggle, and to connect with my joy.
That’s lovely, mom.
I'm grateful to have so many friends in that struggle, some of whom have died and some of whom are still alive and in conversation with me, like Carol Gill and Larry Voss. And we all agree that we need to get our stories written down. We need to get going on writing ourselves into history.
Now, what were you saying to me earlier about beginning by checking in? You said something about how we could start by checking in with the world, that people might benefit from knowing a little about you and me before we invite them to come on this adventure with us. What does that look like? You go first.
Here we go. This is it.
This is the beginning of what I think will become a book. These words and these sentences are the beginning of me writing this book with my mother, Karen. This book is the story of her life, or one telling of the story of her life. I am part of her story.
My name is Anna. Anna Darvin Hirsch.
My parents chose my first name because it was easy to translate Anna to Hebrew, Hannah or Channah, which mattered to my father’s Jewish family. At the same time, Anna was familiar to my mother’s Christian family and easy for them to pronounce in Norwegian as well. My middle name is an altered version of my Jewish grandmother’s maiden name. I don’t know what the original name was. Though I do have memories of my grandmother speaking this name that she used for the first decade of her life when she finally went back to visit Ellis Island eighty-some years after leaving Poland and becoming a citizen of the United States. After a Google search, to me the name she said was maybe something like Dryswczinski. As my grandmother tells it, the alteration happened right there at Ellis Island when the officers in charge and my great grandfather all got together and decided that they wanted his family to have a name that would better help them assimilate. Hirsch is my grandfather’s name from the Russian Jewish side of my family who came to the United States a generation before my grandmother’s family came. It has been pointed out to me multiple times that the word hirsch means deer in German. I don’t know how my grandfather's family first got this name. It’s possible that it was taken on proudly and by choice as part of Jewish iconography. It’s possible that it was forced on my family during the inquisition, or in some way helped them hide their Jewish identity in a time of persecution.
There is a lot of human being and of being human in my name that happened well before I was born, well before I became and lived into all of my own life, a big and happy life. A life with many parts and adventures.
This introduction is going to take some time.