Loss and restoration

markmallochbrown-lindiwemabuzaI looked around the table at the dinner Ambassador Lindiwe Mabuza, South Africa’s High Commissioner to the UK, had hosted in honor of my husband and me on Mandela’s birthday in tribute to our long history of support for South Africa’s freedom. While I simply had invited friends who I knew in London, I saw that among the 11 present we hailed from India, Mexico, Nicaragua, Ghana, the UK, South Africa and the US; had family roots in Ireland, Germany, Russia and Poland; had done work in the Philippines, Uganda, Colombia, Cambodia, DRC and other places throughout the world where people had experienced profound trauma. Then the one guest Lindiwe had invited who I’d never met before, Tessa Uys, one of South Africa’s most renowned pianists, told an amazing story involving a piano and a room called “In the Bosom of the Family” that touched each of each deeply about our personal histories and that of all those with whom we’d worked globally. Its depth had a universal chord capturing the essence of knowing where you’ve been, what’s been lost and the work needed to create some restoration. NadineHack PhumzileMlambo-Ngcuka BiancaJaggerJerryDunfey TessaUys LindiweMabuzaFelix Mendez RenuMehta

It’s worth reading on to learn the story.

YamillaConstantino-NadineHack-RenuMehtaphumzilemlambo-ngcuba-jerrydunfey-renumehta1RosaliindKainyah NadineHack

Tessa’s mother left Germany in the 1930s recognizing early that horrors were beginning to happen. She brought with her to South Africa her Blüthner piano, which remained there for over 60 years. At her mother’s death, Tessa who had been raised in the Dutch Reform Church, found papers about the piano’s origin and the deeper she researched she discovered that all four of her grandparents on her mother’s side were Jewish. She found at the Judisches Museum Berlin an installation “In the Bosom of the Family”: a typical room in a well-to-do 1930s Jewish German’s home where family members read classics like Schiller and Goethe. The room had almost everything in it for historic accuracy but the space where the piano would typically be was empty so Tessa donated her mother’s piano.

Before the piano left South Africa, Tessa gave one final concert on it at which she ended with South Africa’s National Anthem Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika and said “the piano needed to remember where it had been.” She opened her first performance at the museum with the same song and words. I, as someone born just after the Holocaust with many relatives of my parents’ generation bearing tattoos on their arms and many more gone forever, told her that the return of the piano meant far more than how it filled that particular room. In its remembrance of where it had been it also carried having been originally ripped away from the bosom of the family. For people who have lost everything, even a tiny restoration can represent something so much larger and in the symbolism be the starting point for some healing, as we experienced through South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In a world where so many have lost so much, I have sought to support such efforts wherever they happen. “Never again” means for everyone on earth.

Please share stories about your work on restoration – whether from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the US or anywhere else – as we all must learn from each other to continue this vital work.

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Yamila Constantino July 28, 2009, 1:10 am

    Dear Nadine:
    It was indeed a magical night. Thanks for introducing us to all these wonderful people and sharing your friends with us.
    Since I move to London I’ve started to get more familiar with South Africa’s history and its people. Beyond the political struggles that I knew of, I now have very close friends from that country and I’m really looking forward to visit there soon to enjoy its beauty and culture.

  • Marcia Moosnick July 31, 2009, 10:45 pm

    This was such a powerful story, and beautifully told. Sometimes you don’t even know what you’ve lost until you find it. And that could change your life profoundly, as it seemed to add another dimension to the life of Tessa Ulys. A simple generous act can be so healing, as hers was. The sum of the parts is often more than the whole. Thank you for sharing this story.

  • Félix M. Méndez August 1, 2009, 8:57 am

    It was indeed a magical night.
    I picture Tessas’s story as great story line for a film.
    After this evening I am so looking forward to visit South Africa soon.
    Thanks for inviting us.

  • Sherry Roth August 1, 2009, 10:31 am

    I have been thinking about you often, and appreciate your blog; allowing me to keep up with your activities. Hope to be in NY in near future and see you soon,

  • Dr James J. Freiburger August 1, 2009, 11:31 am

    Nadine, A wonderful chronicling of your activities and important issues in the world. Keep up the good work.

    Dr James J. Freiburger, Ph D
    Organizational Leadership
    School of Business
    Southern New Hampshire University

  • Jeanne Browne August 1, 2009, 3:32 pm

    I have no personal story of loss/restoration to share, but I want to add my thanks for the beautiful story about the piano, and my congratulations to you and Jerry for being so deservedly honored with that dinner.

    I also send condolences to you and your friends/colleagues who knew and worked with Corazon Aquino, a woman who did so much positive work for her country and became a role model for women and for all leaders who benefitted from her example of struggle and courage. I know this is a personal loss for you, as well as for her nation.

    Your blog is great, Nadine, and with each post I feel renewed respect for your work and increased affection for you as my friend, my sister, my comrade.

  • Tracy Lovatt August 2, 2009, 7:35 am

    Hi Nadine, Hope the (rainy) summer is treating you well. I knew you’d had an interesting trip to London but didn’t realise that this had been a part of it. Congratulations and very well deserved. We need more Nadine’s.
    We are very much looking forward to seeing you soon to continue the journey around the ‘noble purpose’ to make that happen. Be well and see you soon, Tracy

  • karen hunt August 6, 2009, 2:06 pm

    HI Nadine,
    That’s a beautiful story! I met you a long time ago but you made a big impression on me as someone who is definitely concerned about making the world a better place. For another inspiring story, check out “Egypt, Allah & the Nubian, an excerpt from my memoir, Into the World: a young girl’s journey of faith and adventure, just published in Damascus, Syria, with http://www.damazine.com, the “literary treasure house for the Muslim World.” I’m thrilled that my writing would resonate with Muslim readers.


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