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COVID MEMORIES. LOST OLYMPICS…MARK SLAVIN!

It is said everyone enters our lives for a reason. Recently I was blessed to find this to be true.

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Chance encounter makes for a perfect angel.

Mark Slavin, Olympic Wrestler for Israel

It had been more than several months of Covid madness with no ending in sight. I felt myself slowly unravelling with depression, anxiety and the fact that many others felt the same did not help. On top of this, my mother recently home from hip surgery, fell, messed herself. My father hurt his back trying to help her. My once vital parents aren’t just getting older but are getting old.

Scariest of all was that all this fear and uncertainty was turning into outright meanness on my part. With so many friends running to social media as an emotional outlet to reveal their own suffering, new diets/workouts and or productivity, it took all my restraint to not respond with the biting sarcasm of a high school mean girl. I hated feeling like this because I love these people! If any one of them had an emergency I would be there anytime, day or night.

This was my state when I sat down late one Sunday for an evening of television. I was elated yet surprised to see one of my favorites, the 2005 film Munich playing as it seemed so random ; then I remembered the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed for next year due to Covid. Now it all made sense and my manic brain began to relax. A dormant memory began to emerge about the first time I saw the movie. It was 2005 on a cool winter morning and I was so excited to be a part of the Screen Actors Guild Nominating Committee. As a member, my name had been picked out of a lotto to join the Committee that would decide which films would be nominated for the upcoming Screen Actors Guild Awards. Those of us picked would receive free dvds, movie passes and special seating at studio held screenings in order to make our choices! On this day I was headed down to the local AMC Theatres to see the film Munich, the latest film about the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September and Israel’s response. I was excited to tell a lucky stranger I could get him or her in to see the movie for free as my guest. Fast forward, no takers. Everyone was going to see other movies. Just then an elderly man hobbled up to the box office and asked for a ticket to Munich in a thick Eastern European accent handing the girl a crisp $20. I motioned to her that he was my guest and slid him back his money.

“I don’t understand?” he said.

“Merry Christmas, Sir!”

He smiled.

About six of us sat in the small theater. I picked an aisle seat as did my new friend across the way. During the previews he left again only to return with a small container of melted cheese for nachos which he proudly handed me then went back to his seat.

The movie played. The theater was equipped with the latest visual and stereo equipment making the events onscreen more realistic and visceral. Palestinian Terrorists burst into a room of two of the athletes in the Olympic Village with machine guns! My new friend audibly gasped, clutched his chest. Noone else noticed. He adjusted his glasses and his seat in such a way that I could see he was alright. Throughout the nearly three hour movie he left and returned a couple more times.

So much pain, blood shed. Israil. Palestine. Both sides had their reasons.

Credits over, I hobbled back to my car, blood slowly redistributing to my limbs. Someone grabbed onto my elbow. It was my new friend! He excitedly explained he took the bus but his thick accent and my recovering ear drums left me grasping only bits and pieces. Oddly, I was not threatened as I normally would have been if someone grabbed my arm. In fact, it was sweetly amusing! After driving him a couple blocks to his apartment, he insisted I come inside to meet his wife. As we walked down the hallway he laughed about a neighbor lady who “Has church ‘tings,” then knocked on a door. An elderly woman answered, revealing a shrine dedicated to the Rapture.

“See!” he giggled like a naughty child.

Awkward! His giggle was contagious though as I tried to suppress mine, the kid in me admiring his brattiness. She didn’t seem to be aware or care that she was the target of his light hearted ridicule because just then another elderly woman stepped into the hallway. It was his wife who overheard her husband’s voice and knew what he was up to. The two women exchanged pleasantries.

His wife greeted me and I explained how we met. She thanked me for bringing him home because neither drove. She had to sit him down to explain which bus line to take to AMC. She had already seen the movie with a senoir citizen group she belonged to and it was obvious it was important for him to see it. Both insisted I come in for tea and cookies.

Their apartment was warm and cozy. The walls and coffee table were covered with old and new pictures of family, friends. A frame held a child’s letter…

“Grandpa, I love you. I wish to see you soon. You are a hero from the war where you lost your leg.”

Underneath was a crayon drawing of a tank and a stick person sad because his leg is detached. Turns out my new friend was a hero in WWII!

She grabbed cookies from the freezer to microwave as we sat at the small kitchen table. I learned of the importance of him seeing Munich as they were excited for me to see some other photos from an album of her when she was younger with her sister and a little boy. They pointed to the little boy proudly, eyes beaming. His name was Mark. Mark Slavin. She relayed that he was “Such a good boy!” and didn’t know his own strength, once having playfully grabbed his mother’s arm accidently breaking her wrist! He felt terrible. Born in Belarus, he learned to wrestle to protect himself against anti-Semetic bullies.

Their eyes filled recounting memories. They bickered as long married couples often do but their love for each other and a nephew named Mark was obvious. My hosts seemed to be tiring. It was time for me to leave. Our visit lasted about a couple of hours and we exchanged numbers. She apologetically thanked me again for driving him home.

Driving home my head was spinning as I tried to wrap my head around the violence I saw onscreen to an actual flesh and blood boy living on in the hearts of those who loved him. It then dawned on me…my new friends and I never learned each others’ names! We never contacted each other again.

Dear Mark,

Wikipedia identifies you as ” A hostage at the Munich Massacre.”

However, at eighteen years of age, you were the youngest athlete on the Israeli team and by all accounts were a future champion in the art of Roman-GrecoWrestling, expected to medal that day. Instead you were machine gunned down while you and your teammates sat in a helicopter that was supposed to be your ride to safety. Your are not forgotten, Dear Boy. See, your existence gave a total stranger one of the happiest afternoons of her life and fifty years after your death, the memory of your strength helped her cope with a Pandemic Depression, refocus and create. You are so much more than “A hostage of the Munich Massacre.” You were and remain an inspiration. Your legacy is strength. Thank you for sharing it with me.

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