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Ene Silla - About Myself

I was asked to write something about myself. The Estonian students, (the recipients of our scholarship funds), supposedly wanted to know: what kind of people donate money for scholarships?

I could simply list some of the schools that I have attended, degrees earned, etc., but would this describe who I am?

What kind of a person am I? I found the question intriguing, so I am going to pursue this topic. What language to use? After putting down a few sentences in my native tongue, it became clear that my Estonian was just too rusty. For more than 50 years I had been out of touch with my countrymen. I had gone to some social gatherings in the Los Angeles Estonian House, but I remained an outsider. I just did not fit in.

I am going to present myself as sincerely and truthfully as I can. Not just the facts, but what meaning the facts have for me, the total person. For one thing, I tend to think of myself as more of a contemplative, rather than an action-oriented person.

What are the general characteristics that describe me? It would be easy to select some flattering, ego-enhancing qualities. Except that the prettified characteristics have a less flattering underbelly, which I also want to take into account.

Let’s say that I think of myself as being generous. However, there are strings attached. I have expectations: the recipient of my generosity should in some way reciprocate. Also, offer acknowledgment and gratitude, even praise. By this route my generosity loses its glitter, and can be seen as self-serving, almost a form of manipulation. Do I want to buy your praise and respect?

I also found out that generosity has its pitfalls. Sometimes there was a snake in the grass, and sometimes, when I stretched out the helping hand, I got bitten. I know what betrayal feels like.

It is true that in the course of my life I have encountered many kind people who have helped me. So some of my generosity does include elements of paying back, gratefully. I do believe that getting an education is a vital factor in improving and enriching anyone’s life.

Trying to get an education was not easy for me. Arriving in America as a refugee, I was forced to hold down a full time job, and go to school in the evening, until scholarships and assistantships became available. So I do have the sincere desire to make the pursuit of education a little easier for some others.

What other characteristic traits do I have? I am possessive of my independence, so sometimes I do not fit in easily with other people. Even now, I do not like the easy casual social chatter with other women in my neighborhood. Talking about children, grandchildren, cooking, shopping, etc. is boring to me, and often I am not gracious or polite enough about avoiding some types of social contact.

I am interested in, and curious about people. But in spite of my extended study of psychology, I often draw wrong conclusions, remain puzzled about others, and fail to extend more understanding to them. Even though I think of myself as being a caring and compassionate person, my background remained deficient is some important experiences. No siblings, no children, no marriages of long standing. I left home too early, so I never really got to know my parents well enough.

What is my connection with Estonia? Most scanty. I was born in Tallinn-Nõmme, and graduated from High School (the Riiklik Inglise Kolledž) in 1941. No relatives or even acquaintances there now. They have died or disappeared. The contact has been lost.

Then came the turmoil of Communist takeover. Then the advance of the German army. The two enemies taking turns in devastating the land in the course of their armies chasing each other, Ultimately, the return of the Russians, the ensuing panic. Whoever could, escaped in whatever direction was closest. My parents chose to stay. Lots of us Estonians ended up in Germany. The turmoil there during the war.

I teamed up with another refugee, an Estonian girl whose parents had friends in Berlin. We were looking for opportunities to continue our education, as well as developing survival skills, such as learning to type.

A group of us headed East, trying to escape from the fires, the continual air raids in Berlin. Getting caught in an encirclement of the rapidly advancing Red Army. Lots of close calls. Under cover of darkness, rushing back West on foot, hoping to reach the American Zone. Repeatedly: just barely. Missing the bullets of the Russian guards. Lucky, in spite of all. I found kindness, support, acceptance, loyalty in some. Good people can be found anywhere.

What do I remember about Estonia? Most of all, the bone-crunching cold. Also, much anxiety and fear. My father was a tormented man, full of unpredictable rages and expectations of me. He considered me to be a possession of his. I do not remember him ever wanting to get to know me, or understand me. A sense of family, trust, stability, harmony, security, were not part of my life as a young person.

From childhood on, my job was to be my mother’s protector, to shield her from my father’s violence. My mother was a kind, warm and caring person, enslaved by her love. She was unable to be a good model for me. All through my youth, I just wanted to grow up and escape from my bondage.

As one of my achievements in life I count the fact that I have managed to shake off most of the handicaps of my childhood and young years. I treasure life. With advancing age, my satisfaction and gratitude increased, and the quality of life kept improving. I have consistently kept my eye on the goal of creating a better life for myself, and help others, as well. I remain forever grateful for the educational opportunities here in America.

What other achievements? It was such a relief to leave scarcity behind me, and welcome abundance, and financial success. Alter working for 15 years as a college professor, teaching foreign languages, (German and Russian), I decided to make a career change. I enrolled in a special MA program, and spent a number of years getting professional training in psychology and therapy. This became my field of specialization during the next 15 years of my teaching career.

I saved up my money and made some good investments. What a relief no longer to be poor! It came as a total surprise to me that I was actually able to make an initial donation of $610 000 (to the 2 funds that handle the administration of my scholarships). There is the New York based separate Ene Silla Fund, (part of the ESTONIAN STUDENTS FUND IN USA), and my (anonymous?) participation in the Rotalia Foundation in Seattle. Setting up the 2 scholarship funds is a treasured reward and satisfaction in my life.

I am an avid reader, interested in ideas. This makes me somewhat of a loner, since I do not encounter enough people who enjoy discussing and analyzing literature. But it is a delight to find a related soul now and then, people who like to read, and explore ideas. I have been divorced for more than 30 years, and am living in Los Angeles. Alone, but not lonely.

My life-style as a retired person includes some of the following ways, designed to keep me connected with others:

  • For a number of years I was a member of various self-discovery and discussion groups. We would pursue programs of meeting consistently, every other week, in each others’ homes.
  • Making arrangements with special like-minded friends for meeting regularly at my house, talking about our mutual concerns in everyday life.
  • Becoming a member of a Lifelong Learning society, OMNILORE, which is made up of a group of about 150 people, mostly retired teachers and other professionals. I sign up for one or 2 courses every semester, The meetings are scheduled for 2 hour bimonthly sessions of lecture and discussion. The offerings for each semester include such topics as history, politics, current events, religion, philosophy, literature, etc.
  • I enjoy going for walks along the beach. This practice also helps me to maintain about the same weight, year after year. Luckily, so far, no debilitating health problems.

It has been a good life, including the mistakes and wrong choices that I have made along the way. I am grateful for the gift of such a long life. The quality, and peace of mind have only increased with the passage of time. For a long time now, I have been living in a spacious home, surrounded by a garden full of trees and colorful flowers.

I hope that you, young reader, can set a goal for yourself and pursue it relentlessly. Do not give up, even though the achievement of the goal looks hopeless at times.

Some personal data:

  • BA from Hunter College, New York (with Phi Beta Kappa)
  • MA, Columbia University
  • Ph.D., University of Illinois
  • MA (in Psychology and Counseling), Azusa Pacific College, Family Study Center
  • Licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist

Anne Jennings Smith formerly known as Ene Silla

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