by Caroline von Fluegge-Chen
This won’t be easy. I’m choking back tears as I write. But I am also smiling on the inside. Every so often I am asked about my past: Where did I grow up? Tell me about your last name. How is it that you rode your bicycle across America and then in the middle of Montana, you decided it was time to bust out of the Manhattan corporate rat race? Of all professions, why chiropractic? You’re so passionate about what you do, adamant that we stick to our commitments, and for crying out loud…why do you care so much about our kids?
The best way to answer these questions is to tell you about my family history. It’s pretty colorful. The next time you drink milk or clean your bathroom with Lysol, think about my great, great uncle, Karl, who was granted an award by Louis Pasteur’s foundation for his research on bacteria and disease. On the more dramatic side, Wilhelm, my father’s uncle whose remains are buried in Istanbul, was in a plot to blow up Hitler in 1944. The heart of the matter is (in a round about way) how the tragedy and suffering of my father’s youth has made me the person I am today. Only recently did I make the connection. It makes me a bit nervous to share this very personal story. As loving and expressive as he is, dad becomes agitated when his childhood is brought up. I’ve been afraid to ask my father the details in fear of opening very deep wounds. Though I don’t know every fact perfectly, the few snippets I’ve managed to share caused a jaw-dropping reaction. Now that enough people have encouraged me to tell this tale, here it goes…
My daddy: From having everything, losing it all, rising from the ashes with a vengeance. His name is Hans von Fluegge. Born into wealth, his family was considered by standards of the past, to be country gentlemen or landed gentry living in a grand estate in Pommern, located in (what was) northern Germany, now a part of Poland. The branches of the family tree are heavy with lawyers, doctors, inventors, and commercial farmers. The von Fluegge’s were pretty much the kingpins of their town. Though little Hans enjoyed a life of privilege – nannies, fancy schools, going to the 1936 Olympics and watching Jesse Owens set world records – he was not a wimp. Dad’s eyes shimmer with glee as he tells stories about roaming around the forests and fields with a ragtag gang of farmers’ kids, building forts, playing practical jokes, and getting into the kind of grass-stained, mud-caked trouble one would expect of a happy-go-lucky young guy with a stable future.
Life in the carefree lane came to a screeching stop as World War II loomed. The von Fluegges were stuck between a rock and a hard place, so to speak. The family was very anti-Nazi for political, commercial and personal reasons: The Nazis wanted to seize their estate, land, and commercial enterprises. When it was discovered that my great, great grandmother was Jewish, the water really began to boil and dad’s family was stripped of German citizenship. The Russians and Poles were also vying for the von Fluegge land. Stating the obvious, because the family was German, the Allies had an even bigger reason to pillage and plunder.
After dad graduated from boarding school, he was drafted at age 16 into the German army. “Oh my God, Dr. Caroline’s father was in the German Army???” you may be thinking. Whoa Nelly, everyone. He was DRAFTED – meaning, he was a 16-year old kid and he did not have a choice. He was sent out into the field to retrieve the mutilated remains of dead soldiers and civilians. To this day he still remembers throwing up into his gas mask as he witnessed two women fighting over a charred corpse, each women insisting it was HER husband. One day, out of 200 men of his platoon, 190 were sent to the West. All 190 were killed while my dad was in the group of ten which was sent to the East. Dad narrowly escaped death again when he was playing cards with a buddy. Four feet away from my father, the friend was hit with shrapnel and his guts splattered all over dad.
Soon after, dad received terrible news. His family and the townspeople had made a desperate attempt to flee by foot and horse from the German, Russian and Polish troops who were encroaching from all sides of the county. The convoy of children and adults had nothing but the clothes on their backs, a few small personal possessions and a bit of food. It was winter and it was cold. One day during the misery, my grandfather insisted on stopping overnight rather than continuing the trek in order to properly bury those who had died rather than leave them in the ditch on the side of the road. In the darkness, the group was captured by Russian soldiers and herded back to my grandfather’s (now former) estate. My aunt, Daisy, then 18, was gang raped by Russian and Polish soldiers over and over again. My grandfather tried intervening to save his daughter. He was shot dead with two bullets. My grandmother heard the two shots, assuming both husband and daughter had been killed, committed suicide by swallowing the cynanide she kept in her coat pocket just in case things became intolerable. Daisy survived, but years later, after almost completing medical school, she became addicted to morphine and died.
My dad lost everything: Family. Fortune. Future. He said he “cried like a wolf” for a short while, wondering to God why HIS life was spared…why God, why? But then he got back into the business of moving forward and surviving rather than indulging in self-pity. Fast forward: Dad moves to Hamburg and becomes a baker’s apprentice. Not a penny to his name…only wooden clogs, the shirt on his back, Russian army pants. An uncle in New York lends him a few hundred dollars (with interest!) and my dad immigrates to America. He puts himself through Columbia University night school by picking up pins in a bowling ally and bussing tables. Later he attends New York University for business school. In a thirty-five year career at Citibank, he climbed from poor German kid working in the lowest level to senior VP level. His job was stressful, it required that our family move every few years around the world, and truthfully, I don’t know how much he really liked the three piece suit/wingtip shoes fast track. After all, he was really just a country boy from Germany at heart.
Dad’s question “Why did I survive” is answered. There are three girls in our family. Amelie is the eldest, next comes Isabel, then me. When Amelie received her acceptance letter to Princeton University, my dad realized why his life was spared. Not to get too religious on you, but here is my interpretation: God had a purpose for my dad. That circle of von Fluegge life was to continue. My dad had everything and lost everything. Through fierce determination, he was not about to let tragedy stop him. His hard work to provide for his family was the foundation for his kids future generations so they could make something of their lives, to succeed, to have opportunities, to go for it, to experience life fully, to have a purpose, to be great. There is a certain mantra I heard dad say over and over again: “Get the best education you can get, become a professional, be independent, do something that puts bread on the table, something you enjoy, and something that makes a difference in the world…and oh yeah – lead an extraordinary and fun life.” Hans von Fluegge put himself last so he could serve the next generation first. He believes in hard work, never giving up, focusing on the solution rather than the problem, seeing the big picture, giving from his own abundance even if times are bleak, having a sense of humor in the face of tragedy, providing for the next generation, having a bigger purpose than merely living for self-serving “namby pamby” reasons. I get choked up thinking about what my dad lived through and how he never gave up…he was in cahoots with God (though he may not have realized it at the time) so that that wheel of life may continue for future generations.
OK, Dr. C, what does your dad’s story have to do with me? Thank you. I am glad you asked. My life has been ridiculously cushy compared to my father’s experience. In fact, there is no comparison. The biggest travesties include family dogs being hit by cars, having to make new friends each time Citibank transferred our family to a different country, bombing my SATs (yep…I sure did…straight A honors student had no clue how to take standardized tests…but I still got into a top university), my parent’s divorce after 30 years of marriage, the challenges of owning a business, the trials and tribulations of the dating world (I could do a 2 hour stand up comedy show about Match.com), nearly losing my life in the Bolivian Andes…Overall, life has been good, interesting, challenging, rewarding and fun. Thank you, Popsie.
A few years ago, I took one day to meet with my accountant, my financial planner, and my lawyer. These gentlemen are in a way the Three Wise Men of Dr. Caroline’s Future. I’ll admit, I was bewildered after my meetings and I truly wondered what the purpose of my life was. There must be more to it than make a chunk of change, invest it and then bequeath it to my nieces and nephew. Sure, having a house and a car, taking vacations, eating out are nice perks. But pack rat that I am not, buying more STUFF isn’t that exciting to me. In fact, it’s annoying. More to dust, more to insure, more instruction manuals, more warrantees.
Gradually my subconscious helped me figure out what I believe at this point in time my life is about and why I created Balance Atlanta Family Chiropractic.
For some people, the goal of working is to receive a paycheck. The way I see it, my work is really a mission to serve others. If I do a good job, if there is integrity between what is on my mind, in my heart and how I show up in the world, then a paycheck happens in the flow of exchange between giving and receiving. It’s a natural component of universal law.
You see, I want to make a difference in the lives of others so they too can lead extraordinary lives and express their full potential. Most chiropractors are (rightfully, I guess) pigeon-holed as back and neck doctors, pain doctors, someone who plays second fiddle (if that) to orthopedists. Sure, I have helped hundreds of people in almost ten years (9,800 adjustments alone last year) with neck and back issues and I am grateful to have been of assistance and proud of what chiropractic adjustments can accomplish. However, I invite you to view me in a bigger way than fixer of boo-boos. I am interested in helping people of all ages understand health from a practical and logical perspective.
Your body is designed to work perfectly. You are given a gift of health from day one and it is your job to take stewardship of that gift until your last breath of life. The pursuit of health is a journey, not a bumpy ride and knee-jerk reaction from one crisis to the next. Listen to your body. Give it what it needs. It will work better if you do. Health comes from within. It is your neurology that runs every cell, tissue, organ, chemical reaction, gland, muscle, organ and system in your body. Without a healthy nerve system your body will not work at 100%. Understand that though there is a time and a place for drugs or surgery in times of crisis, they are not a long-term solutions to creating balance or healing within your body. It took time for your body to become unhealthy and it will take time, attention and effort for it to get healthy. Poor health is costly financially and emotionally. Healthy people lead more active lives, age better, enjoy more personal and professional success, have better relationships, and make a greater contribution to society. The list goes on…
Imagine if your children were taught to understand these principles? What if the pursuit of wellness, balance, and quality of life was reinforced rather than the dodge ball game of squelching sickness or avoiding crisis? Look at the levels stress in our lives – chemical contaminants in food, water and air…the pressure to succeed personally, academically professionally, financially, socially…Is the world slowing down or speeding up? Will kids experience even more stress as they grow up? You bet they will.
Looking at the quality of our own, often unbalanced lives, isn’t it more difficult to be great role models for happiness, health, and well-being? What is the example we set for children? Why is it that kids in record numbers are allergic to everything under the sun, take drugs to focus or to stabilize moods, go through puberty at even younger ages, can’t sleep, have eating disorders? Again, the list goes on…Just because a situation is common does not mean it’s normal. It’s about time we start looking at and tackling the causes rather than turning a blind eye or covering up the symptoms.
As I work on the challenges of my own mental/physical/spiritual/emotional balance, I hope to impart to parents and individuals alike a new paradigm of health and the the pursuit of well-being because our current level of thinking is not effective in today’s sick and stressed society. The purpose is to inspire people towards greatness, happiness, and fulfillment. However, only with a foundation of health is that possible.
When I see the children at Balance Atlanta getting adjusted, I light up. Their parents get the big picture and they will do what it takes to support the well-being of their children’s health even if chiropractic (at least initially) seems like a foreign concept. How are the threads of my dad’s story woven into mine? I think about the little ones on my table: Ada, Roxy, Leighton, Rylan, Robert, Hill, Caroline, Lilly Grace, Jenica, Kelton..to name a few. I think of the difference my adjustments and teachings will have on the future health and success in their lives and the lives of their children. If we can influence our kids in positive manner, imagine what a difference it will make in society.
My daddy went through personal hell but he never gave up to make something of himself in spite of the circumstances. He realized decades later why his life was miraculously spared, in a metaphysical sort of way. His commitment was to create a foundation so that the next generation could experience health, happiness, prosperity and self-actualization. Isn’t this what any parent would want for their children? I invite you to look at chiropractic, at least as I share it at Balance Atlanta, as more than just a back and neck place. Of course, if your spine works better you feel better. On a bigger scale, when your neurology is firing on all cylinders, EVERY PART of your body is firing on all cylinders.
What I want most is for you to feel good and have a better understanding of the miracle of your body. When you are healthy, your life works better. Your health affects the quality of life your children experience. Healthy people = healthy families = healthy community = healthy planet. Dad paved the road allowing me to make a positive impact on future generations. If this is the legacy I leave behind and throughout my journey put more smiles on more faces, then I am at peace. I have many people to thank. God, my parents, my patients, my mentors, my friends, my team. I love and appreciate you. Big time.