The woman who overcame it all

by Mia Benyamin, Staff Writer

“A romanticist, an enabler and a student”; three words that perfectly describe a woman who has been through it all. She has suffered and she has prospered, yet she’s never allowed anybody to bring her down for good.

Dr. Susan Alswang, 74-year-old French teacher at Glen Rock High School, describes herself as a romanticist, an enabler and a student, noticeably all positive attributes. For a woman who thinks so highly of herself, she has been through a considerable amount of hardships.

Alswang married who she thought to be her soulmate at a reasonable age. They were married for a relatively long period of time, around 30 years, according to her. Her and her ex-husband had children and lived together for an extensive amount of time.

“I would probably like to have had my marriage work,” Alswang mentioned, “I wish it had been different after 30 years.” As this was mentioned, a look of regret crept upon Alswang’s face, her constant smile becoming slightly smaller. Every time that Alswang speaks about her marriage, it is clear that she is trying to keep her smile painted across her face, yet the corners of her mouth cave a little.

Alswang is a woman who prioritizes her family over anybody else. “My happiest memory,” she explained, her eyes lighting up, “I think when my son was born and he was a C section and he had gone into distress. And it was very scary. And then [he] had swallowed meconium or whatever. And then they took it out, they pumped it out, and they brought him to me and he kissed me on the cheek. I’ll never forget that.” Alswang indirectly claimed that this very moment is when her “new life” had begun; a newer, more detailed life; a life with a larger amount of ups and downs.

When Alswang and her ex-husband got a divorce, multiple dreams were crushed, but one in particular; her dream to go to Israel. Alswang has been aspiring to go to Israel for decades. She was doing preparations for her much needed excursion when suddenly, she received a painful piece of information; her soon to be ex-husband established that the court date would be the same date as her flight to Israel. Crushed, Alswang broke down into tears, knowing that her opportunity to visit Israel had been stripped away from her reach. To this day, Alswang still gets exceedingly upset about the subject.

“I would like to go to Israel. I’ve never been and there’s a large Israeli population of my students that have gone… I’ve got a lump in my throat,” Alswang croaked, tears brimming the corners of her eyes, “I would like to see it. I would like to experience it.”

This is not only a sensitive topic for Alswang, but it is also a sensitive topic for those who know and love her. President of the French Club at Glen Rock High School, Francesca Schneidman, said the following with a stern face after being asked about Alswang’s Israel story;

“The Israel story really pulled at my heartstrings. The woman who has educated us so much on language, culture, art, and people is being deprived of the chance to visit a land that is so holy and important to her.”

After the Israel incident, it took a while for Alswang to catch a break. Just as she felt like she was catching her breath, she was met with an entirely new challenge; loss. Alswang’s love for her parents, similar to many people’s, is unconditional. This is why their deaths have been so hard on her. By the time both of Alswang’s parents were gone, she was no longer what one would consider to be young, which to some people, makes the loss even more unbearable.

“My father passed away first,” Alswang blankly stated, “but he was 98. Then when my mother passed, it was just me. That was a major turning point. Because, even with my father, I, he liked chinos. So I’d go into his favorite store and you know, look at chinos and start to cry. Or I look at my mother and she was like Imelda Marcos with the shoes. And I’m in her house now.” Speaking about her parents was difficult for Alswang, for she stuttered as she spoke. In clearer words, whenever Alswang might see something that reminds her of her parents, the newly found sadness of their loss hits her all over again.

As she’s grown into the woman she is today, Alswang learned three languages besides her first language, English, those being French, Latin and Spanish. She grew a near immediate passion for French. Alswang’s passion for French is unmatched, for her passion isn’t ordinary; she has a real connection with the language.

“I love French,” Alswang claimed, her eyes lighting up, “It just becomes part of me. As you know, I’ve taught it for so long. I’ve visited it. I love the literature.” French is what brought Alswang to where she is today. If it hadn’t been for the language, she wouldn’t have her current job as well as meet a multitude of people that she now knows and loves.

“I would describe Alswang as a very enthusiastic woman to say the least. She is not only kind and respectful, but she truly cares for her students and creates a deeper connection with her students than any other teacher I have ever seen,” Schneidman claimed. Despite everything Alswang has been through, she has found a way to still truly connect with others, learn about them, and educate them, allowing them to see things from a different perspective.

A romanticist; no matter what comes her way, Alswang romanticizes life and views the cup as half full, always finding the better and the beauty in every situation.

An enabler; Alswang makes the impossible possible. When all seems lost, she enables herself and those around her to keep going and succeed.

A student; learning three languages she did not grow up around, Alswang is always wanting to know more. She learns not only about languages, but every bit of knowledge that she can absorb like a sponge, whether it is social academic or neither.

Dr. Susan Alswang, a romanticist, an enabler and a student, is the woman who never gave up.