It is often said that circumstances are not decisive for success or emotional fulfilment, but this seems so far from our immediate reality that it has lost its credibility. Maybe that’s why we are amazed by people like Anna Jarmics, who managed to see and enjoy the bright side of life, despite the tragedies she experienced.
Anna was born in 1934 in Hungary, just a few years before the outbreak of World War II. The horrors of war were deeply ingrained in her mind. “Nobody can imagine it. You stand in line because you don’t have milk or bread and then all of a sudden the tanks come and try and shoot you down. It was very sad”.
Unfortunately, the effects of the war are still visible on her body. She was almost 11 years old when one of the Russian soldiers occupying the country threw a grenade into the sand pit where she and her younger brothers were playing. She grabbed it and ran away with it, to throw it as far as possible, but she tripped and the grenade exploded in her hand. Her face was injured, but her palms were what suffered the most, so the doctors decided to amputate her hands. Because there was no anaesthetic available anywhere in the country, due to the war, the operation was performed without anaesthetic.
In the post-war years, difficult due to political change and the disaster that was left behind, Anna had to learn to cope with her hands as they were. It was not at all easy for her to relearn how to hold objects, how to eat, or how to dress. Nevertheless, she was grateful that the blast had not affected her more than it did. “I never blamed anybody for my accident. It just happened, and that was it. I just learned how to carry on with life”.
In 1956, when she was a newlywed and six months pregnant, Anna decided that Hungary was not the place where her child could have a better future, and she fled to the West. During the day she slept hidden in the fields, and at night she walked. A group of people she met offered to help her get to the Austrian border. From there, Anna was sent to Britain. Miraculously, she was reunited with her husband there, who followed her, also having fled from Hungary.
She raised three of her four children in refugee camps in Austria and the United Kingdom. After a while, Anna and her husband decided to try to emigrate to Canada. Things seemed to be settling down in the new country that welcomed them with open arms, despite the fact that their knowledge of English was poor. Things took a tragic turn when her husband left her and ran away with all their savings. Addicted to alcohol and mentally disturbed because of the three years he had spent in the concentration camps in Siberia, he could not cope with the new life, and disappeared without a trace.
With four children to support, Anna had to find a job quickly. She applied for several jobs, but was not accepted due to her disability. She asked those looking for a maid at a Toronto hospital to give her a two-week probation period. She told them they didn’t have to pay her if they were not satisfied with her work. She proved that she was capable, despite her disability, so she remained employed there for more than five years.
When they grew up, three of her children moved to Calgary, and Anna followed. There she began to paint in watercolour. She had chosen one of the hardest areas in which a person without hands could excel. To everyone’s surprise, her paintings became widely known, and many of them were used as the main image for the greeting cards sold in the city.
At the age of 50, Anna discovered a new passion, which also required a lot of effort on her part: the game of darts. She got better and better and competed. The medals followed quickly, and Anna was the national champion in her age category for seven years in a row. “Everything I do, I do it because it’s challenging. That’s why I like painting because it’s challenging. I used to do target shooting and I’ve got trophies too to prove it”, she proudly comments on her ability to use her hands which look like stumps.
Anna currently has eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and her energy seems inexhaustible. She teaches English to immigrants in courses organized by the World Christian Association of Young Women (YWCA), and those who see her in class are amazed by her positive energy. Every place she enters lights up in her presence. She is grateful for the life she has lived and does not hesitate to say that it could certainly have been worse, but fortunately it was not.
For those she meets, she is an inspiration and she knows this. She does not miss the opportunity to instil in those she talks to the faith that they can do whatever they set out to do, if they really want to. “I never worried about, ‘I haven’t got hands’… A lot of people turn around and say, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’ and I always turn around and say, ‘there’s no such a thing.’”