From my heart to yours
For my contribution this month, I have so many ideas, I want to use them all. Alas, space and time forbid such an approach. So, I go with what is currently figuring foremost in my thoughts and awareness, namely the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Soldiers of the Soviet First Ukrainian Front fought their way to the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau and liberated the death camp on 27th January 1945. They found just fewer than 6,000 prisoners still alive at Auschwitz, which included a concentration camp, killing centre, and forced-labour camps. It was located 37 miles west of Krakow (Cracow), near the prewar German-Polish border. Nine years ago my brother and I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. We walked through the camp, even today the images are still very real, leaving an indelible imprint upon my soul.
Elie Wiesel (Nobel Peace Prize 1986) writing in his Holocaust memoir, Night, tells of a member of his village Sighet (now Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania in the Carpathian Mountains) when he was growing up. They called him “Moisha the Beadle.” He was awkward and shy, but he was one possessed by God and every day chanted his songs to God. He became Elie Wiesel’s teacher in Kabbala and Jewish mysticism.
Then one day in 1942 all the “foreign Jews” were expelled from his village, and Moisha was taken away by train. Days, weeks, months passed, and then suddenly Moisha was back.
He told Wiesel what happened. The train crossed the border; then the Gestapo took over. The Jews were paraded into the forest. They were forced to dig huge trenches. Then they were lined up, shot and pushed into the massive graves. Children were tossed into the air and used as targets for machine guns. Tobie the tailor begged to die before his sons were killed. Moisha somehow escaped. He had been shot in the leg and left for dead.
Then he began to go from one Jewish home to another telling them what had happened. No one believed him. They thought he was imagining things. Some thought that he had gone mad. Even Wiesel, his student, did not believe him. Such horror could not happen. However, it could and it did, and in the spring of 1944 Elie Wiesel himself along with his family and friends were transported to Auschwitz and later he was sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp, which was liberated by the Americans in 1945.
When I read Elie Wiesel’s response to Moisha’s experience, I am reminded how when family, friends and even strangers, share their stories of pain and grief with us sometimes, we may doubt and question if they are exaggerating their experience. We may also think, is this for real or are they just imagining? When we do this our compassion and empathy is reduced, we no longer see and hear the person; rather they have become an object for our analytical judgement.
But then, something happens. We go through our own suffering and pain which touches our soul, we are changed, we are never the same again. This may lead us to becoming more compassionate with ourselves and with those who are going through the crucible of suffering and grief. Life is mysterious and filled with many unknowns, which arrive at the doorway of our life, often without warning.
Ultimately, we are unable to say, why cancer comes into one life and not in another, why dementia arrives and bypasses another, or why one person dies suddenly and others continue on their journey of life. These unknowns are an integral part of what it means to be human.
At times we use our reasoning in an attempt to explain the presence of human pain and suffering, alas, ultimately we are left with further questions, doubts and uncertainties. To live with the ambiguities and confusion of not knowing, requires courage and faith, for in the whirlpools of our suffering and uncertainties we are not alone, for also present, is the mysterious presence of the sacred One, we name God.
Poet William Stafford’s poem The Way it is: speaks of a thread, which weaves its way throughout our life. This may be interpreted in different ways, but for me, it is the thread of God’s sacred presence in my life. I leave this poem with you for your encouragement on your journey:
The Way It Is
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
Meanwhile peace and strength as you hold the thread and in some mysterious way the thread holds you.