At times, I am caught off guard by a word or a gesture. Today, a group of numbers stunned me for a long moment. I cradled Sara’s arm while I took her blood pressure, and saw the blue-black tattoo along her forearm. Not the artistic tattoos so many are fond of these days; just a row of numbers, depicting her identity those many years ago when she was a young woman, stripped of everything, including her name. Just a row of …numbers…
We never fully know someone’s story. The description of “holocaust survivor” immediately generates the mental pictures of prisoners behind barbed-wire and watchtowers, with their emaciated limbs, shaven heads and striped bodies that we have seen in the movies; safely remote from our daily existence.
This is not a movie, but Sara- a flesh and blood person, with the stamp of oppression and hatred that brings shame to the word human. Another human being placed this stamp on her arm. This sweet faced elderly woman, a survivor, carries the mark and memories of experiences I will never have, thank God…but a reminder for us all.
Our shared annals of history tell the human story of hating others’ religious views, skin color, cultural differences, tribal affiliations, and the list goes on. According to some statistics, somewhere between 160 and 200 million people died in the last century from oppression, wars and genocide.
We light up lovely signs with words like Peace and Love this time of year. Have we learned these lessons? Not just an ethereal view of peace, but truly loving and accepting of each other?
Some learn. In the words of Viktor Frankl, he describes what the basest and most inhuman experiences taught him during WWII:
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – THAT LOVE IS THE ULTIMATE AND THE HIGHEST GOAL TO WHICH MAN CAN ASPIRE. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory….”*
My hope for all of us, as we come to the close of yet another year, is this: to lose ourselves gazing at glory, to know Love that surpasses understanding, and to share peace together.
Blessings from Amy
*from: Frankl, Viktor E., Man’s Search for Meaning, Washington Square Press, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1963.