Life is Beautiful – Regardless of Circumstances – Etty Hillesum WW2 Letters 1941-1943 (Feb 2009)

Susan's Thursday morning note February 26, 2009
Life is Beautiful - Regardless of Circumstances (WW2 diary of Etty Hillesum)
Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork

Hi!  Tonight I read an excerpt about a holocaust victim whose journal was found.  The book I’ve ordered is Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum.  I had never heard of her before, but am looking forward to the book I ordered for all of us of her diary and letters kept between 1941 and 1943 during the last two years of her life before dying in Auschwitz at the age of only 29 in 1943.  “The adult counterpart to Anne Frank, she testifies to the possibility of awareness and compassion in the face of the most devastating challenge to one’s humanity…for the religious, content of the diary is heart and breath-taking…the end of the diary Etty is a totally different woman…”

“You have made me so rich, oh God, please let me share out Your beauty with open hands.  My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You, oh God, one great dialogue.  Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised towards Your Heaven, tears sometimes run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude.  At night, too, when I lie in my bed and rest in You, oh God, tears of gratitude run down my face, and that is my prayer.  I have been terribly tired for several days, but that, too, will pass; things come and go in a deeper rhythm and people must be taught to listen to it, it is the most important thing we have to learn in this life.  I am not challenging You, oh God, my life is one great dialogue with You.  I may never become the great artist I would really like to be, but I am already secure in You, God.  Sometimes I try my hand at turning out small profundities and uncertain short stories, but I always end up with just one single word:  God.  And that says everything and there is no need for anything more.  And all my creative powers are translated into inner dialogues with You; the beat of my heart has grown deeper, more active and yet more peaceful, and it is as if I were all the time storing up inner riches.”

Suddenly everything is changed, what kind of inner process I don’t know.  But it is so different…a thousand oppressive fetters are shaken off.  Now freely I do breathe.  I feel strong and with resplendent eyes I look around.  I’ve stopped wanting to possess.  I am free.  Now I possess everything.  My inner wealth is immeasurable. (Mar 17, 1941).

“I believe I should better do it: ‘fall inward’ in the morning before I go to work, for half an hour.  To listen to what’s inside of me.  ‘Sich versenken’.  You can also call it meditation.  But that word gives me the creeps…Let this be the goal of meditation: to become like a wide open space, without that sneaky brushwood taking away your vista.  That something like ‘God’ can enter, just like there is something of ‘God’ in the 9th of Beethoven.  (June 8, 1941).

Inside of me there is a deep well.  In it God sits.  Sometimes I can reach him.  But more often stones and debris block the entrance.  Then God lies buried.  Then he needs to be excavated.  I can imagine some people praying with their eyes raised up toward heaven.  They look for God outside.  But other people lower their head and hide it in their hands.  I suppose they look for God inside them.  (Aug 26, 1941).

I have by now the final remedy.  It is better in a little corner to crouch on the ground and hunched like that to listen to what’s inside of me.  Mere thinking will never avail.  Thought is a beautiful and proud occupation as study is concerned.  But you can never think your way ‘heraus’ of difficult emotional problems.  Something else needs to be done.  You have to make yourself passive and listen.  Get into touch with that little piece of eternity inside of you.  Lord, rather give me wisdom, instead of knowledge.  (Sept. 4, 1941).

Life is beautiful to me and worth living and full of meaning.  Despite everything.  (July 1, 1942).

When I pray, I never pray for myself, always for others.  (July 15, 1942).

Yes, my Lord, I remain very faithful to you, through thick and thin…The only human thing that still remains in these times is: to kneel before you, O God. 

There are moments when I feel like a little bird, covered by a big protecting hand.  (July 28, 1942).

I love to find someone that I’ve never even read or heard of, know that there are actual letters and diaries coming to me within the week….there is just no end to all that we can find to occupy our minds, is there?  The choice is ours – be determined to read at least a page of something worth reading at night, or just staring at the TV or e-mails.   Our choice.  Continually changing and growing.  Stu just said to me, “What are you doing, writing on such a depressing situation (Auschwitz) on such a cold night?  Have you ever read quotes by Charles Schultz?”  So, you know what, next week – I’ll have quotes by Charles Schultz & all of his friends – so there!!!  We can all handle only so much thinking!!!  Have a great week.  I’m pretty sure spring is only about 4 months away.  See, it’s not that bad!  And, did I tell you how much it matters that you come in the store?  Well, if you don’t realize it, let me say so again – your business means more than I can ever tell you on making this store continue to grow.  I’m always disappointed when you come and I’m not there – but know that I thank you from wherever I am when I see your name!  Go take on your day and make yourself proud with decisions you make that only you know you make.  Don’t freeze!  Susan

Latin for this week:
vita pulchra est – Life is beautiful.  (This phrase was written by Leon Trotsky. While being targeted for execution, he was staring out of a window and watching his wife in the garden. This scene inspired Trotsky to write that life is beautiful, even though his world was coming to an end.

Works Cited:
Hillesum, Etty.  An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork.  1996.  Picador.  New York.