Susan's Thursday morning note March 19, 2009
An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum
Letters and journal of Etty Hillesum. (She died in the concentration camp...these thoughts are on how she found God and the beauty of life in horrible circumstances)
Good morning! Spring is in the air – the door is barely cracked & the coffee/filler combination is close to perfection. I’ll know spring has truly arrived when the cats have a little gift of a mouse at my screen door to welcome me to their day. Dare I admit after the initial few shocks of that gift, I was proud?!!?!?! This week I’ve been reading more of the book by Etty Hillesum that I mentioned a few weeks ago. This is her diary from the age of 27-29 before she died in a concentration camp in WW2. The book is fascinating…I don’t know how to describe her personality, but as the book progresses and her life becomes painful and challenging she becomes a stronger and more positive person, seeing all of life as miraculous and seeing the reality of God in the peace and love for life that she is given through tragedy and sorrow. I almost didn’t write any of this – and just told you about a funny book Camden & I are reading, but I can’t resist, for I really like the paragraphs that I underlined, and I don’t want you not to have them, either for yourself if you have ever experienced difficulties (who hasn’t!?!?), or if you know someone that you think would benefit from her writings. I can’t resist writing them out for you. I am not yet through the book, but will still write you what I’ve read this week and underlined for all of us.
God, take me by Your hand, I shall follow You dutifully, and not resist too much. I shall evade none of the tempests life has in store for me, I shall try to face it all as best I can. But now and then grant me a short respite. I shall never again assume, in my innocence, that any peace that comes my way will be eternal. I shall accept all the inevitable tumult and struggle. I delight in warmth and security, but I shall not rebel if I have to suffer cold, should You so decree. I shall follow wherever Your hand leads me and shall try not to be afraid. I shall try to spread some of my warmth, of my genuine love for others, wherever I go….
If you have a rich inner life, I would have said, there probably isn’t all that much difference between the inside and outside of a camp…Life is going to be very hard…We shall have to steel ourselves inwardly more and more.
Does that mean I am never sad, that I never rebel, always acquiesce, and love life no matter what the circumstances? No, far from it. I believe that I know and share the many sorrows and sad circumstances that a human being can experience, but I do not cling to them, I do not prolong such moments of agony. They pass through me, like life itself, as a broad, eternal stream, they become part of that stream, and life continues. And as a result all my strength is preserved, does not become tagged on to futile sorrow or rebelliousness.
And finally: ought we not, from time to time, open ourselves up to cosmic sadness? One day I shall surely be able to say, “Yes, life is beautiful, and I value it anew at the end of every day, even though I know that the sons of mothers, an you are one such mother, are being murdered in concentration camps. And you must be able to bear your sorrow; even if it seems to crush you, you will be able to stand up again, for human beings are so strong, and your sorrow must become an integral part of yourself, part of your body and your soul, you mustn’t run away from it, but bear it like an adult. Do not relieve your feelings through hatred, do not seek to be avenged on all German mothers, for they, too, sorrow at this very moment for their slain and murdered sons. Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears his grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate. but if you do not clear a decent shelter for your sorrow, and instead reserve most of the space inside you for hatred and thoughts of revenge – from which new sorrows will be born for others – then sorrow will never cease in this world and will multiply. And if you have given sorrow the space its gentle origins demand, then you may truly say: life is beautiful and so rich. So beautiful and so rich that it makes you want to believe in God.
I find life beautiful, and I feel free. The sky within me is as wide as the one stretching above my head. Life is hard, but that is no bad thing….I am a happy person and I hold life dear indeed, in this year of Our Lord 1942.
You taught me to speak the name of God without embarrassment. You were the mediator between God and me, and now you, the mediator, have gone, and my path leads straight to God. It is right that it should be so. And I shall be the mediator for any other soul I can reach.
This week we had the sad news that we lost the little baby we were excited to welcome into our home next fall. This again shows how beautiful and miraculous life is. How much there is around us to love, no matter what we do not hold or who we have had to say good bye to, or if we ourselves are physically sick or tired. The beauty of all that God has given to us. The little lives that are here, huge smiles…life. The friends and who we love in our homes. Do we appreciate all the little details and love fully? Life. Beautiful. Just even knowing that the green on the trees will soon show…the flowers will soon pop out of the ground…the beauty of life coming…life going…seasons. All is miraculous. And the comfort of heaven. Picturing what it will be when we get to see God’s eyes and who we love. I remember the title of a book that I saw when I was a little girl. The book intrigued me, for the title was, Heaven Now Has a Floor (or something like that!) A mother wrote the book after the death of her child. On the reality now of heaven. As my mom said, “If God can make Hawaii, can you imagine the beauty of his own home?!??!”
I hope you have a great weekend…time to just walk, have quiet, read, appreciate life. As Etty repeats over and over in her thoughts & writings…life is so beautiful and so rich. Pray. Love. Appreciate the little gifts we all have. No matter our circumstances. The beauty of the stars. We all have beauty in our lives. The peace that passes all others’ understanding will never pass away from our lives. Thank you so much for giving us your business when your budgets are so tight. If you only knew what your support means. Always tell me what you’d like us to have in the store – I will do my best! And thank you so much for sending this note to your friends & telling them about us. You are the reason this store is here! And regardless of your need for anything – bring your kids to play, and come in for coffee, tea, or just to get away from whatever your reality is!!! Search today as you walk and meet others – for the beauty of a person or a gift from God. Maybe it will just be the way your little one (baby, kitten, fat cat, slobbering dog, or turtle) looks in your living room….life…..all is a miracle. Susan
Latin for this week:
Life is beautiful - vita pulchra est
Hillesum, Etty. An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork. 1996. Henry Holt and Company. New York.