It feels dark out there. I am craving light. Some light filters through the shadows. The full moon lit up Halloween as I walked among vampires in gorgeous capes. Yesterday, the golden maple leaves reminded me that every seasonal reign eventually ends. Lately, I am lit up by extraordinary humans who shine brighter faced with unimaginable hardship. On the precipice of election day, I feel called to share these wise words from Etty Hillesum. Etty spent months in Westerbork Nazi detention camp before opting to join her family in a cattle car to Auschwitz. She wrote this enlightening short piece months before she was exterminated. She was twenty seven years old.
“If we save only our bodies and nothing more from the camps all over the world, that would not be enough. What matters is not whether we preserve our lives at any cost, but how we preserve them. I sometimes think that every new situation, good or bad, can enrich us with new insights. But if we abandon the hard facts that we are forced to face, if we give them no shelter in our heads and hearts, do not allow them to settle and change into impulses through which we can grow and from which we can draw meaning – then we are not a viable generation. It is not easy – and no doubt less easy for us Jews than for anyone else – yet if we have nothing to offer a desolate postwar world but our bodies saved at any cost, if we fail to draw new meaning from the deep wells of our distress and despair, then it will not be enough. New thoughts will have to radiate outward from the camps themselves, new insights spreading lucidity, will have to cross the barbed wire enclosing us and join with the insights that people outside will have to earn just as bloodily, in circumstances that are slowly becoming almost as difficult. And perhaps, on the common basis of an honest search for some way to understand these dark events, wrecked lives may yet take a tentative step forward.”*
Wow, that is some serious brightness emanating from the pit of darkness. Her words are still true today: If we are to remain a “viable generation” we must look at the hard facts of the world we are living in (i.e. climate change, institutionalized racism, human dominance over Gaia) and allow them to settle in our hearts and minds. It is only by physically metabolizing these hard facts in our hearts and bodies that we can convert them into natural impulses giving us access to deeper wisdom and meaning. No matter what the election results, if we fail to draw meaning from our “deep wells of distress and despair,” it will not be enough to get us through the Great Turning of our times.
The Work that Reconnects gives us tools, practices to do this important work in a safe, supportive community. Our next five-part Roots of Resilience for Uncertain Times program begins November 11th. This will be the last Roots program until February. Join us in exploring the light within the dark.
* Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum. Pantheon Books, 1986