“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 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.”
– Viktor Frankl. On a revelation he had in a concentration camp.
I had a harder time of shaking Auschwitz from my mind the following day than the day of, somehow. Sometimes we go numb in the face of overwhelming emotions (in order to function) and deal with them later. Maybe that’s what happened with me. In fact, I was physically sick all the next morning, as if in a purge. I had walked around the camp thinking, “This place is sickening.” Maybe it is.
But what’s especially surprised me is the something-else I’ve been unable to shake. Ever since I saw this image just outside the gates, before I turned to walk (sometimes run) away from Birkenau, I’ve been reminded of a story I hardly ever think about. Something I read years ago in a book a friend loaned me right before I left Shanghai.
The book, called Testimony of Light, was supposedly channeled, a What Dreams May Come kind of thing, in which a recently-departed soul was sharing stories of the afterlife with a still-incarnate friend. The soul was being escorted around, shown various project she could get involved in, when the subject of healing work came up, and she was taken to a place where — there within Heaven — the soul of a former Nazi was cocooned in the shadows of his self-created hell. He was SO wracked with guilt, the guide explained, that he was terrified of what he’d face upon death, to the point that he couldn’t bear to peek out and face his afterlife. He didn’t even realize he was already in a safe and loving place — already right there in Heaven.
(Imagine that; imagine being in Heaven itself and not realizing that was where you were, for earthly DECADES, because you’d convinced yourself you didn’t deserve so much love and light. How often do we turn away from, or fail to see, the blessings all around us, even on Earth, because we don’t believe ourselves deserving? But remember; unconditional love demands no price. Therefore, nothing must be “earned.” We “deserve” goodness simply because we exist. Take some time to reflect on that later.)
Back to the book:
In the book, the soul-on-tour expressed her concern for this man — what could be done for him? She needn’t worry, the guide explained. There was another soul ready to help him: the soul of a woman who had suffered much for his actions during the Holocaust, and who had healed sooner than he had been able to shake his guilt. When he was a little more ready, she would be there to greet him. To guide him. To help him to heal. Moreover, she was looking forward to being able to perform this gesture of love for him.
I was stunned to see this on a printed page; it resonated so deeply with things I’d been glimpsing over the previous year that I actually cried while I read it. It made such perfect and beautiful sense. I was already seeing, in my own ways, that we don’t heal the world(s) with rebukes, grudges, punishments. Rather, the deeper the darkness, the more light — love — needs to pour forth.
Nothing can excuse a place like Auschwitz or the forces that led to its creation. Lots of people did lots of terrible things. But at the same time, one of the most important lessons Holocaust teaches us is the senselessness of division, the common humanity we all — ALL — share.
In childhood, when we are learning to walk, sometimes we misstep and we fall. Sometimes we fall HARD, we bump stuff, we break things, it hurts. But these missteps don’t mean that we will never walk. And they CERTAINLY don’t mean that we don’t have it in ourselves to be able.
Through a similar process — trial and error, miscalculations and mistakes — we learn to feed ourselves, pour our own juice, speak. The mistakes don’t mean we’re hopeless. Much less that we’re worthless. And not at all — never, ever, no matter what — that we’re undeserving of love.
So it is with being human. What we are learning here is something bigger than walking, self-feeding, pouring, speech. What we are learning here is how to love. Loving is the most natural thing in the world, and yet, it leaves so much room for clumsiness and hard falls and big messes and pain.
But nobody’s incapable. Nobody’s hopeless. And eventually, everyone — everyone — can get the hang of it.
That’s what I’d rather believe, at least.