The Choice (by Edith Eger).
“And here you are. In the sacred present. I can’t heal you – or anyone – but I can celebrate your choice to dismantle the prison in your mind, brick by brick. You can’t change what happened, you can’t change what you did or what was done to you. But you can choose how you live NOW. “
There is no escape:
Some years back, I went to Krakow. I arrived at the bus terminal and began to walk out. Three women shouted at me. Unbelievably, those women live in the same street as myself. None of us knew that we would be there. ‘I can run but I can’t hide’ obviously. It was amusing.
I had always wanted to visit Auschwitz. I had read Etty; Anne Frank; Viktor Frankl; ‘The boy in the striped pyjamas; had seen ‘La Vita e Bella.’ I could never grasp the full horror of the Holocaust but the message had come down strongly through the ages. It is beyond words and our feelings, to understand how hatred could want to annihilate a people and all those who didn’t conform to what was considered perfect or be the Nazi image of ideal.
One personal story touched me deeply. A dear friend of mine spoke of her young days. She wanted to cut her hair (I suppose to be like every other girl). Her father wouldn’t allow it. The braids appeared too important for him. He didn’t say why. Eventually father and daughter went together to Auschwitz. He remained outside. She went in. She went on the tour. She saw the cases, the glasses, the shoes, the hair. And then she knew. He had been a prisoner in that camp. How could he re-enter? How could he talk? How could he bear to see his daughter’s hair cut?
I reached the Camp. What I had always heard, was happening. There was a hushed silence throughout the tour. I heard no birds anywhere either. We could hardly whisper. We saw the cells. All we had ever read previously became immediate as we continued the tour. The hair. The shoes. The glasses. The cases. They spoke out loud without saying anything. They said everything. We saw the gas-chambers. We were lost for words. This was too big for all of us.
Edith Eger has written her book. She is 91 now. She was there in Auschwitz. Towards the end of the war Edith and some other prisoners had been moved to Austria. It was there at the Gunskirchen Lager Concentration Camp that Edith was pulled from a pile of bodies, barely alive, by a GI – Seventy First Infantry on 4thMay 1945.
It has taken her a lifetime to be liberated. She became a psychologist. She learned from Viktor Frankl and even danced with him. She learned from Carl Rogers. She learned from her dead mother and her husband and her children and her grandchildren. She learned from life. Her dance with Josef Mengele taught her that she had to dance with life. No one could ever imprison her.
She has spent her life paralleling her experience with the life story of her patients. Abuse. PTSD. Marital breakdown. Anorexics. Addicts. Failures in love. Chaos in relationships. Panic attacks. Everyone has a Choice. The past can fester or the escape route can be taken. There is always Hope.
Visiting the Past:
She went back. She walked past Hitler’s hideaway. She slept in Joseph Goebbels’s bed. She went back to Auschwitz. She went into Birkenau. Her memories took flesh. Her mother. Her sister. Her father. Mengele. It wasn’t just a flash back. Could she have saved her mother by saying she was her sister? She took a stone (in Jewish tradition, a stone is placed on a grave as a blessing to say that the dead live on.) The words at the gates at Auschwitz reads ‘That Work Will Set You Free.’ She has done her work. She is free. Her life’s work has been helping others to be free. We have The Choice.
Here I am. I made it:
She always ended her speeches with a high kick! Her High Kick says – ‘Her I am.’ Her kick says ‘I made it.’ She wants that for all of us.
If Edith can parallel her life story with the life stories of her patients, I wonder where might we go, if we took her methods into our story of faith and church and ministry. We are so often imprisoned in sadness. We apologise for the past. We are embarrassed by that past. We blame others. We feel that we have failed. We accuse our leaders. We become childish. We can’t let go. We don’t want to get out of prison. We are afraid to wander into freedom and future and hope. We can be such a sad and weary Church. Why?
Dancing with God:
We are ministers of hope. We are purveyors of forgiveness. We sell the notion that love is the answer, whatever the question is. We believe that God is alive and suffuses our lives. We believe that we are graced. Why then are we caught up in so much negativity? There is surely nothing greater out there anywhere than the world of faith. Christ is with us and we are privileged to be ministers of this person Jesus Christ. The Light of the World. I think we can be helped and set free. If Edith could do it – for herself and then for others. Who can do it for us? It is a wonderful world. We need again the poetry of wonderment! We must dance.
Seamus Ahearne osa