Add to Technorati Favorites

Saturday, February 9, 2008

"In a dark time..."

“No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night."
~Elie Wiesel

I don't pretend to understand the depth of suffering that the author of that quote knew. I have never endured life in a concentration camp. I didn't watch the guards take my father to a crematorium because he had dysentery and could no longer work. I wasn't separated from my mother and sisters as a young teen, assuming they had been murdered.

My "kingdom of night" does not compare to his. But I believe each person walks through a kingdom, a night of one's own. And in walking through that dark place, one eventually reaches a point where staying is intolerable. In that moment, one chooses to live or to die.

My heart aches for those who choose to die. They didn't receive what they needed to help them choose life. There was not enough hope, or strength, or joy to allow them to see life as a viable option. They could not find those attributes within themselves, or did not know how to ask, or perhaps felt they could not ask those around them to give the aid they needed, that their burdens might be lifted even if only for one moment. Or, quite possibly, the help was there for them, but they had never learned how to accept it--never understood that the body of humankind exists to lift those who are in pain and suffering, that we might help each other as we walk through our "kingdoms of night."

Something happens to those who choose life. At some point they recognize they are not alone, that even if they feel pain, someone else feels it with them. There is hope in shared burdens, even if the burden must be carried for a lifetime. And in that sharing is often forged a bond of love and friendship which time and distance cannot weaken. There is strength in love and friendship. At some point those who choose life recognize there are things in life for which they are grateful, there is beauty to be sought after, and they, themselves are glorious human beings with extraordinary potential. There is joy in understanding that life can be beautiful regardless of circumstance.

In his book, Night, Elie Wiesel says, "I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes were open and I was alone – terribly alone in a world without God..." I've been there. I suppose many people, to some degree, question God's benevolence and sometimes come to the conclusion that no God could allow the horrors which hurt so many of his children. I believe that questioning to be an vital act in which we strip ourselves of the theistic tenets of our childhood and youth and construct the belief system which allows us to learn and grow for the rest of our lives.

Wiesel wrote many books, poems, stories, most of which I have read and reread as I remind myself that the things which have troubled me in my lifetime are trivial in comparison to those he endured. One day I stopped reminding myself. Insead, I allowed myself to hear the words he was saying:

"In my eyes, to be a [human] was to belong to the [human] community in the broadest and most immediate sense. It was to feel abused whenever a [person], any [person] anywhere, was humiliated..."

"I have learned two things in my life; first, there are no sufficient literary, psychological, or historical answers to human tragedy, only moral ones. Second, just as despair can come to another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings."

"Man is not defined by what denies him, but by that which affirms him"

"Man is defined by what troubles him, not by what reassures him"

"I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I've been closer to him for that reason."

"Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately."

"There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win."

As I have emerged from my personal kingdom of night, I'm recognizing that I did not do so alone. Many people entered my kingdom with me, and remained with me until I had the strength to leave. And as the darkness dispels, I'm left with searing gratitude for life, for hope, for each breath-taking, beautiful moment I'm allowed to experience, but mostly for each loved-one who has been with me, if only in spirit.

“No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night." There is no question that Elie Wiesel knew personally, the truth of this statement. As do I.

1 comment:

  1. Eugene Victor Debbs

    "While there is a lower class I am in it. While there is a criminal element I am of it. While there is a soul in prison I am not free."