Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life

My dear friend Sarah sent me a book in the mail the other day. It came across the pond highly recommended--she even sent me her copy.

Ever since the book arrived in our tiny, metal mailbox hole, I haven't been able to leave it. The book is a collection of Etty Hillesum's, a Jewish woman from Amsterdam, diary entries from 1941 through 1943. We know she will die in Auschwitz at the age of 29. And, although, she could have only chronicled her experiences and atrocities of living the Holocaust, she focused on her inner growth instead. She was only 27 when she started these writings, but each entry shows tangible psychological and spiritual growth. She reaches conclusions about life and happiness that most people might never even consider; and she expresses thoughts and feelings that, in anyone elses' words, could be too simple or too complex to seem real.

Every page is full of insights that are so clear that only after 150 pages, I feel like I'm starting to see the world with different eyes. Etty deliberately "works" on herself, in every moment, infusing love into every encounter. I can't help but think she found what she was looking for.

Some quotes:

--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.

--And sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.

--I know about the mounting human suffering. I know the persecution and oppression and despotism and the impotent fury and the terrible sadism. I know it all. And yet--at unguarded moments, when left to myself, I suddenly lie against the naked breast of life, and her arms around me are so gentle and so protective and my own heartbeat is difficult to describe: so slow and regular and so soft, almost muffled, but so constant, as if it would never stop. That is also my attitude to life, and I believe that neither war nor any other senseless human atrocity will be ever be able to change it.

--If one finds the strength to deal with small things, one finds it to deal with the large ones as well.

--Even if there is only one decent German, they would deserve to be protected from the barbarian rabble and for that one German's sake one should not pour out one's hatred for the entire people.

--Never give up, never escape, take everything in, and perhaps suffer, that's not too awful either, but never, never give up.

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