“We left the camp singing.”
Dear Wise One,
Those are last written words
of a real-life Sophia
as she was driven out of all security
into Auschwitz and her death.
Etty Hillesum’s journals
show us the soul of a woman
full of tender fierceness,
to love and not grow bitter
to see beauty
to be in solidarity with those suffering
and to protect the dwelling place
of God within herself…
whom Etty envisioned
“I know about the mounting human suffering.”
she wrote in her journal.
“I know it all.
And yet, at unguarded moments,
I suddenly lie against the naked breast of life,
and her arms around me are so gentle
and so protective…”
Etty is an astonishing real-life
A 27 year old Jewish woman
who lived during the Holocaust
and died at Auschwitz
at age 29.
She came to know that what matters in life
is not how many days we live
or how many comforts and things we have.
It is how we choose to live our lives;
how we develop the depth and maturity
to be able to hold together
the goodness of life
the kindness and love and peace
within one’s self
despite the incredible wrongness
and suffering that exists.
This is Feminine Courage.
The ability to not turn away from suffering
The ability to endure
The ability to offer solace through one’s presence
The ability to stand as witness
The ability to offer one’s heart through kindness
Etty was not advocating
passive acceptance of evil.
Through her life she stood strong
against destruction of
her soul, and the soul of others,
by creating an inner life
by seeking meaning and beauty
by ’bearing witness where witness needs to be born’
and by offering comfort and peace
through her presence.
Etty evolved into this remarkable
strength and fullness
by surrounding her self with
strong-minded, loyal friends,
by reading the writings of spiritual giants
like Rilke, Dostoyevsky, Augustine
by conversational prayer throughout her day
by journaling and listening to her own thoughts .
She went to her job every day.
She savored the beauty of nature
the rose, jasmine, blue sky;
and treasured the hours she spent
both with herself and with her friends.
She lived her life deeply and intensely.
She continually examined her heart.
She loved her friends and her beloved.
She loved herself.
She loved humankind.
She loved God.
And her great desire was
to be able to face everything squarely
and be ‘a balm for all wounds.’
There is so much this beautiful
has to teach us.
She found life
‘beautiful and meaningful
from minute to minute.’
I encourage you to find
your own heroines
your own rhythm of life for body and spirit
your own ideas of truth and meaning.
Love your self…
and love your questions…
as Rilke suggests.
Give yourself time to grow into your wisdom.
Etty would encourage you to
“Take your own importance seriously…
Something in (you) is growing…
All (you) have to do is accept it,
to take it upon (yourself)
to bear it forward,
and to let it flourish.”
And know that, even if you don’t feel it,
you are indeed embraced in the arms of
the Divine…and held securely.
PS: Hillesum, Etty. Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork. NewYork: Henry Holt and Company, 1996.
Rilke, Rainer Marie. Letters to a Young Poet. New York: Norton & Company, 1993.