“Most people carry stereotyped ideas about life in their heads.
We have to rid ourselves of all preconceptions, of all slogans,
of all sense of security, find the courage to let go of everything, every standard,
every conventional bulwark. Only then will life become infinitely
rich and overflowing, even in the suffering it deals out to us.”
The above words were written by Etty Hillesum in 1942, taken from her diary that was published as “An Interrupted Life.” Etty was a young Jewish woman living in Amsterdam for several years during the Nazi occupation and who eventually died in a concentration camp. She had no illusions about the evil that surrounded her and the suffering that engulfed her world. Yet, through it all and even right up to her death, she maintained a deep trust in God and believed that life is beautiful and meaningful.
I have found so many parallels between her life in Nazi-occupied Holland and our own lives today in the midst of a COVID-19 occupied world. In many ways ours is also an “interrupted life.” So many things have been put on hold – graduations, First Communions, family gatherings, even funeral celebrations – not to mention all the things and activities we will never get back again.
Our natural inclination is to want to go back to “normal”, to the way things were, to what was safe and comfortable. If this pandemic teaches us anything, I hope it is that, first of all, we are not in control of anything and secondly, that we can’t go back.
This is an opportunity, as painful and hard as it is, to let go of the past, our old ways of thinking and being and doing and re-vision our lives into something new. It is my belief that we are at a pivotal point where the choices we make going forward will greatly impact the future of our planet and all who live upon it.
We have paid a tremendous price already, but good things are happening. The earth is healing. Blue skies are being seen again over crowded cities once covered in smog. The canals in Venice are running clear. Birdsong is being heard again in places where factory noise has ceased. Creative ideas are flowing. Families are spending more time together. We are beginning to see what is truly important and of value to us.
I am not trying to minimize the suffering or magnitude of the problems that are before us. I just think we need to look beyond the suffering to the bigger picture, to the new life and hope that are springing up too. Etty’s words seem just as applicable today as when she wrote them during World War II when she said: “If all this suffering does not help us to broaden our horizon, to attain a greater humanity by shedding all trifling and irrelevant issues, then it will all have been for nothing.”
I pray that we resist the impulse to go back and instead let go and embrace a new life. May we remain in this space of interruption as long as necessary for new life to emerge.
– Sallie Bachar