October 3, 2013

Building Bridges: A Holocaust Survivor Teaches Us How to Forgive.

“Emotion is the chief source of all becoming-conscious. There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.”  ~ Carl Jung.

I have had the honor in knowing Arnost Lustig.

Arnost survived the Holocaust. A renowned Czech Jewish author of novels, short stories, plays, and screenplays whose work have often involved the holocaust. I met Arnost through the Prague Summer Program, where I have taught Yoga every July for five years.

Ironically, Arnost’s last name, Lustig, means “joy” in German. He wrote about the concentration camps, about the railroad he’d been forced to help build in Terezin that led to Auschwitz. The same railroad that took his parents, love ones and friends to their deaths, and why he also said, “The railroad tracks in Terezin are unmarked graveyards.”

He was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature, and wrote, “Lovely Green Eyes,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He also wrote, “Children of the Holocaust, Fire On Water, The Unloved,” to name only a few of his works which he left behind as a moral imperative to share with the world all that had happened during the holocaust. He gave voice to, “what it means to have a choice of going on living or being killed.”

When I met him, though his eyes emanated joy, from the periphery, under all that joy, despair lingered from witnessing the death camps. I could only imagine all that his sky blues had seen, as I watched a documentary of his, “Some of My Favorite Concentration Camps.” He spoke lovingly of the kind men that had kept him warm, as a young boy, by their encasing him with their naked bodies in a tightly formed circle, shielding him with the heat of their bodies, protecting him from the freezing Poland winter.

When asked, “How can you be so joyful when you’ve lived through so much?” He answered with his quintessential flirting with life way, with eyes that seemed only a child could possess, “Forgiveness. Forgiveness is the bridge that leads to happiness.

Arnost having survived the holocaust after losing his entire family, walked away with a keen understanding of the profundity, the “dark night of the soul.” After having witnessed the death of his family, starvation and survived the horrors of the camps, he chose to enter back into life, after the camps were liberated, with a greater sense of responsibility to share joy, and also to share by educating the world on the holocaust. Through those experiences he found, even while in the camps, even within those horrid times, joy.

He wasn’t a yogi in the physical sense, but he was very much a yogi in other ways; through his honest, heart-sharing work, sharing the depths of pain, owning it and also releasing it, so as to live a life after, with profound joy, while also honoring the deeply, horrifying emotions and memories of the past.

He named the ghosts of many and yet actively chose to transcend the pain and despair. He continued to show through his actions how we are each given a choice to offer our complete soul to the world around us, to walk in awe of life, even as we process the pain that continues to live within us, that’s often stored in our hearts, bodies, and minds. We practice in seeing the light that’s living near the pain.

Inspirational actions, such as this, deliberate action to create more compassion and forgiveness, in the midst of despair, teaches us that life is truly colored with great pain, for us all, and how we choose to suffer from that pain ultimately is our choice.

Arnost, to me, was a living example, how the human spirit has the power to thrive well beyond this human form, how we can  build a forgiveness bridge from that which destroyed us, or potentially destroys us, to that which liberates us.

His bridge happened to be built with forgiveness, joy, profound darkness, pain, memory and also, with words seeped in some of humanities most horrific history, so much so, that sometimes, it’s too heart breaking to mention.

“The cut worm forgives the plow.” ~ William Blake

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Ed: Sara Crolick

{photo: via Scootie}

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