Giving voice to those who had none


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Today, Mrs. Magda Brown, Holocaust survivor, spoke at Methodist College.  I will not say many things about Mrs. Brown’s life. You can see her here, in one of her previous visits at Methodist College, or read about her on her website. But I will share with you some thoughts about my encounter with her because I think it will say something about who Mrs. Brown is.

I met her for the first time almost four years ago. She was a guest speaker for one of my classes taught at Methodist College, Suffering and Forgiveness. We discuss in that class two traumatic historical events: the Holocaust and the communist persecution. Mrs. Brown was my guest and my senior. Both were reasons for me to take care of her. However, just a few moments after we met, I realized that I was the one who received care. I felt as if I had known her forever and that, somehow, she was my grandma. Sure enough, anytime we communicated after this event, she was ending her emails with, and I quote, “lots of grandma hugs.”

I think this says much about Mrs. Brown. She is a human being out of whom life was supposed to be taken out. She is a human being who was separated from her dear ones, who were sent to death in gas chambers. She is a human being who was treated by others as if she had no human dignity. However, when you meet Mrs. Brown you encounter life. It is a life of a human who lives in connection with others and who defines herself in offering her presence and care to others. It is in this way that she expresses the highest dignity of a human being, which can never be taken away by any violence that may temporarily attempt to destroy us. The darkest of dungeons becomes light and beauty when one takes care of another. Mrs. Brown is in this way a birthgiver of beauty in that she is the expression of what it is to be a human being: taking care of another.

We were in a health sciences college this evening, where people study to become caretakers, to offer their skills and their presence to cure others. I mention this because Mrs. Brown herself worked as a medical assistant. But by her life and her talks Mrs. Brown cures more than the body. She takes care of our historical wounds, because this past is part of us regardless of whether we have been there or not. And she does this by giving voice to those who had no voice.

I believe that the energy Mrs. Brown has comes from this: from her dedication to goodness. Today, in our midst, through her stories, she gave voice and life to those who had none.

Beautiful New Year

Photo by Aida Matei, used by permission. 

White flowers sing at the gate of the heart. Whoever has lived divine love will understand me and will be happy for my happiness. (…)  Man is not saved in the monastery only. (…) The helplessness of human nature pains me, but love makes me happy” (Valeriu Gafencu)

These words were written 71 years ago by Valeriu Gafencu, on the new year’s night, in a communist prison in Romania, where starvation and terror were daily ingredients of life.

Alice Herz Sommer, Holocaust survivor: “Every day in life is beautiful. Every day.” “I knew that even in these very difficult situations there are beautiful moments. […] Even the bad is beautiful, I would say. Even the bad is beautiful… It has to be.

A beautiful new year to all.