Monday, 30 May 2016

Hillesum, Frankl: Holocaust insights on trees (for benefit of DeGasperis and Muzzo families)

The following two quotations, on trees, are offered for the instruction and spiritual benefit of those unhappy pillagers of urban forest, the DeGasperis and Muzzo families, as they continue to move their machinery over Canada's David Dunlap Observatory and Park. My latest photographs of their depredations, taken from a bus window on 2016-05-26, do not yet indicate the necessary change of heart. If there is no change of heart, none of us dies, but somebody does suffer a Legal Picket, with (I hope) attendant media publicity. If I get taken to court, I guess there will be lots of publicity, as either (a) I try in my autistic clumsiness to defend myself, without benefit of those too-expensive lawyers, or (b) some possibly eminent counsel steps forward in my defence, pro bono.  (O Clayton Ruby, O Peter Donnelly, I do so hope you guys, or perhaps your like-minded colleagues at the Bar, are reading this particular blog from month to month, as this particular case evolves.) 


The first is from a journal of Holocaust victim Etty Hilesum, quoted in the "Final Prayer" chapter of Fr Henri J. Nouwen's Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective (New York: Image Books-Doubleday, 1990; the Hillesum translation is said to be by Arno Pomerans, under a 1983 copyright of Jonathan Cape, Ltd.): 

/.../ we must /.../ defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. There are, it is true, some who, even at this late stage, are putting their vacuum cleaners and silver forks and spoons in safe keeping instead of guarding You, dear God. And there are those who want to put their bodies in safe keeping but who are nothing more now than a shelter for a thousand fears and bitter feelings. And they say, "I shan't let them get me into their clutches." But they forget that no one is in their clutches who is in Your arms. I am beginning to feel a little more peaceful, God, thanks to this conversation with You. I shall have many more conversations with You. You are sure to go through lean times with me now and then, when my faith weakens a little, but believe me, I shall always labor for You and remain faithful to You and I shall never drive You from my presence /.../

Don't let me waste even one atom of my strength on petty material cares. Let me use and spend every minute and turn this into a fruitful day, one stone more in the foundations on which to build our so uncertain future. 

The jasmine behind my house has been completely ruined by the rains and storms of the last few days, its white blossoms are floating about in muddy black pools on the low garage roof. But somewhere inside me the jasmine continues to blossom undisturbed, just as profusely and delicately as it ever did. And it spreads its scent around the House in which You dwell, oh God. You can see, I look after You, I bring You not only my tears and forebodings on this stormy, grey Sunday morning, I even bring You scented jasmine.

Etty Hillesum perished at Auschwitz on or around 1943-11-30. 


The second is from the end of the second chapter of Holocaust survivor Vikor Frankl's book The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy. Dr Frankl (whose various places of incarceration included Auschwitz) is describing one of his own clinical cases, in the straitened conditions of a concentration camp infirmary, when he himself was daily confronting the possibility of his own death. The English translation is said in my 1973 Pelican edition to be "by Richard and Clara Winston", and additionally to be have the copyright of "Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1955, 1965":

A young woman who had led an utterly pampered existence was one day unexpectedly thrown into a concentration camp. There she fell ill and was visibly wasting away. A few days before she died she said these very words: "Actually I am grateful to my fate for having treated me so harshly. In my former middle-class existence I certainly had things a great deal too easy. I never was very serious about my literary ambitions." She saw death coming and looked it squarely in the eye. From her bed in the infirmary she could catch a glimpse of a chestnut tree in blossom outside the window. She spoke of this tree often, though from where the sick woman's head lay just one twig with two blossoms was visible. "This tree is my only friend in solitude," the woman said. "I converse with it." Was this a hallucination? Was she delirious? Did she think the tree was "answering" her? What strange dialogue was this; what had the flowering tree "said" to the dying woman? "It says: 'I am here, I am here - I am life, eternal life.'"

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