independent

Monday 22 July 2019

Edith's story a chilling parable of choices

Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

Before Christmas I met a friend for lunch. He usually arrives with a book for me but on this occasion he had no book in hand but strongly recommended I read 'The Choice' by Edith Eger.

I had vaguely heard about the book some time back. The author may have been on 'The Late Late Show' and I'm sure Ryan Tubridy mentioned the book on his radio slot. By coincidence a work colleague also mentioned the book and was enthusiastic about it and suggested I read it.

'The Choice' does exactly what it says on the tin. It's about making our own personal choices in the here and now, living in the present, using the wealth of knowledge and wisdom we have gained during our lives.

Edith Eger was a 16-year-old girl, living in Hungary in the warmth and love of her gifted family. It was 1944 when they were brutally removed from their home and shipped in a cattle train to the Auschwitz death camp. On her arrival she and her sister Magda were separated from their parents, who were sent off in another line, which ended in the gas chamber.

Edith and Magda spent a year at Auschwitz. Edith was forced to dance for Mengele, the doctor of death. It was Mengele who decided the fate of many of the people who entered through the gates of Auschwitz. Edith and Magda with the help of luck and their tenacity to stay alive survived the hell of Auschwitz and went on to live healthy and happy lives in the United States. Of course their lives were not trouble-free.

But the book is an account of how Edith Eger made her life-decisions and how much of her decision-making was partly formed by her experiences at Auschwitz and her subsequent forced march to Gunskirchen.

She says that the worst moments in our lives, the moments that set us spinning with ugly desires, that threaten to unglue us with the sheer impossibility of the pain we must endure, are in fact moments that bring us to understand our worth. It's as if we become aware of ourselves as a bridge between all that's been and all that will be.

She went on to become an eminent psychologist in the United States. Her terrible suffering at the hands of the Germans gave her great empathy when dealing with her suffering patients. In Auschwitz the stakes were life or death and the choice was never hers to make. But even in that hell she could choose how she responded. She could choose what she had in her mind.

Eger constantly stresses that while we can never erase the past, we are free to accept who we are and move on. It was astonishing to read that when Auschwitz was liberated and the gates thrown open there were prisoners who went through the gates but then returned back to the camp.

Of course there are those who live in the present and get on with their lives but I am all too aware many of us hark for the past and have unreal hopes for the future, always edgy about living in the present and making the best of it.

Eger tells us we can't change the past but we can change how we live now. So much of our lives is based on accident, the flip of a coin. Edith Eger's 'The Choice' is an inspiring work that opens the reader's eyes to the power of the human spirit.

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