Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Accept life

I have never done this before, but I've been so excited by something that I'm replicating here a post from my other blog, Room with a view. I've just finished reading a remarkable book which was sent to me by my former colleague, Elspeth Waidson. It's The Wooden Suitcase by Emmy Goldacker (which was translated by Elspeth's parents) and published last year. Emmy Goldacker's father was a German Jew who emigrated to Palestine; her two brothers died fighting in the war; she herself worked for the German government as a translator and then began teacher-training. In 1945 she was arrested in Berlin and condemned to 10 years hard labour in Siberia. This is her story, which is stranger than fiction. It reminds me in some ways of Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Much of it is harrowing, revealing a woman's incredible fortitude and faith in life. It's a real insight into the Gulag Archipelago of Stalin's Soviet Union. Near the end of her sentence, after years of unimaginable hardship in concentration camps, she describes going on a work-party to harvest hay on the tundra. They have to cross the River Usa by ferry. They're north of the Arctic Circle:
"I stood at the rear of the ferry. The engine started and the jolt caused me to sway this way and that; however I regained my balance and looked around at the wide expanse of the landscape around us. I no longer heard the women's chatter, so entranced was I by the beauty of this mighty river whose slight ripples reflected the light of the midnight sun. This yellow-golden light, covering the violet-brown swamps to the right, this light that spread over the giant black pines on the left like a yellow-golden veil. What infinite peace!
   "I felt and comprehended the infinite quality of the northern landscape. I saw the beauty of the sky and the water, and was happy and thankful, in spite of the years that lay behind me, that I could still be receptive to this beauty. I was alive and still had feeling! I could have been dead or completely apathetic. I made another attempt at the 'Our Father' and I could say the prayer almost to the end. I realised it was a grace. How small and insignificant I seemed to myself. Who indeed was I? Today I was here, tomorrow someone else would be at this spot. How unimportant! All that was important was to see this beauty and to accept the grace with gratitude."

What a profound and simple piece of writing - after seemingly unending years of deprivation and suffering, Emmy is moved that she is alive and still has feeling! She realises it is a gift - a "grace" simply to be accepted with gratitude. Life and feeling are inalienable gifts.

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