Holocaust Memorial Day. I am not of the Jewish faith, but learned of the annual remembrance at a recent talk by Thomas Buergenthal, a rare child survivor of years in the ghettos and camps, who has devoted his life to the protection of human rights.
Buergenthal spoke about his wartime experiences, many of which are mentioned in his book “A Lucky Child.” In the retelling of the horrific events of his young life, Buergenthal repeatedly became emotional. He was apologetic and seemed somewhat surprised by his tears, wondering aloud if it was due to his old age. Never, in the many lectures I’ve attended, has an audience of nearly 1,000 people -- adults, teens and children -- been so intensely and quietly engaged. It was powerful.
We can learn so much from the experience of others. What were my takeaways? Those who have endured great suffering can teach us not only how to cope, but how to move on. How not just to survive, but to thrive.
Buergenthal’s story involves the most extreme conditions. A helpless child who is able to find ways to cope, despite being alone, separated from his parents. He describes years of long days, each bringing another challenge to endure. Ultimately, as decades have passed, those days measured only a fraction of Buergenthal’s life. Those days formed a foundation for his future, but did not define him. He grew from the experience and dedicated his life to serving others.
His talk reminded me of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” a book written in 1959 by Viktor Frankl, another survivor of the Holocaust. During his time in the concentration camps, Dr. Frankl, a neurologist and psychiatrist, closely observed his fellow inmates, looking for common factors amongst those who were able to hold on to life and those he witnessed giving up, often by walking into the electrified fence that surrounded the camp. He concluded that the survivors had a basic belief that suffering and life, even in the most dehumanizing situations, can be meaningful. “When we are no longer able to change a situation -- we are challenged to change ourselves,” he wrote. It’s imperative to search for meaning during our bad times, even if it is only, as Frankl said, to endure suffering “in the right way – an honorable way.”
Decades later, that same proposition was put forth and amplified in yet another book. “Don’t waste your pain; use it to help others,” wrote Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for? “Other people are going to find healing in your wounds.”
It is important, I think, to seek out, listen to, and learn from these stories and ideas. The perspective we gain can help us manage our own struggles and provide a glimmer of hope, or a push in the right direction, on our darker days. Real life can have triumphant ups and traumatic downs. It’s good to be well-prepared for both.
Authored by Cynthia L. Patton, Esq. This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. You should consult your own attorney for specific legal advice.