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“I began to look more closely, not at things but at a world closer to myself, looking from an inner place to one further within, instead of clinging to the movement of sight toward the world outside.” So wrote Jacques Lusseyran, accidently blinded when eight years of age, in his memoir And There Was Light (1963).

Newly sightless, he directed close attention toward the pressure of his surroundings—people, places, things—enveloping his person. Ever so slowly, he felt their impress, even their color that quickened his sensitive mind and allowed the world to come to him for recognition.

Despite bouts of exhaustion at the outset, his new way of seeing served him well—especially later as a teenager when he excelled in his Braille studies and friendships, headed up a youth resistance group in Nazi-occupied Paris, and survived Buchenwald’s hell.

Disciplined attention underscored these engagements, an attention that grounded him in the present moment. With his God, he watched on-going creation, his love and joy deepening with each breath.

Jacques Lusseyran’s practice of attention, from deep inwardness, inspires me to do similarly, despite sporadic efforts in the past. True, I’ve come a long way since signing on to hospice for my terminal illness, but my demise does not seem imminent. There’s still more time to practice, to participate in the wrapping up of a long life, unlike that of Jacques Lusseyran, killed in an auto accident, when forty-seven.

Yet, I’m grateful for Lusseyran’s practice, now informing my discipline of Twelve Step living, honing my spirit for what is to come.

 

A book is never finished, says Denis Slattery, author and teacher, only completed when the reader has an imaginal healing.

Such was my experience studying the classical memoir, And There Was Light (1963), written by Jacques Lusseyran. Accidentally blinded when eight years old, he awakens to an inner light that enables him to see.

He writes, “I began to look more closely, not at things but at a world closer to myself, looking from an inner place to one further within, instead of clinging to the movement of sight toward the world outside…”

Totally relying upon this inner light, he went on to excel in his studies, to attract a network of wise friends, to head up a youth resistance group in Nazi-occupied Paris, and to survive Buchenwald. The memoir concludes with his liberation.

Its title serves as a compelling leitmotif, its mystery first depicted in the Genesis creation story. “God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.”

Within this light, however accessed, we thrive.

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Raw evil fascinates and repels. It obliterates every vestige of life, on some level.

This may account for the continuing fascination of historical novels set in World War II, in which readers glimpse this darkness, but from a distance. The author Anthony Doerr presents just such a broken world in All the Light We Cannot See (2014), A National Book Award Finalist.

Pitted against this insanity are two teenagers of exceptional spirit: the blind French Marie-Laure and the German orphan Werner. Significant childhood losses do not deter them from forging ahead into harrowing experiences, even with war breaking over their heads.

Compounding this mayhem is the sinister Sergeant Major VonRumpel, gemologist for the Reich; he is desperate to locate the Sea of Flames, a mythical diamond believed to be in the possession of Marie-Laure’s father, the principal locksmith at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Through a series of plausible synchronicities, the author brings these characters together into the walled port city of city Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast before the Allied bombing in August 1944. Some survive.

The book’s title, All the Light We Cannot See, suggests a protecting Light guiding those teens through monstrous evil. This Light is also available to us as we wake up to similar darkness within and around us.

 

 

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