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Coils of barbed wire leaf out and produce a nine-petaled orange flower: such is the poignant design on the cover of the memoir The Choice – Embrace the Possible (2017) by Dr. Edith Eva Eger, an Hungarian-American survivor of Auschwitz.

Sustaining this teenager through ever-present death threats for eighteen months was her mother’s counsel, “You’re responsible for whatever you put in your mind. No one can take it from you.” Another factor was her life-plan with soul mate Eric enlivening her imagination, filling it with song and dance.

Yet, after the author’s 1945 liberation from the death camp, narrated within the first sixty-nine pages of this memoir, impenetrable evil continues weighting the balance. No matter what, Eger would be the free woman she was destined to become, without Eric, without her parents and grandparents, without her language, without her country.

But how return to life? What about the residual psychic wound, stalking beneath her ghostly shudders, dreams—this wound repelled by language’s efforts to make sense of it? How live with her senses having been saturated by the gruesome? Even others assault her Jewishness in other countries. Yet, decades of harrowing psychic cleansing empowers Dr. Eger to say to us: “…I would love to help you discover how to escape the concentration camp of your own mind and become the person you were meant to be.”

In my perception, Dr. Edith Eva Eger achieved a depth of psychic freedom few experience in this life. How privileged we are to have her memoir The Choice – Embrace the Possible that shows us how to change.

 

I still remember being transfixed by rows of chrysalis, some dormant, some thrashing about, within the glass case of the conservatory at The Sophie M. Sachs Butterfly House in St. Louis County, Missouri. Only vaguely did I recall the egg and the caterpillar phases involved in the formation of the chrysalis. But only now have I learned what transpires within the chrysalis before its metamorphosis.

A violent scenario unfolds. For the first three or four days, rich fluids fill the the chrysalis causing it to destroy most of the caterpillar cells; its organs take new forms for the butterfly’s use. Some leftover parts, like the caterpillar jaws, form the butterfly’s sucking mouthparts; its legs, the butterfly’s. Partially formed wings continue developing beneath the chrysalis’s skin. Toward the end of two weeks, its transparency reveals the butterfly’s color and patterns. When ready, the butterfly breaks through the protective chrysalis, pumps blood into its newly formed wings, then flies away.

 

As I compose this blog, I breathe deeply into my own chrysalis, the symbolic container for my terminal illness, lLD with rheumatoid arthritis. For over four months, hospice has supported its sick phase, and the learning has been profound. Similar to the unhappy caterpillar in the chrysalis, my dismemberment continues: old ideas, ill suited for my individuation, are ripped from the bedrock of my psych. Dreams continue tweaking my distorted perceptions. New physical symptoms surface with corresponding natural remedies that offer relief. Yet, the downward slope continues and I have no control over the disease process.

 

Sections of empty seats in Powell Symphony Hall unnerved me. This was most unusual. On the program was the performance John Adams’s passion-opera-oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2012); its libretto, a collage of Scriptural texts and selections from Dorothy Day, Hildegard of Bingham, and other poets, was composed by Peter Sellars.

Others felt the absence of the usual patrons for this Sunday matinee and buried themselves in the program notes. Like a voyeur, however, this emptiness pried into our concentration and stalked our preconception of what was coming. Never have I sat in such an audience.

All was ready: the St. Louis Symphony musicians and Chorus, two mezzo-sopranos, the tenor, and three countertenors awaited the baton of David Robertson. From the first notes came the primal engagement. Like it or not, we were to be swept into the passion-death-resurrection of Jesus and held hostage until its end.

Unlike other Passion oratorios, however, Jesus himself does not appear, nor His cross nor other images associated with His passion. As the libretto seeded our imaginations, everyone, onstage and off, became the Anointed One. Everyone suffered the dregs of intolerable darkness; were plummeted into that singular place of no return, alone and terrified; and nudged into ultimate trust of God, until released into Light. Enhancing this conversion experience were eerie sounds, from the musicians and principals, sounds turned inside out and prodding us into even deeper consciousness.

At the conclusion of the performance, even fewer patrons left Powell Hall for the parking lot, others having absented themselves at the intermission—Perhaps an allusion to “the grazers,” mentioned in Peter Sellars YouTube, A Fresh Passion.

Happy Easter to those daring to look afresh at this mystery!

 

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