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Listening for the stream of words coursing through the unconscious, then expressing them opens writers to the bedrock of their identity and the resiliency of change.

Such discipline Etty Hillesum (1914-1943) imposed upon herself at the behest of Jungian-trained psychoanalyst Julius Spier whose guidance she sought when twenty-seven years old. He also recommended she steep herself in the Bible, St. Augustine, Rilke, and Dostoyevsky’s novels. Through assiduous study, Etty’s incipient God flamed within her psyche, pried open childhood scars whose bondage had kept her miserable, then empowered her to let them go. Inner freedom smiled through dark eyes onto the world of Hitler.

From 1941 to 1943, Etty filled ten notebooks that tracked this amazing psychic transformation: the Nazi terror in Amsterdam, prayer to her Companion God, humor, sensitivity to beauty, Russian classes to private pay pupils, translations, the ups and downs of relationships with Hans Wegerif and her analyst, and aches in her stomach and head. Within this mix, she learned to embrace the tension between opposites: evil and good, dark and light, disharmony and harmony, etcetera: All find resonance within her God, experienced not as savior but as One to help reverse evils that wracked His world. Loving others patterned her days, despite the ever-tightening noose of the Nazis, intent upon annihilation.

This attitude accompanied her cattle-car transport to the work camp at Auschwitz in 1943 where she died of starvation and typhus.

An Interrupted Life – The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum first appeared in English in 2002, and since has been translated into sixty-seven languages. Her legacy continues, for those inspired to do likewise.

 

 

 

I smiled recording this dream:

It is sunny, late afternoon. The events of Field Day are winding down, and with it, the end of the school term. A festive air animates hundreds of students, their families, and the teaching staff. As I stroll along the grounds I am grateful for my co-workers. A male teacher greets me, cups his hands around my face, and thanks me for my help. Jeannie Dunn, the school’s athlete, stops by and speaking in breathless tones, tells me of her last event: a thirty-minute run around the perimeter of the school grounds. Then she takes off.

 In the dream it was Field Day, suggestive of daily play with my word processor. The setting felt like the all-girls academy I had worked in as a young nun: a complex of stone buildings set upon rolling hills, surrounded by black and white oak trees; its beauty and orderliness suggested the present container for my spirit in which I thrive. Whole in body and spirit, I have been healed of many fissures that had crippled me. The male teacher’s intimate gesture spoke of the loving kindness deep in my psyche that desires communion. And Jeannie Dunn suggested my ongoing fitness related to this critical work.

No wonder my smile! The dream feels compensatory: a reversal of what had occurred when teaching as a young nun, hobbled by multiple psychophysical issues. Such stories release festering failures from the past and affirm the direction of my present life path. My play only deepens.

 

Outside my study window, atop January’s hoary stubble, roiled menacing blacks, iridescent greens and blues, glinting in the morning sun. I shuddered. The scene resembled the threshold of Hades. Then, I remembered: grackles—I’d seen them before, scavenging overflowing dumpsters in upscale alleys, roosting in oak trees near turn-of the century residences in the Central West End.

As if snapped away by a magician’s cloak, the birds were gone. Still swamped by this intrusion, I blinked in disbelief, yet knew I had work to do.

With reluctance, I researched grackles with their yellow eyes and tiny black pupils, their large claws and scalpel-beaks and fan-shaped tails. Even the word grackle sounded guttural.

Other contributors, however, had differing impressions: colorful, intelligent, aggressive, resourceful, playful, adaptive, and at home within swarms. Like winds pommeling gates on rusted hinges, grackles’ cawing was unique to them. Again, I looked out the window at the backyard, long empty of the menace and reminded myself that grackles, too, are part of God’s creation.

That I still I felt uneasy plunged me into the cesspool of my prejudices: uninformed, spontaneous, unthinking reactions, activated by the morning’s grackles. Decades of unconscious living, with my eyes wide open, had harmed others and myself—had jaundiced my perception of life and kept me split off from Creator God.

So entrenched are these prejudices, though part of the human condition, they cry out for Mercy! I still need cleansing.

 

 

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