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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.

 

Sizzling aromas of bratwurst and curried mustard tweaked my appetite following the morning’s sightseeing in Munich, Germany. Cloudless skies warmed hundreds of other tourists seated at circular tables and chairs that filled the Marienplatz, Munich’s Civic Center, first established in 1158 AD. Across from us rose the Neo Gothic New City Hall with its clock tower and Glockenspiel. Soon it would be time for the show.

It was June 1977.

 

 

Around our table conversation was brisk. Only thirty-two years before, this entire area smoked in ruins, the result of Allied blanket bombing that ended World War II. Blueprints and photos of pre-existing buildings guided workmen in the square’s reconstruction, purposely weathered with centuries of wear and tear to look Medieval. In another part of Munich, a bombed brick wall, resembling a jagged tooth, still stood, a reminder of what had happened here. Ambivalent feelings tweaked my stomach as I dipped the bratwurst in mustard.

 

 

Suddenly from above, metallic bells jangled conversations as we leaned back in our chairs and holding hands over our eyes, squinted at the Glockenspiel; on its upper level, animated figures enacted a royal wedding and a jousting tournament; on its lower, three coopers danced a jig signaling the end of the 1517 plague. Then the show was over, the diversion well received.

Still uneasy, I wondered about humankind’s tendency, as well as my own, to bury the scars of evil within recesses of the unconscious, kept in bondage by sloth, and what it takes to face truth, when stripped of defense mechanisms.

Long ago, I was told that nothing is, as it seems. I’m still learning …

 

 

Yet another historical novel has emerged from the rubble of World War II: this time, The Paris Orphan (2019) by the Australian Natasha Lester. Featured therein is the plight of the first women photojournalists covering front line battles in Italy and France, to the pique of their male counterparts.

Like the protagonist Jessica May’s sensitivity to word and photo, the author weaves a compelling story. Of note is the balance struck between Jessica and Lieutenant Colonel Dan Hallworth, set against the atrocities of war; neither story overpowers the other. The inclusion of unexpected humor, from poignant to tender to gallows, together with the plot’s switchbacks makes this work. Even more compelling is her use of the dual timeline that fleshes out relationships, both authentic and sinister.

Names of real people, of memorable battle scenes, of old-world chateaux, of clothing, of Lucky Strikes, of language, attest to Lester’s research. She drew her Jessica after Lee Miller, a Vogue model-turned-war-correspondent, of considerable talent, during World War II. Martha Gelhorn, one of Hemingway’s wives, also palled with Jessica, making light of the filth that clung to them for days, sorrowing over the dead and maimed bodies in field hospitals and upon battlefields.

Critical to these women was reporting their impressions of this shocking world to their readers, never mind how male censors would alter their work before wiring them to newspapers. In no way could their male co-workers produce such photos and stories, and they knew it. It was their compassion. Thus the rub—

 

Available on Amazon

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