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Monday, May 23, 2011

THE WIESENTHAL EXPERIENCE




Last night at 10:27 a bolt of lightning struck so nearby that the time between flash and thunder was maybe half a second. It was definitely within sight. A bang about as big as lightning makes was so powerful I felt a thump along with the flash, like hitting the ground with a God-size sledgehammer. The lights in the house never went out, but the flash from the lightning overwhelmed the yellow-white light in the room as if it were darkness in the brief moment of overwhelming blue-white light. The digital clock that jumps back to 12:00 when the electricity flickers never lost its time. The computer was unplugged, but it wouldn't have mattered. It broke loose the telephone connection. No phone, no modem. Took the modem to the Skyline office this morning to have it tested. It was ok. I didn't want the electricity to come on and leave me a burnt modem. It turned out that only the phone line was hit, and not bad enough to hurt the modem. Probably all it took to get it going again was for someone in an office to poke the tip of a straightened paperclip into the reset hole.  



The lightning strike was so powerful it gave me chills that lingered about half an hour. Even when the chill went away, I hesitated to lie down in case a fire might be in an early smoldering phase. In the next couple hours I felt alone in ways that had an uneasy edge, ways I seldom think about. Like the house is not in any township fire zone. A 20 minute drive from town or Laurel Springs means the house is gone by the time the firetrucks get here, if any firetrucks come at all, it being outside Laurel Springs, Whitehead, Pine Swamp and Sparta fire zones. None of them come here. It would be too late if they did. A house made of pine has as much chance in a fire situation as the interior of a car where everything is oil-based fuel. Beyond that apprehension I could easily let roll into a fear was recognition that I am defenseless 8 miles out from town and no house in sight either direction up the road, pitch black dark moonless night.



I tell myself I'm not really defenseless under the watchful eye of omniscient God. But when a feeling that is physical moves in and takes over, probably a chemical created by the brain, the progression to fear can run away with itself before I can even notice. It was a feeling of being utterly alone, a lesser version of the dark night of the soul, lasting only about as long as the chills lasted after the lightning. But that's plenty long to be uncomfortable in awareness that I'm hanging by a thin thread over an abyss. It's a down and out feeling of the spirit. Maybe the word that tells best the feeling is vulnerable. Utterly vulnerable without hope.



Today's film from netflix was a documentary about Simon Wiesenthal, I Have Never Forgotten You: the life and legacy of Simon Wiesenthal. Both he and his wife went through the Nazi concentration camps where both lost all their near and extended families. It became his life's calling to find and prosecute war criminals long after the war was over. He did it for the people they'd killed in the concentration camps and because he had been one of them. He was a survivor. He did it for all the survivors as well. He did it for the Russians, the gypsies, the homosexuals as well as for the Jews. It was the story of a man with real integrity he lived by. It's not like his integrity was a mansion and he lived in a shed out back. His integrity as a human being was his guiding light for every aspect of his life.



It's curious that last night I had the experience of brief helplessness and hopelessness within, and today the movie in the mailbox was the story of a man who had lived absolute vulnerability for a long enough period of time to get used to it. I knew a woman in Charleston who had the numbers on her forearm. I didn't know how to regard her. She was intensely quiet and stayed to herself. I only felt sorrow and pain when I saw her, knowing I could not fathom what she was feeling in any way of looking at it. I could not pretend to pretend I had any understanding. I didn't want to talk to her feeling sorry for her, but could feel no other way when around her. She knew the horror, was all I could think. Among Jews I've known, of my generation several have become atheists because they can't accept that a God, loving or unloving, could allow the Nazi atrocities. I wonder if God might have allowed it to get the state of Israel going, remembering that death is no more to God than the blink of an eye.



I went into the Wiesenthal story with a minor regret that I'd put it on the Q way back when, but there it was, another down story about the Jews trampled by the German right wing for the literal hell of it. I've read so much, seen so many documentaries and dramas about the camps and the time, the film was familiar territory from the start. By this time in the life I have a fair to moderate understanding of the history of the WW2 era in Europe, and the director carried me through the story that I knew like knowing a map. I don't want the experience. So I value Wiesenthal's experience, a man who didn't want the experience either. A lot of people didn't want the experience. The ones that got the experience need to tell it, and I who have it soft as someone privileged need to hear it. Whenever I think about who are great men, I never look among politicians. It's in people of Wiesenthal's character I find what we call greatness. Like Wiesenthal said of himself at the end, I'm not a hero, don't think of me a hero, I'm a survivor. Bonnie Vaughn of Sparta comes to mind. I believe everyone who knows Bonnie has heard her say, "There but for the grace of God go I." Phew. 



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