Remember It Always: Reclaiming Humanity Through Memory in Elie Wiesel’s Night

My favorite class this semester has been Spiritual Autobiography with Dr. Yolanda Pierce. Stories are our means of processing our lives and relating to one another; stories make up what it means to be human, and as such I believe that every story, no matter how ‘secular,’ is also deeply sacred. I recently read a quote by Mary Pellauer which I found thought-provoking; she writes, “If there’s anything worth calling theology, it is listening to people’s stories – listening to them and honoring them and cherishing them, and asking them to become even more brightly beautiful than they already are.” Listening to others’ stories may be the best way to broaden our understanding of the Spirit’s work in the world. Stories are never just stories; they are a gift of God to which we should listen with reverent attention.

In this brief paper, written for my Spiritual Autobiography class, I explore the ways in which Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, uses memory to reclaim humanity, specifically in his autobiography Night. Building off the irony of an SS officer’s command to “remember it always,” I argue that Wiesel does this in three ways: first, by telling stories, he validates a crucial part of the identity of the Jewish people. Second, Wiesel makes an effort to memorialize the dead – as he writes, “To forget them would be akin to killing them a second time.” I focus on four specific passages which are a eulogy of sorts. Third and finally, Wiesel uses memory as a form of resistance against God, death, oppression, and trauma.

Writing this paper was a deeply moving experience for me, and I did a lot of sitting in reverent silence before I could even begin to put pen to paper. In the future, if I ever have a spare moment, I would love to expand on this paper, incorporating Dr. Pierce’s questions about the women in Wiesel’s life, and exploring Wiesel’s other works and more secondary sources. Until then, here’s the short version.

Remember it Always- Reclaiming Humanity Through Memory in Elie Wiesel’s Night

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Published in: on April 13, 2015 at 10:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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Young Love: The Backstory

When I first published my observations of enduring and sacrificial love from an elderly couple (which you can read here), I had little idea that it would be shared and re-posted enough that it would eventually get back to the man about whom I wrote it. 

I came in the door after a tiring 2-day surf trip with the youth group this summer and had a letter waiting for me. I dropped my suitcase, keys, and sunglasses in the floor and opened it eagerly. And with tears rolling down my cheeks, I read a carefully typed 2-page account of their love story. Jim later told me, “I’ve never written anything like that before.” And he gave me permission to share it with you. So here are the main excerpts from his letter:

Lauren,

That you would observe and write such a beautiful article about us is humbling. I am especially grateful that you see our situation in a positive light, since I do not wish that our ‘nonconventional’ appearance be a negative factor… I don’t wish to bore you, but I would like to make a couple of comments related to the subjects about which you wrote:

…I don’t consider my efforts to be anything outside of normal behavior… I do not [consider it an] obligation…I don’t do what I do ‘because I have to.’ To understand, I need to take you through a little history.

We started dating in high school in 1942 when we were both 15; she was a sophomore and I was a junior. We did all the ‘school things’ and Saturday night movies with hamburgers and cokes (I was a real big spender). We dated as much as we could after my graduation while I worked for a year…then I was in the Navy for 17 months. After the Navy I started my freshman year at [college]…. At the end of my freshman year (August 1947) we married. I will not bore you with a lot of subsequent history; although it is pertinent, it is not necessary to make the point that I am trying to make.

Take a look at our situation when we got married. We were almost 21, she had a steady job… and things were going pretty well for her. To marry me she would have to move away from her family, change jobs, live she-didn’t-know-where, and work for 3 more years so we wouldn’t starve. I, on the other hand, had just finished one year of college, had spent what savings I had on that, and didn’t even have a bicycle for transportation. Even more, with my background of having graduated from only a small 100-student county school in Tennessee, having worked as a mechanic, spent time in the Navy and one year in a junior college, why would she even think I had what it takes to graduate from a prestigious engineering college like Georgia Tech? You would think that such a smart, pretty, employed girl who had so much going for her would have had far better offers than I could make. However, she did agree and we hitched our wagons to my star of becoming an engineer.

During college, money was pretty tight, and I remember once we had a serious discussion about whether we could afford for her to have a 5 cent coke with her sack lunch each day. [We agreed] that when I got out of college, she would keep the home and care for any children we might have, and I would be responsible for providing the income. That would mean we would adjust our standard of living to my salary. That was not to say that everything was easy or always one way. We made most decisions together, and a number were made differently than if I had been single; she could say the same.

So what is the point I am trying to make? In addition to all the above-mentioned reasons for my desire to care for her, there is the matter that she very early-on gave up her independence and put her faith and trust in me to see that she, and a family, were taken care of. I made a covenant with her before God and a few people to do that, ‘in sickness and in health.’ So, am I now obligated to meet her needs for 24/7 care, and do I do it for that reason?…No — I do it because I want to, and even though she does not know it, I want to express my appreciation for the love and confidence that she, as a smart, beautiful, rosy-cheeked, auburn-haired young lady expressed in me 67 years ago, and has continued to do so ever since! I suspect the time will come when I will not be physically able to personally meet her needs and other arrangement will be necessary. Until such time, I will continue to care for her and nothing else will even be considered.

I hope that you will meet and marry a Christian with whom you can have the same love and commitment that [we] had/have, to jointly ‘hitch your wagons to a common star,’ with God’s Word guiding you along the path. You may find that while someone may have to temporarily give up that 5 cent daily coke, it will not matter since 67 years later, despite the circumstances, you can say, “I would do it again.”

Published in: on August 26, 2014 at 11:28 pm  Comments (2)  
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Every Time You Give, a Story Begins

This summer, the Sunset youth ministry team is teaching a class based on the book I Like Giving by Brad Formsma. It’s not a super deep book. It’s made up mostly of stories and random thoughts on giving, and I LOVE IT. Reading the book and preparing lessons has made me so excited about all the possibilities that come with a lifestyle of giving. Often we think of giving as a compartmentalized part of our lives, and we do it in the most routine and boring ways, setting aside a percentage of our income and thinking that the check we write is the gift.

But what happens when we start to see our lives as a gift to other people? Then we open our eyes for opportunities to give in all kinds of different ways, and creative giving simply becomes an expression of who we are.

There’s a line towards the end of the book that I have made my theme for this summer:

Every time you give, a story begins.

And it’s true. Most of the time, you never know the ripple effect that begins when you give. You can change someone’s life and not even know it. Even the smallest gifts become a story that both giver and receiver remember for years to come.

Over the last few weeks of teaching this class, I’ve been reminded of all the times people have given to me in creative ways, and as I think about them, I can’t help but smile. There are too many to list, but here are a few that have been on my mind.

I Like Pumpkins

One fun fact about me is that I love seasonal decorations. I’m not a fan of roses on Valentine’s Day, but pumpkins and chrysanthemums in the fall and poinsettias in the winter just make me happy. This past fall I had just moved into my first off-campus house, and when September came, I couldn’t wait to get a pumpkin to grace my front steps. My first pumpkin was big and round and absolutely perfect, and every time I came home and saw it on the porch, my heart was all aflutter with autumn happiness.

But one morning I opened the door and my pumpkin was gone. Someone had come and stolen it in the night. (Side note: who does that?!) At first I thought maybe it was a joke, but my pumpkin never came back. Every time I came home, I just felt sad and missed my beautiful pumpkin. In a depressed heap of pumpkin-less misery, I posted a pitiful status on facebook about my missing pumpkin.

The next night, I was out all evening and came home at about 11pm. As I walked up the sidewalk, something round and orange caught my eye. There was a pumpkin on my front steps!! I was absolutely elated. I couldn’t believe someone had been thoughtful enough to go out and buy me a new pumpkin, but there was no note and no one to thank. I posted on facebook, “To whoever bought me a new pumpkin and left it on my porch for me to come home to tonight — you are wonderful. There is good in the world. THANK YOU!!!” I hoped that whoever bought the pumpkin would see it. Turns out he did — and he took a screenshot of it. And he later became my boyfriend.

I Like Scotland

In March of 2013, I went on a mission trip to Scotland for the first time. It was a bit of a last-minute decision to go, and I had 3 weeks in which to raise $1400. A couple days into my fundraising campaign, I had this dream that someone financed my entire trip. I woke up thinking, “Well man, I thought that dream was real. This is super disappointing.”

I opened my computer to check facebook, and I had a message from a guy I hadn’t seen or talked to since I was about 13 years old. He asked how the fundraising was going and how much I still lacked. I told him I had just started, so, like…all of it. He responded, “Good, because after paying my bills this month that was exactly the amount that I had left in my account, and I felt like God was telling me to give it to you.”

It was one of those moments where it’s such an extravagant gift that you feel almost embarrassed. I tried to tell him no, I could write him a check back for whatever amount I raised over $1400, but he would have none it, saying that if I raised more than that, it could go to other people on the trip. Talk about a humbling experience — I hadn’t even planned on paying that much for my own mission trip! His gift taught me more about faith and giving than any book or sermon.

And Scotland was amazing.

I Like Cookie Monster

A couple of years ago, I worked as a summer camp counselor.  At the beginning of one week, I met this little guy with a cookie monster T-shirt that said “Keep calm and eat cookies.” I nearly choked on my excitement as I told him how amazing it was. Later that week, I was in charge of extended care for the afternoon, so I was sitting by the volleyball court watching a couple of kids make sand angels when the Cookie Monster guy’s mom came up and sat with me. We talked about faith and about relationships and she asked me what my plans were for the future, and I remember telling her how much I had needed some good adult conversation.

That week of camp ended on Friday afternoon. I was standing around holding a blue flag and a clipboard and trying to keep 9 kids together until their parents came to pick them up, when Cookie Monster guy’s mom came up to me and handed me a gift bag. Inside was a sweet note along with the same Cookie Monster t-shirt her son had. I’m not sure where the card is, and I’ve forgotten her name, but I always wear that soft blue shirt to sleep in, and I will never forget it.

Someone who overhears a comment like that and thinks to act on it for a complete stranger — that is someone who sees their life as a gift.

To each of these special people — thank you!! You gave, and a story began, and the world became a bit brighter.

Take the time to remember your own stories. Write them down and share them. Be inspired. Then keep your eyes open for opportunities and start a story for someone else.

Black Eye Pride

The other night while I was at Maggie Moo’s with some of my youth group girls, as I walked to the trash can to throw away my ice cream cup, I noticed a young boy about 8 or 9 sitting at the table with his mom.  One eye was severely swollen and bruised and had a piece of tape covering a nasty cut underneath it that may have had stitches.

“Wow, that’s quite a battle scar you’ve got there!” I said admiringly.

He beamed, the tears that surely accompanied the hit forgotten. “Yep!”

“How did you get it?” I asked.

“I got hit with a baseball!” He squinted up at me, with the one eye nearly swollen shut, the other a bright clear blue, alive with excitement. He dug his spoon into his chocolate ice cream with sprinkles as happy and colorful as he was.

“That’s awesome!” I said. “Did you get a home run?”

He shook his head. “Nope. But I got this!”

And this will probably be far more memorable to him than any home run.

After all, scars sometimes make better stories than successes.

Published in: on April 22, 2014 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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