During Passover, we missed the rabbi’s seder because Tin got sick that day. At our seder the next night, Tin ended up being the only kid present even though I have been making the seder for him – for children. Some times life just doesn’t go the way you plan.
Our theme this year was to answer the question, What does it mean to be a slave? My piece was from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning:
We now come to the third stage of a prisoner’s mental reactions: the psychology of the prisoner after his liberation. But prior to that we shall consider a question which the psychologist is asked frequently, especially when he has personal knowledge of these matters. What can you tell us about the psychological make-up of the camp guards? How is it possible that man of flesh and blood could treat others as so many prisoners say they have been treated? Having once heard these accounts and having come to believe that these things did happen, one is bound to ask how, psychologically, they could happen. To answer this question without going into great detail, a few things must be pointed out:
First, among the guards there were some sadists, sadists in the purest clinical sense.
Second, these sadists were always selected when a really severe detachment of guards was needed.
There was great joy at our work site when we had permission to warm ourselves for a few minutes (after two hours of work in the bitter frost) in front of a little stove which was fed with twigs and scraps of wood. But there were always some foremen who found a great pleasure in taking this comfort from us. How clearly their faces reflected this pleasure when they not only forbade us to stand there but turned over the stove and dumped its lovely fire into the snow! When the SS took a dislike to a person, there was always some special man in their ranks known to have a passion for, and to be highly specialized in, sadistic torture, to whom the unfortunate prisoner was sent.
Third, the feelings of the majority of the guards had been dulled by the number of years in which, in ever increasing doses, they had witnessed the brutal methods of the camp. These morally and mentally hardened men at least refused to take active part in sadistic measures. But they did not prevent others from carrying them out.
Fourth, it must be stated that even among the guards there were some who took pity on us. I shall only mention the commander of the camp from which I was liberated. It was found after the liberation – only the camp doctor, a prisoner himself, had known of it previously – that this man had paid no small sum of money from his own pocket in order to purchase medicines for his prisoners from the nearest market town. But the senior camp warden, a prisoner himself, was harder than any of the SS guards. He beat the other prisoners at every slightest opportunity, while the camp commander, to my knowledge, never once lifted his hand against any of us.
It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils. Certainly, it was a considerable achievement for a guard or foreman to be kind to the prisoners in spite of all the camp’s influences, and, on the other hand, the baseness of a prisoner who treated his own companions badly was exceptionally contemptible. Obviously the prisoners found the lack of character in such men especially upsetting, while they were profoundly moved by the smallest kindness received from any of the guards. I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than the small piece of bread which moved me to tears at that time. It was the human “something” which this man also gave to me – the word and look which accompanied the gift.
From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in the world, but only these two – the “race” of the decent man, and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of “pure race” – and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.
This week, it is I who am sick – missing several events that were on the calendar and planned a while ago. During this period of feeling crummy and agitation with work piling up, I’ve found myself pushed to the point of rage twice. The second incident happened when a friend recommended a guy to fix my brakes, the guy came, said he needed $50 to look at the brakes and it would be put towards the repair, then he left and later text and said he wasn’t going to do the work. He left with my lawn mowing money (times two) – meaningful to me because now I can’t have my lawn mowed this whole month. This entire event escalated into a Battle Royale waged within the narrow confines of cell phones = mine, his, my friend who recommended him, my friends who berated him. When I was done, it was done. The rage turned into a waste of my and everyone’s time because I can’t exact revenge on someone who cheats me – I can only make peace with my loss.
The first incident happened a week ago and then again the following week, where someone began barking orders at me and to the group I was in and it put me into my “seeing red, I’m a bull in a china closet” mode. I don’t like to be talked down to, I don’t like to be ordered around, and I don’t like someone inflicting their rules on me. I was becoming more infuriated by this even today, when I realized that the damage was occurring within me, to me and it wasn’t about me. Why am I being disrupted by someone else’s issues?
Today, I am recovering from all of it. I’m nursing the rest of the cold. I’ve cleaned Tin’s bookshelves and replaced all of his books, and vacuumed under his bed. The seders went by in a blur – first missing the rabbi’s seder, the second in my frenzy to get everything just so for our house. My friends came and went and I barely had time to acknowledge. I ate my way into a three-day sugar rush of Passover treats that made me fall down to earth with a crash and bang and then I caught Tin’s cold.
The flash points of anger have been out of the ordinary – coming from a place inside of me that I want to witness but not hold onto. Of course, I don’t want to be cheated nor allow a person be patronizing to me, but my reaction to each was to join in rather than hold my center.
Today in my stillness, I told myself this isn’t where I want to be.
My friend, Michelle, who owns Swan River – the yoga studio two blocks away from my house – posted something on fleek today. She is teaching a study group on Bhagavad Gita and writes:
Here is one of my favorite sutras on Dharma that we discussed… BG 3:35…
“It is better to strive in ones own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s one dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity. Imitation of another dharma may be dangerous or mean death. Not living one’s dharma may mean death also.”
Yet another invitation to be honest, transparent, keep our eyes on our own paper, access our inner teacher, inspire others to do the same & live our truth. How wonderful!