We can’t change the past but we can change how we live now

The Kerryman (South Kerry Edition) - - OPINION - Fr Michael Com­mane

BE­FORE Christ­mas I met a friend for lunch. He usu­ally ar­rives with a book for me, but on this oc­ca­sion he had no book in hand but strongly rec­om­mended I read ‘The Choice’ by Edith Eger.

I had vaguely heard about the book some time back. The au­thor may have been on ‘The Late Late Show’, and I’m sure Ryan Tubridy men­tioned the book on his ra­dio slot. By co­in­ci­dence, a work col­league also men­tioned the book and was en­thu­si­as­tic about it and sug­gested I read it.

‘The Choice’ does ex­actly what it says on the tin. It’s about mak­ing our own per­sonal choices in the here and now, liv­ing in the present, us­ing the wealth of knowl­edge and wisdom we have gained dur­ing our lives.

Edith Eger was a 16-year-old girl, liv­ing in Hun­gary in the warmth and love of her gifted fam­ily. It was 1944 when they were bru­tally re­moved from their home and shipped in a cat­tle train to the Auschwitz death camp. On her ar­rival, she and her sis­ter, Magda, were sep­a­rated from their par­ents, who were sent off in an­other line, which ended in the gas cham­ber.

Edith and Magda spent a year at Auschwitz. Edith was forced to dance for Men­gele, the doc­tor of death. It was Men­gele who de­cided the fate of many of the peo­ple who en­tered through the gates of Auschwitz. Edith and Magda, with the help of luck and their tenac­ity to stay alive, sur­vived the hell of Auschwitz and went on to live healthy and happy lives in the United States. Of course, their lives were not trou­ble-free.

But the book is an ac­count of how Edith Eger made her life de­ci­sions and how much of her de­ci­sion-mak­ing was partly formed by her ex­pe­ri­ences at Auschwitz and her sub­se­quent forced march to Gun­skirchen.

She says that the worst mo­ments in our lives, the mo­ments that set us spin­ning with ugly de­sires, that threaten to unglue us with the sheer im­pos­si­bil­ity of the pain we must en­dure, are in fact mo­ments that bring us to un­der­stand our worth. It’s as if we be­come aware of our­selves as a bridge be­tween all that’s been and all that will be.

She went on to be­come an em­i­nent psy­chol­o­gist in the United States. Her ter­ri­ble suf­fer­ing at the hands of the Ger­mans gave her great em­pa­thy when deal­ing with her suf­fer­ing pa­tients.

In Auschwitz the stakes were life or death and the choice was never hers to make. But even in that hell she could choose how she re­sponded. She could choose what she had in her mind.

Eger con­stantly stresses that while we can never erase the past, we are free to ac­cept who we are and move on. It was as­ton­ish­ing to read that when Auschwitz was lib­er­ated and the gates thrown open there were pris­on­ers who went through the gates but then re­turned back to the camp.

Of course there are those who live in the present and get on with their lives, but I am all too aware many of us hark for the past and have un­real hopes for the fu­ture, al­ways edgy about liv­ing in the present and mak­ing the best of it.

Eger tells us we can’t change the past, but we can change how we live now. So much of our lives are based on ac­ci­dent, the flip of a coin.

Edith Eger’s ‘The Choice’ is an in­spir­ing work that opens the reader’s eyes to the power of the hu­man spirit.

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