‘In the past, I would live chaotically in the future, because I refused to live in the here and now…Sometimes I had the certain if rather undefined feeling that I would ‘make it’ one day, that I had the capacity to do something ‘extraordinary’, and at other times the wild fear that I would ‘go to the dogs’ after all…I refused to climb into the future one step at a time. And now, now that every minute is so full, so chock full of life and experience and struggle and victory and defeat and more struggle and sometimes peace, now I no longer think of the future, that is, I no longer care if I ‘make it’ because I now have inner certainty that everything will be taken care of. Before I lived in anticipation, I had the feeling that nothing I did was the ‘real thing’; that it was all a preparation for something else, something ‘greater’, more ‘genuine’…But that feeling has dropped away from me completely. I live here and now, this minute, this day to the full and live is worth living…and we know life, don’t we? We have experienced everything if only in the mind, and there’s no need any longer to hang on for dear life.’
‘Sometimes I want to flee with everything I possess into a few words, seek refuge in them. But there are still no words to shelter me… Everyone seeks a home, a refuge. And I am always in search of a few words. Sometimes I feel that every word spoken and every gesture made merely serves to exacerbate misunderstandings. Then what I would really like is to escape into a great silence and impose that silence on everyone else’.
‘Every pretty blouse I put on is a kind of celebration. And so is every occasion I have to wash with scented soap in a bathroom all to myself for half an hour. It is as if, I were reveling in these civilised luxuries for the last time. But even if I have to forgo them one day, I shall always know that they exist and that they can make life pleasant and I shall think of them as a great boon even if I cannot share in them any longer.’
Words are strange, strange things. Especially when 70-year old words speak directly to you and illustrate emotions that could be 1,000’s of years old or felt just yesterday. Words which are interchangeable with thoughts, phrases that are a seamless transition from mind to page. Etty Hillesum’s words speak a thousand different things to me in one sentence. I get everything she writes, her words have made me think deeply and carefully about how I live and the way I see the world and started a change in me, her words are powerful.
There are strange parts but for the most, her way of looking at the world, despite the terrible things going on around her, was simple and beautiful. Her capacity to see the good in everything and everyone is remarkable. This book landed on my lap unexpectedly but I know it was meant to fall into my hands at that moment in my life because it has made me see and I mean really see what life should be about.
Her book is called, ‘An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943’.
In a very quick nutshell; Etty was a Jew living in Amsterdam when it was occupied by the Nazis. She chronicles the gradual alienation of the Jews and their eventual deportation to concentration and extermination camps. She herself, worked for the Jewish Council in Amsterdam, and accompanied other Jews to ‘Westerbork’, a transition camp before they were taken to Auschwitz. Her own fate was to be transported to Auschwitz, where she died in November 1943.
She wrote it 70 years ago, she didn’t know that anybody else would read it and now I’ve read it and her words are some of the most profound I’ve ever read and are changing me now in the present-that is the power of books. She wondered ‘when she would become a writer’ when she was already writing beautifully.
What I’ve written here is horribly clumsy compared to the eloquence with which she writes and doesn’t really do her writing the justice it deserves, all I can say is please read her words. I leave you with this…. And because she writes better that I ever will be able to there will be more ‘Etty’ on here this week.
Etty describes the last thing a lady says to her before being transported to Auschwitz the next day, ‘ I would like, oh, I really would like, to be able to swim away in my tears.’