This weekend was a quiet one without my boys. I earned something on Audible called a “Weekend Warrior,” which I guess means I’ve listened long enough to be a warrior by their definition. The book I can’t stop listening to is “The Choice,” by Dr. Edith Eger, who, among other things, is a survivor of Auschwitz. While her tale is haunting, her perspective holds the key to our humanity. The key to joy.
Early in the book Dr. Eger shares a scene at Auschwitz when the Nazi’s had stripped the women and shaved their heads prior to giving uniforms. These women stood naked and bald for hours waiting. Dr. Eger’s sister Magda, known for her beauty in their town before the concentration camp, stood next to her, and asked “how do I look?”. Dr. Eger had a choice to make. She could shatter her sister and tell her she looked like a mangy dog or she could tell her the one truth she saw outside of this. “Your eyes,” Dr. Eger murmured, “they are beautiful. I never noticed them with all that hair.” Magda closed her eyes. “Thank you,” she murmured back. That my friends is the choice. That my friends is joy.
We all have a choice in front of us at any given moment. We can choose to see the negative; we can choose to let the pains of the world swallow us. To be lost. We can choose to believe that the horrible things that happen to us or the words people say to us. Or that the messages pushed down our throats by society should be taken as gospel. This is not true. Yes, it happens to all of us, but it does not define us. We can define ourselves by choosing joy and beauty. By following the truth.
What of Dr. Eger’s truth you say? She went through a hell that no human should ever have to experience. Dr. Eger was forced into the worst situation possible but just because something is real does not mean it is true. It was real that the Nazis abused, murdered, and tortured millions of people but it is not true that the people they abused were less and deserved it. Take this little sentence and apply it anywhere. I promise you will be free.
Let’s think about this together. It is real that children are starving. It is not true that they should be. It is real that women are raped, it is not true that they ‘deserved it.’ It is real that transgender people have a suicide rate above all other people, it is not true that their life holds less value. It is real that black people are suppressed and murdered by white police, it is not true that they are less and deserve such treatment. It is real that women are taught to be polite, small and sexy, it is not true that our identity lies in these labels. It is real that men are appropriately taught to ignore their feelings and man up, it is not true that their feelings do not matter or make them weak. These are all examples of issues we face every day that hide the truth in generations old sexist, racist, or prejudiced societal narratives.
It is real that bad things happen to each and every one of us, it is not true any of us are inherently bad and deserve these things. Even if you have done unspeakable things, you have a choice to offer yourself compassion, show mercy, beg for forgiveness, and go back to what is true. If you are a person that has been the victim of real, unspeakable acts, you can also offer yourself these things and find what is true.
Finding Authentic Joy
Don’t you see? Can’t you feel it? Joy is our birthright. It’s not lost in wall street, in bodies carved from money to follow societal norms, in gender roles, sexual preference, skin color, the size of your wallet, or how you have walked so far during your time on earth. If you choose to believe any of this, as Dr. Eger writes, you are lost in the prison of your mind. Dr. Eger reminds us that while she was a prisoner of war, she was more free than any Nazi. She knew joy, she knew her worth, and knew she was not lost.
If a woman who has been stripped, shaved, starved, near raped, and lost her parents and former life to the chambers of Auschwitz can choose her sister’s blue eyes and hold them as joy, we can all find these tiny angels. They are sparkling through the world to remind us that only love is real. I have not been through half the hell of Dr. Eger’s life. I have walked through my own pain and the false belief that because bad things happened to me that somehow I somehow deserved them. I walked through losing the life I wanted to choose. I wrote to you months ago in the middle of my grief about the light in the forest, but didn’t know exactly what I was writing about. I now know I was writing about joy.
You see joy is the candle that tells us. Our world offers beauty, kindness, and grace. It comes to us in a child’s laugh, a dog wagging her tail at the door, a cup of coffee with a friend. As I walked through my own hell this past fall this is what I sought out every day. I was looking for Magda’s blue eyes. I was looking for what was true while what was real attempted to swallow me. The truth has set me free. Joy has reminded me of the possibility of being human. That regardless of the pain that may come in our lives we can all choose joy.
In choosing truth we can ask those who challenge our worth to leave. We can hold abusers and those lost in greed accountable and end damaging relationships. We can stop wars and bring water to the millions of mouths that still need it. To have this strength, we must first fill our own hearts with true joy. That’s the gasoline that will set the world ablaze with a new kind of life. A life where joy is offered for all.
One life at a time. Follow me, follow joy. Choose again. Joy is your birthright, and it’s all around you every day. Put down the lists, labels, and judgement. Shed the hate. Choose love. Choose Joy.