Monday, November 16, 2015
There Must Be Something to Set Against All This
This is a line from my favorite movie, Charlotte Gray. The protagonist, a British spy in Vichy France, says, as one of her Jewish benefactors is carted away, “there must be something to set against all this.” In a hurry she decides to type a letter and makes it appear to be from the already deported parents of the two children who are being carted away with him, and she pushes it through the door slits of the moving freight train. This letter is the little something, a fabricated morsel of joy for those children, that she manages to set against the horror they find themselves in.
So what can I, right now, set against the horror of what happened in Paris on Friday? I have several elaborate political opinions about what is happening on a geopolitical scale and what might be done about it, but first and foremost, since I am not a world leader or "influencer," what can I, little me, "set against all this?"
Massacres like this are stark and urgent reminders that my answer in the face of sudden death, calamity and violence is this: Live the best life I can. Make the best of this very moment I have, living in safety. And even if not in safety, there is almost always a little something we can do. This is the main lesson of Primo Levi's Survival at Auschwitz, but it was also my very personal conclusion after I lost my father to a sudden heart attack when I was 21. Life can be over just like that. And even if it's not over, it can change in an instant. None of us has control over that and therefore, while we are alive, we must make the best of the life we have. Live with the most joy and the greatest kindness and also the greatest purpose. We must strive to leave something better behind, must work to make an impact, so that, when our hour comes, and we have a second to look back, we can say, "I lived my best life."