I bet you thought I’d dropped off the end….

….of the planet/page/line. But I didn’t, I’m still here and adjusting to life in the real world again. It’s amazing how good a full night of sleep feels.

I have been reading Yannick Haenel’s book, “The Messenger” . It is a fascinating combination of historical fact and interpretive fiction. The book is about a man called Jan Karski, a Polish Resistance fighter who played a vital role in the Polish Underground during WWII. Mr Karski was rescued from the hands of the Gestapo and charged with a mission to carry a number of messages to the Allies on behalf of the Polish Government in Exile and the Jews of Europe. He was to become The Messenger and, ultimately, the message.

Y’all know this is a particular favourite concept of mine, and that what happened to the Jews during WWII is something that fascinates me for a number of reasons. This book is a unique take on both of those subjects. It intrigued and irritated me in equal proportion.

I watched the footage of Jan Karski’s testimony for Claude Lanzmann’s benchmark movie  about the Holocaust: Shoah. (Thank God for You Tube.) It is hard not to see a man tormented by what he saw in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw and the Izbica Lubelska concentration camp, a man tormented by the messages he was sent to deliver tot he Allies; messages they chose to ignore.

This book raises more questions than it answers. There were questions I never thought to ask, answers I never thought to question. For example, why, when the Allies had sufficient evidence of the mass extermination of the Jews of Europe, did they fail to respond. Why, when the war was over and 6,000,000 Jews had been exterminated, did the Allies hold the Nuremberg trials where they passed Judgement on the Nazi’s for these crimes against humanity at the same time as perpetrating an equal crime against humanity by dropping atomic bombs on Japan. I am ashamed to admit that the hypocrisy never once crossed my mind. And yet there it sits, mocking.

I’m not a particularly political person, but I am fascinated by the idea of what it means to be human, and how humans behave and think. This book is a disturbing exploration of whether or not such a thing as Humanity can still exist in a post-WWII world.

Another unanswerable question.

People still slaughter other people all over the world for no reason than their otherness. The rest of the world still looks on despite evidence of these inhuman crimes. We argue against war, we rail against laying the lives of our sons on the altar of foreign wars, we preach against the slaughter of animals for food. But men still kill and rape and torture other men and women and children. And all over the world, we turn away those who seek refuge from us, those whose lives are under threat, those who fear what history has taught us humankind is capable of. We turn them away, and fail to act. All for good reason, all in defense of our own rights as humans. In the name of humanity, we do the inhuman.

“[I often thought of a sentence by Kafka]:’Far, far from you, world history is unfolding, the world history  of your soul.’ This sentence was intended for me, as it was for all of my students, and for you. We think that world history is happening far away from us, it always seems to be occurring without us,  but in the end we realise that it is the history of our souls.”

Jan Karski carried messages that he was faithful to deliver, but the world was unwilling to hear. He delivered messages that carried the hopes of millions into the ears of the powerful. The messages themselves were powerful.  The hope of the desperate was powerful. But the power of those who had the most potential to act was impotent. Jan Karski delivered his messages and then became the message: if we who have the power to act fail to, we have lost our humanity, lost our conscience.

The book infuriated me. And challenged me. And grieved me.

There are more questions than answers, and that is a little uncomfortable. good, but uncomfortable.

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I am the messenger….

About a year ago, I read an amazing book called “The Messenger” by a very talented Australian author called Markus Zusak. It changed me….good books can do that. I gave a copy to a friend last night because some of the things he has been saying made me think that this is a book he needs to read; maybe it’s a book you need to read too.

A few times a year, there are people who knock on our front door to deliver a message. I’ll give you a hint: they always arrive in pairs, they dress very smartly and, in my case, they usually either have a Canadian or Irish accent….to be sure. They have something they are sure I need to hear, a message they feel compelled to deliver- all I feel is compelled to slam the door (which I’ve never actually done, though I have developed a great line that sends them packing…) because whatever it is they are saying, whatever they are ‘selling’, it doesn’t look all that attractive to me. Most of the time they look dour and serious and like they are under compulsion, like my life depends on my accepting what they have to say…or at least a pamphlet about it.I don’t want to knock the people. They have to be sincere to face the ridicule and possible aggression of the strangers on whose doors they knock. They are sincere and it’s nice to think that someone cares enough about my soul to want to go out of their way to tell me about it…but do they? And do I want what they have? If it makes me look like that, and by ‘that’ I mean the look that is a perfect cross between “What is quantum physics about anyway?” and serious constipation?

What “The Messenger” taught me is this: I am not the messenger. My job is not to deliver some mystical message that, with enough clever arguments or catchy cliche’s, will convince people of the truth of what I have to say, will change their lives and make everything better. I have no message. I AM THE MESAGE.

They said that I’d end up in a mental institution, and that was before I wanted to kill myself. I should really be there, but I’m not, I’m happy and I love life. I don’t need to sell you anything. I don’t need to convert you to anything. I don’t need to convince you of anything.If you stop long enough to get to know me, you’ll find out why. If you look closely enough, you will see the handwriting on the pages of my life and you’ll know for yourself. I’m not perfect, but I’m open. Read me if you can….

“I stand before it, heart beating in my chest, sweaty palms, shaking hands. This book so old it’s ancient, its cover battered, worn and faded- bearing the marks of its journey through many hands.
Extending trembling fingers toward its once blood-red cover I pause. Am I worthy of its secrets? Will its mysteries leap unbidden from those unseen pages? Can I learn the truth I so desperately seek?
I touch it and turn the page. There is no epiphany. There are nothing but unreadable symbols scrawled across the paper, locked from me in the sweat-stained pages, thumbed on every corner.
I know there should be something here, I was told there would be. Others have come searching here- I can tell by the absence of dust, of mildew or the smell of neglect. Others have come and I followed but there are no answers for me here.
The rustling of my search has faded, the fanning pages kiss my face with a farewell breeze…and then I see it-the handwriting in the corner and a name, and I know the book is me.”