Somedays, it’s easy for me to feel powerless as Covid ramps up again and Afghanistan collapses. I need reminders that I always have choices and with that, I can always find the power that lives within me.
Even as I’ve been focused recently on finding ways to stay calm, I veered a bit off course and picked up the story of a Holocaust survivor, not usually the most calming material. Yet, I found The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger to be one of the best books I’ve read, a book that reminded me of what it is to be human.
I found strength in the story; it’s a beautiful read.
It is never easy to read about Auschwitz. I read Dr. Eger’s story because I believe it’s important to remember the Holocaust. And I knew, from reading the book jacket, that Dr. Eger was doing fine. She used her experience of trauma to bring compassion and support to survivors of trauma and veterans around the world.
Her story is no made-for-TV “I got liberated and then I was free” script. Being pulled from a pile of bodies was a miracle that only started her arduous, dangerous journey back into life. She left the camp with a broken back, severely ill, and barely able to walk. Germans laughed at her emaciated form. She married and with her husband had a brief time before the Communists took over Eastern Europe. They chose to emigrate to the United States with their baby, leaving their affluent life to start a new life, penniless. In America, their Jewish host community derided them as “greeners,” the new ones. The couple struggled to live on low-wage jobs.
(As I read this section of the book, I kept thinking about the Afghan immigrants who will be coming to this country.)
Eventually, her husband became a CPA and Dr. Eger raised her family. She went back to school at almost forty, and, at 51, she earned her doctorate. Dr. Viktor Frankl reached out to her, and they became lifelong friends. Since earning her doctorate, she has helped thousands of trauma survivors through her psychotherapy practice and talks.
Yet, despite the years she has spent doing the inner work to heal her trauma, she still carries its wounds.
Reading about her resilience, courage, compassion, determination, and willingness to embrace life as it is, I found more courage to choose:
- To continue to address my trauma from years ago, even if it feels far in the past and too long ago to do anything about.
- To accept how my life turned out and then keep choosing how I want it to be.
- To be kind. (Simple acts of kindness in the book brought tears to my eyes.)
- To keep creating. No need to worry that I will be over 70 before publishing my first book. Dr. Eger published The Choice at 90 and her second book at 93.
- To feel compassion for those whose points of view I adamantly disagree with.
- To accept my wounds as something I don’t have to run from, and which may offer me a way to help others.
Her wisdom shines through her stories. She writes:
“When we heal, we embrace our real and possible selves.”
“Maybe to heal isn’t to erase the scar, or even to make the scar. To heal is to cherish the wound.”
“It isn’t easy for me to talk about the past. But…feelings, no matter how powerful, aren’t fatal. And they are temporary. Suppressing feelings only makes it harder to let them go. Expression is the opposite of depression.”
“No one heals in a straight line.”
Even when the news can be dark, I’m grateful for people like Dr. Eger and Viktor Frankl who remind us that even in dark times, we still have choices, if only to be true to our authentic selves.