For me, the summer is usually a time of rest, relaxation and joy. Being outdoors day in and day out restores my spirit after the long winter and tenuous spring. I have been blessed to have more “free time” in the summer and to be surrounded by beautiful places, even our garden which this year has become a total wild place of flowers and weeds. Of course life, with its sorrows and challenges does not stop and set aside while I sit here grinning in sheer pleasure. But for me, the glory of the summer season makes the rest of life not only tolerable but full and deep.
I know that this is not so for everyone. A very good friend of mine once told me that both spring and summer were her hardest seasons. Depression gripped on tight and it was incredibly painful for her to watch the rest of the world enjoying ourselves in the sun when all she felt was darkness and despair. Today I read a short meditation that gave me pause, in this summer season, to remember the sorrowful and those who struggle to find themselves deep in the bottom of the well of life. Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman, who lived in Amsterdam and died in a concentration camp at age 29 years of age wrote the following. “There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then God must be dug out again.” Sometimes I am there too, says Hillesum, but sometimes not only she but God is buried under the rubble of pain, violence, or despair. When I read her words I remember my dear friend and how she too, with the grace of that same buried God, was able to start digging ever spring and every summer.
Hillesum wrote a daily diary for the last two years of her life. The struggle to find herself and the light of God is there in the diary for sure. But remarkably, the diary on the whole reflects a soul that was intimately connected with God and that was thick with gratitude for life itself. Hear her words and imagine, as I am imagining, how much she loved.
“Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on earth, my eyes raised towards heaven, tears run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude.” “I must admit a new insight in my life and find a place for it: what is at stake is our impending destruction and annihilation…. They are out to destroy us completely; we must accept that and go on from there…. Very well then … I accept it…. I work and continue to live with the same conviction and I find life meaningful…. I wish I could live for a long time so that one day I may know how to explain it, and if I am not granted that wish, well, then somebody else will perhaps do it, carry on from where my life has been cut short. And that is why I must try to live a good and faithful life to my last breath; so that those who come after me do not have to start all over again.”
Etty lived her brief and intense life full of conviction that she, and every other being, of every race and creed, is a child of God and that her calling was to preserve and hold safe that place of God that is deep within, even when God was hard or impossible to find in the well that was her life. Where does such faith and strength come from? How is it nurtured? And how can just knowing about someone like Etty, help guide the rest of us who falter on a regular basis? I have just ordered Etty’s diaries from my local library as I am now hungry for her words. Her words and her life are not only an inspiration but a confirmation that, as she so eloquently said “There is a really deep well in me and in it dwells God.” And if God dwells in our well, then somehow, we, the container for that well and for that God, must be there too.
May I, standing in my own patch of life, recall the well, recall the God who dwells there, and recall that this same God is in love with me and you and Etty. May all our souls rest in peace in every season of our lives