In 1943, at age 29, Etty Hillesum was sent with her family to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Like Anne Frank, Etty kept a diary. In it, she writes about the beauty she sees and the compassion she feels for humanity.
I like to hold in my mind an image of Etty as she describes herself “standing in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on earth, my eyes raised towards heaven, tears running down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude.”
Gratitude! This young woman is living in a death camp and expressing gratitude for the beauty she sees.
In my mind’s eye, I try to picture young Etty–malnourished, perhaps abused and bruised–and yet appreciating the goodness and beauty of life. In my imagination, I stand by her side, and I wonder: What might she be appreciating in the moment? Is it something in nature? Does she see a purple wildflower pushing its way through parched soil? Has she spotted a deer in the distance? Has she heard the lilting call of a bird to its mate? Might the formation of clouds in the sky above offer a lovely sight to behold? Or, might a happy memory be uplifting her?
Any or all of those things, at times, may have stirred gratitude and joy in Etty’s heart. However, I sense in her a capacity and a commitment to seeing beauty, and expressing beauty, no matter what. In fact, she also wrote, “I know what may lie in wait for us…And yet I find life beautiful and meaningful.”
Etty’s perspective leads me to think: “Surely, no matter what I face today, I too can find life beautiful.”
(From TOUCHSTONES: STORIES FOR LIVING THE TWELVE GIFTS)