Finding Meaning

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Choices That Free Us

By Skip Hellewell
By Skip Hellewell

“Finding Meaning,” last week, referenced Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.” It’s America’s most popular poem.  The column was about the choices we make, and the lingering mystery of that “other path,” the one not taken.  Our choices, Frost cautioned, linger and can cause sighs, “ages and ages hence.”  The person we chose to marry (for the record, my best decision), the career we almost chose, the child we had or didn’t have, that leap of faith that once confronted, where you elect to live (Okay, pat yourself on the back for choosing Laguna).  Choices mark the twists and turns of our life journey.

Which leads to a meeting the Beautiful Wife and I attended at Laguna’s Chabad Jewish Center.  Holocaust Remembrance Day is in April and six candles were lit in memory of the six million victims.  It was a solemn moment.  The speaker was Auschwitz survivor Dr. Edith Eva Eger.  Today an eminent psychologist, she was once the “Ballerina of Auschwitz.” Given the horror of what she and her sister endured, it’s no surprise that Eger specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder.  She shared the lessons of her life, and their hard-won meaning.

From her mother, sensing their peril as they arrived at Auschwitz: “Just remember, no one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.”  Their suffering was incredible, the survival of Eger and her sister a small miracle.  When the U.S. Army finally liberated her camp, she lay in a tangle of corpses, almost too weak to signal she was alive.  Her path to recovery was a long and winding road.  Eger married another survivor and though they made their way to the U.S., the ghosts of her past haunted her.

At one point, with three children, she chose to divorce her husband. Several years later her ex-husband asked her on a date. He had dated others, but it didn’t satisfy. Their shared life had challenges, but it also had meaning.  She once freed him from jail using her wedding ring as a bribe.  Together they started over in a new country, and conceived three children.  He proposed, again.  She accepted, again.  It’s a lovely story.

Eger has a book out, “The Choice: Embrace the Possible.”  It offers profound truths gained from her suffering: “We can choose what the horror teaches us.”  More significantly, “The biggest prison is in your own mind, and in your pocket, you have the key.” Thus, her own touchstone, “We can choose to be our own jailors, or we can choose to be free.”  Finally, “Suffering is universal; victimhood is optional.”

Besides her practice, Eger also serves our armed forces, helping with PTSD. In 2010, as many times before, she was speaking to an Army unit.  This one, back from Afghanistan, had suffered.  There was despair and suicide.  As she spoke she was caught unawares by an overwhelming rush of memory from her long-ago rescue.  Looking around the room, at the banners and insignia on the walls, she recognized it as the 71stInfantry, the very same unit that had saved her and her sister 65 years before.  Their insignia, for her, had become an icon of rescue.

“I laughed and wept on the stage.  I was so full of joyful adrenaline that I could hardly get out the words: ‘Thank you. Your sacrifice, your suffering have meaning, and when you can discover that truth within, you will be free.’”  Suffering, with all its pain, if we choose, can bless us with meaning. It’s our power to choose. Robert Frost, somewhere, must be smiling.

Bio:  Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip, and is the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email him at [email protected]


Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m.  There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.

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