Wednesday, May 25, 2011
One Life to Give: A Path to Finding Yourself by Helping Others
I do a lot of presentations and poetry readings about my parents' experiences in the concentration camp system of Nazi Germany, and one question I often get is "What did your parents learn from their experiences?" It's a central question, and a hard one to answer. I think that a lot of my poems and my other writings try to get at an answer (see the note at the end of this entry), but I feel finally that I will never know the answer no matter how much I try.
However, it is important to try to answer such questions, and I was especially interested in One Life to Give: A Path to Finding Yourself by Helping Others by Andrew Bienkowski and Mary Akers (available at Amazon.com). Andrew is a Pole whose family was taken to Siberia by the Soviets during World War II. He survived the war, came to the US, and became a psychotherapist.
His perspective on his experiences, as you can imagine, is unique and worth attention.
In One Life to Give: A Path to Finding Yourself by Helping Others, Andrew describes watching his grandfather starve to death on purpose so that he and his younger brother Yurek would have enough food. But rather than dwelling on the horrors, Andrew's book takes the "long view" and examines such experience for what they have taught him about life.
The first chapter discusses the idea of Radical Gratitude, the notion that we can learn to be grateful even for the difficult experiences of our lives because they make us stronger, wiser, and more responsive to the suffering of others. Following chapters talk about hope, faith, perseverance, laughter, and love as tools we can use to see us through the most difficult times. Each chapter is supported by a specific story from his family's time in Siberia, and the book covers the time from their initial deportation, through their survival and eventual escape.
Here's a video of Andrew Bienkowski talking about his book:
Signed Polish copies of the book are available from Mary Akers, Mr. Bienkowski's co-author at her blog.
One of my own poems that tries to understand what my mother learned is "What the War Taught Her."
"What My Father Believed" is one of my poems about what my dad learned.