On the feast day of John Paul II, I am remembering this anecdote from my time in Poland:
One day, after breakfast, I was sitting in Starbucks and an elderly gentleman began speaking to me in Polish.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Polish,” I told him.
Recently a friend of mine introduced me to James Baldwin (1924-1987), an American author who wrote books, essays, and memoirs on the experience of Blacks in America.
I just finished reading Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, which contains two essays exploring race relations in the U.S. in the early 1960s. “Color is not a human or personal reality; it is a political reality,” he says.
Continuing to reflect here on what case there is for suffering being redemptive without sliding into any justification of (or indifference to) real injustices, Baldwin offers a credible voice.
Here is an excerpt on how suffering can be a school in maturity:
It was on this date five years ago that Elie Wiesel died.
The Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate felt a tremendous responsibility to bear witness to all that he and others suffered.
“If I survived, it must be for some reason: I must do something with my life. It is too serious to play games with anymore because in my place someone else could have been saved. And so I speak for that person. On the other hand, I know I cannot,” he told a New York Times interviewer in 1981.
This evening I re-read Wiesel’s brief Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech from a few years later in 1986.