Attitude Stories

Le Chambon

There are two things, it has often been said, that human beings cannot gaze at directly without going mad – the glory of God and the darkness of human evil. After years of studying human cruelty, Philip Hallie, professor of philosophy at Wesleyan University and a veteran of World War II, must have felt close to madness. Working on a project on Nazi cruelty, he focused on the medical experiments Nazi doctors conducted on Jewish children in the death camps.

“Across all these studies,” Hallie wrote later, “the pattern of the strong crushing the weak kept repeating itself and repeating itself, so that when I was not bitterly angry, I was bored at the repetitions of the patterns of persecution…. My study of evil incarnate had become a prison whose bars were my bitterness toward the violent, and whose walls were my horrified indifference to slow murder. Between the bars and the walls I revolved like a madman … over the years I had dug myself into Hell.”

During this time Hallie came across a short article about a small town of three thousand in the mountains of southern France, which was the only safe haven for Jews in all of German-occupied Europe. Reading with academic objectivity in his effort to classify types of cruelty and forms of resistance to it, he was about halfway down the third page of the story when he became “annoyed by a strange sensation on my cheeks.” Reaching up to wipe away a piece of dust, he felt tears – “Not one or two drops; my whole cheek was wet.” Those tears, Hallie wrote, were an instinctive “expression of moral praise.”

What Hallie was reading was his introduction to the citizens of Le Chambon and their heroic rescue of more than five thousand Jewish children in the Second World War. Later written up in his modern classic Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, Hallie came to realize the rightness of a summary by one of his readers: “The Holocaust was storm, lightning, thunder, wind, rain, yes. And Le Chambon was the rainbow.” Yes, he concluded, “I realized that for me too the little story of Le Chambon is grander and more beautiful than the bloody war that stopped Hitler.”

What emerges in his story is the strands of the stubborn courage of the Chambonnais. They were Huguenots, French Protestants fired by their faith in Christ and the experience of three hundred years of persecution following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. And they were led, taught, and encouraged by their indomitable pastor, Andre Trocme, and his equally heroic wife, Magda. But what comes across repeatedly is their character and the down-to-earth, no-nonsense quality of their faith.

Many French let themselves be deceived by the infamous “night and fog” propaganda with which the Germans concealed the death camps. But the Chambonnais simply did what had to be done, what they’d been taught to do, what Christ would have expected them to do – they sheltered and saved their neighbors, the Jews, who were in danger.

The evening Pastor Trocme himself was arrested illustrates the whole story. The pastor and his wife had been invited to dinner by church members who, knowing they often forgot such invitations, sent their daughter to remind them. But when she entered the dining room, she saw the police arresting her pastor. So the word flew around the village: Andre Trocme had been arrested.

Typically, however, Magda Trocme invited the two policemen to have dinner with them. Friends were later incredulous and upset with her. “How could you bring yourself to sit down to eat with these men who were there to take your husband away, perhaps to his death? How could you be so forgiving, so decent to them?”

Madame Trocme always gave the same answer: “What are you talking about? It was dinner-time; they were standing in my way; we were all hungry. The food was ready. What do you mean by such foolish words as ‘forgiving’ and ‘decent’?”

Such a response was typical. The Chambonnais shrugged off praise again and again. They would look Hallie in the eye and say, “How can you call us ‘good’? We were doing what had to be done. Things had to be done, that’s all, and we happened to be there to do them. You must understand that it was the most natural thing in the world to help these people.” An outsider’s words of moral praise, Philip Hallie concluded, are “like a slightly uncomfortable wreath laid upon a head by a kind but alien hand.”

Source: Os Guinness. The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Kindle edition. Locations 1092-1095).

I Want Nothing to Do With It

Yehudi Menuhin, the renowned maestro and violinist, has held audiences all over the world spellbound with his conducting and virtuoso playing. Like many great musicians, his gifts were precocious. He made his violin debut in San Francisco at the age of seven and launched his worldwide career at the age of twelve with a historic concert at Carnegie Hall. In his memoirs, Unfinished Journey, Menuhin tells the story of how he began his long love affair with the violin.

From the time he was three years old, Menuhin’s parents frequently took him to concerts in New York where he heard the concertmaster and first violinist Louis Persinger. When Persinger broke into solo passages, little Yehudi, sitting with his parents up in the gallery, was enchanted. “During one such performance,” Menuhin wrote, “I asked my parents if I might have a violin for my fourth birthday and Louis Persinger to teach me to play it.” Apparently his wish was granted. A family friend gave the little boy a violin, but it was a toy one, made of metal with metal strings.

Yehudi Menuhin was only four. He could hardly have had the arms and fingers to do justice to a full-sized violin, but he was furious. “I burst into sobs, threw it on the ground and would have nothing ing to do with it.” Reflecting years later, Menuhin said he realized he wanted nothing less than the real thing because “I did know instinctively tively that to play was to be.”

Source: Os Guinness. The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Kindle Locations 509-511). Kindle Edition.

Don’t Complain

Maya Angelou is a famed American poet and author. From the age of three to seven she was raised by her grandmother, a period of calm and stability in what would be a very traumatic childhood. Grandma ran a general store and one thing that riled her was people complaining. They’d complain about the heat, the cold and a myriad of other issues Maya’s grandmother thought trivial.  Whenever that occurred Maya’s grandmother would wait til the complainer left the store, call Maya over to her and say,  “Sister, did you hear what Brother So-and-So or Sister Much-to-Do complained about? Sister, there are people who went to sleep all over the world last night, poor and rich and white and black, but they will never wake again. And those dead folks would give anything, anything at all for just five minutes of this weather that person was grumbling about. So you watch yourself about complaining, Sister. What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”

Source: reported in Maya Angelou, Condensed Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Where’s the Pony

There were once two identical twins. They were alike in every way but one. One was a hope-filled optimist who only ever saw the bright side of life. The other was a dark pessimist, who only ever saw the down side in every situation.

The parents were so worried about the extremes of optimism and pessimism in their boys they took them to the Doctor. He suggested a plan. “On their next birthday give the pessimist a shiny new bike, but give the optimist only a pile of manure.”

It seemed a fairly extreme thing to do. After all the parents had always treated heir boys equally. But in this instance they decided to try to Doctor’s advice. So when the twins birthday came round they gave the pessimist the most expensive, top of the range, racing bike a child has ever owned. When he saw the bike his first words were, “I’ll probably crash and break my leg.”

To the optimist they gave a carefully wrapped box of manure. He opened it, looked puzzled for a moment, then ran outside screaming, “You can’t fool me! Where there’s this much manure, there’s just gotta be a pony around here somewhere!”

Source Unknown.

The Secret to a Long Life

“It’s a treasure more valuable than gold,” the young girl said. “I wouldn’t trade it for nothing'”

They had gathered for a family celebration they said. Oh, not a birthday, anniversary or birth. They were celebrating death. That’s right. A celebration of dying.

I know for some of you it might sound odd. Death is sad and mournful. There is no happiness or joy in losing someone you love you would say. But for some death is joy filled. It’s a crossing over to a better place. It’s a spiritual completion and a holy event.

For Amy it meant getting the best gift ever.

Amy was very close to her Grandmother. They visited often and shared some of the most memorable moments. When she was very small, they played together, walked together and when Amy was sick Grandma would stay with her so Mom and Dad could go to work. So they loved each other in all situations and prayed together to resolve their deepest concerns.

Like the time Amy fell while she was carrying her Mom’s best vase. Without hesitation Amy turned to Grandma and said, “It’s prayer time. This one’s a big one Grandma.” I believe that Amy thought that her Grandma had as much to do with healing and fixing things as God did. Maybe even more. That’s how much Amy trusted her Grandma. Their love could withstand anything life could throw their way.

But it was inevitable. There would certainly come a time when reality and old age would gain the upper hand. This time Grandma couldn’t kiss it and make it better. Grandma couldn’t pray this one away. You see, Grandma was dying. It was her time and what a splendid time it was.

It was Spring and the flowers that she and Amy attended to each year were in full bloom. You might think that this is the perfect time to be alive. But Grandma convinced Amy otherwise. At 91, she had lived a full life. She had no regrets. Except perhaps leaving Amy alone. But she had taken care of that, too.

“Amy,” she whispered quietly. “In my closet at home there is a small wooden box. It has your name on it. In it is all that I can give you. All that I hold dear. In that box is the secret to living a long life.”

No, she didn’t leave a fortune behind. She had no diamonds or pearls to pass on. What she left was her secret to life. On her final day she called Amy by her side. They reflected back on a life time of love, happiness and commitment. They laughed and cried and before saying goodbye, Grandma pulled her close, kissed her on the forehead and gently fell into a deep and final sleep. A sleep that would take her home to the grandest celebration of all.

Weeks after her passing Amy retrieved the box from Grandma’s closet. She took it out to the kitchen table where they shared many happy moments together. Placing the old wooden box on the table, she carefully opened it.

There inside Amy found an envelope with the words “My secret to a long life.” Her heart raced with the thought that Grandma had gone through all this trouble just for her. She held the note close to her chest and said out loud, “I love you Grandma, thanks!”

Inside the envelope was one index card. On it were written four words…”Live until you die!”

Amy roared with laughter. She ran out of the house and down the street to where her Mom was. There the two of them sat and laughed until it hurt.

Some where in that laughter Amy and her Mom decided to hold a special celebration every year. The big day was the day Grandma died. Everyone who knew and loved Grandma would come home for the big event no matter where life had taken them.

There is a profound truth in those simple words for I have found many who have long ago died in spirit and hope yet continue to breathe.

For Amy and her family it’s not a secret anymore. It’s a celebration.

Source: Bob Perks © 2001. Used with permission