Alice Herz-Sommer died in hospital in London on 23 February 2014, aged 110. But before she died, she earned the amazing title of being the world's oldest living pianist - and also the oldest living holocaust survivor. Born in Prague, in November of 1903, Alice survived Theresienstadt concentration camp because she was a musician. She says "music saved my life" - but she does not mean just that being a musician kept her from the gas chambers - she shares that music kept hope alive in her.
You can see the trailer for "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life" - the Academy Award winning documentary about Alice's life, written, directed and produced by Malcom Clarke, HERE, (and if you would like to see the whole thing, you can purchase it on some platforms now).
I share this story because it is one in which a fellow human being finds hope, reason to live, and even rapturous JOY - - in the face of having lived through one of human history's most brutal chapters. To me, Alice's sense of joyful presence - "Every day in life is beautiful. every day" says Alice. . . and I find myself lifted just seeing image and hearing her say these words. And so I ask myself: Can I, with the many privileges I enjoy, complain about ANYTHING when Alice finds such grace in her moments? The answer is, of course, yes, I can choose to complain. . . yet Alice reminds me that I do not have to. She reminds me that my moments are filled with many gifts - if only I will choose to see or feel them - even when the obvious thing might be to feel down, blue, hurt or angry, full of grief, turned in torturous frustration to the darker side of my own road. . .
My mother, in her own transcendent, near-death wisdom shared with me, "why on Earth do we wait til we are dying to let go of things? Stressful thinking, relationships, lifetimes of work, our homes, our loved ones, even our arms, legs, torso and head - - even our sense of who we are - - it would make so much more sense to start letting go of stuff earlier in life, because one day a day will come when we have no choice - and we HAVE to let go of ALL OF IT..." Alice somehow managed to harness her love of music even as she was forced to let go of so many things - which she did with such grace. And yet Alice remained one with her love of music, her awe at the gift composers left us, the power of music to hold up hope, even in the worst of circumstances. If Alice did it in her circumstances, could not you and I echo this grace?
And so I share Alice with you all; may her pristine and gentle joy catalyze your own emotional system, amidst whatever heaviness you currently face, towards one small moment of upliftment . . . or maybe a whole bouquet of wild glee today.
Wishing you each moments of joy - not to block out the pain, but to co-exist with it.
With Much Love Always,
Rev. Maya Massar