This morning my seven-year-old daughter said to me, “People think that people are things, but they’re not.”
Intrigued by her observation, I asked her, “Then what are they?”
She thought for a moment and answered, “They’re creations.”
Her words were an amazing piece of serendipity.
Shortly before her comments, I had been wondering how to describe an unusual and heartwarming experience that occurred yesterday, when total strangers reached out to me, seeking understanding, affirmation and hope. I was in downtown Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Book Festival, sitting in a little booth, under a canopy, as the cool fall air and the sun’s warm rays competed with each other.
A wide variety of people walked by—young, old, wealthy, poor, aimless, hurried, dark-skinned, light and everything in-between. The main headline of my poster was: “Faith After the Holocaust.” The title of my book: “Never Forget My Soul.” Three words drew people in and made them want to talk—“faith,” “Holocaust,” and “soul.”
Why these words?
“Holocaust,” because it speaks of the cruelty and suffering in our world.
“Faith,” because people need to believe that the horrors that we have seen cannot be all there is to the universe.
“Soul,” because, well, to paraphrase my daughter: People want others to know that they are not things. That they get hurt, that they hope, that they long for peace, truth and love. That they matter.
An African-American woman approached me and said she would buy my book, if she had the money. She told me that her son had been shot a year ago—a loss, which, understandably, had taken her the whole year to come to terms with.
Many children of Holocaust survivors approached me, just to let me know, that they, like me, faced this question: “What is our source of hope, soothing and meaning, now, having such a legacy?”
A substitute teacher from the New York City school system was in tears, telling me that it breaks her heart to see the cycle of poverty, ignorance, drugs and violence that destroys young lives.
A self-proclaimed atheist asked me what my definition of spirituality is. We agreed that it involved connecting with something that is greater than oneself and brings one a feeling of elevation, beauty and inspiration that transcends the mind. He denied the existence of G-d, but, I believe, was seeking a perspective that affirmed…well, that he is not a thing.
Maybe we all can use these vignettes to understand a fundamental truth: Those people you pass on the street today—any one of them—could be one of the people who stopped at my booth and opened up about loss, pain, despair, longing and hope. So many of us are in such a rush. How often do we get angry at people who “get in our way” and obstruct our path to our “very important” goals? We must remember, as my daughter said, people are not things; they are creations.
And I’ll tell you something about creations. When we create something, we inevitably put a part of ourselves in it. We connect with our creation in a deep way, and, consequently, we love it.
If we remember only this, that everyone we see is a creation, loved by another—their Creator—then we will treat those people as real and value our encounters with them. Then, step by step, we will make a world where a Holocaust can never happen again.
Michael Milgraum, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, in Silver Spring Maryland. He provides group, individual and couples therapy and performs psychological evaluations. His new novel, Never Forget My Soul, is available online and in bookstores. He can be reached at (301) 588-5861 or firstname.lastname@example.org.