October 15 – To Affirm Our Person – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
“Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything and between the two my life flows.” Nisargadatta Maharaj
Having survived the inhumanity of the Holocaust and the death of her husband, Dr. Elkhanan Elkes, the revered elder of the Kovno Ghetto in Lithuania, Miriam Elkes told her son,years later, of two objects that sustained her: “One was a piece of bread, which she always hid about her person; the other a broken piece of comb. She kept the bread in case someone needed it more than she; and no matter what, morning and night, she would comb her hair to affirm her person.”
What Miriam Elkes carried, and how she used what she carried, is a profound example of how the spirit can turn ordinary objects into living symbols that can help us live.
For what she carried—the bit of bread and her broken comb—and why she carried them, speaks to the wisdom of love itself, and makes me ask, What small thing do we each carry that we can give to others more in need than we, and what constant gesture do we each carry by which we can affirm our person?
To carry these questions alone is life-sustaining. For to carry the smallest crust of bread or truth that we can offer others always reminds us of two essential facts: that we do not live this life alone, and that no matter the severity of our own circumstance, we have something to give to others.The fact of this does not invalidate our pain, but affirms our worth, that even in pain we can be of value.
We all live somewhere between nothing and everything, and to reenact, along the way, the smallest gesture of valuing your life is to carry out God’s work. Only by affirming our person can the human stalk of spirit break ground and grow into something free.