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Lessons On Hope From the Book Thief

Image of feathered cloud in bright blue sky. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, The Book Thief, Katherine Broadway

While on vacation, I started a novel that many of you may have read: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It's the story of a German family living during Hitler's rise to power, and how that family displays character, love, values, and above all, hope.

The story centers on Papa, Mama, and their foster child Liesel. Papa chooses not to join the Nazi party because he does not support its ideals. In many ways they are an ordinary family living in extraordinary times.

Through an unexpected, unwanted event, they are thrust into circumstances that propel them to become the heroes of their own stories. In the Great War, Papa's life is save by a Jew who gets killed. After the war, he finds the man’s widow and makes her a promise: If she ever needs him he will help her.

Be careful what you promise.

Years pass and the request never came, until one night there was a knock at the door. There stood Max, the son of Papa’s savior. The son now needs saving himself.

If Papa says yes, he will be putting himself and the people he loves in danger. If he says no, he will destroy his self-respect. Support comes to Papa in a surprising way. Mama, who to this point has been a harsh and critical woman, becomes a warm and loving caretaker to Max. Everyone in the family works to keep him alive and safe.

As the story unfolds, regret is turned into help, burden is turned into joy, and suspicion is turned to love. Max becomes part of the family.

An illness occurs.

Max becomes seriously ill and is unconscious. The family fears that he may not live. Rather than feeling that soon they will be relieved of this dangerous burden, each person is doing all they can to save him, bring him comfort and to encourage him back to life. This is done because of love.

Liesel in particular works very hard to encourage him back to consciousness. Each day she looks for presents to give him. All she can find are broken, insignificant objects. The first is a soccer ball that had been run over by a car. This broken, useless object becomes her avenue to connect with him and breathe life into him by telling about her day.

Hope and comfort in the small things.

“Wake up!” she wants to scream, instead she continues to find hope and comfort in small, broken and insignificant or useless things. She brings one button, one feather, one ribbon, one stone, one cloud, one candy wrapper and 2 newspapers. She imagines Max waking up and asking, “What is all this junk?”. Her reply: “This is what made you wake up.”

Liesel believed that all the insignificant gifts showed she cared. It is through these broken bits and pieces that she found hope for herself and for Max. She would talk to him every day when she brought a present. The presents gave her a way to not let the fear and hopelessness overpower her. They helped her believe he would wake up.

What lessons we can learn from this story?

There is hope in love.

We are left with the question:

Where do we get our hope and find love in life, especially in the hard and painful times? It is a question that each of us must answer for ourselves.

Liesel's story offers us a valuable resource.

We look for the small things that surround us everyday, everywhere. Love and hope are there, but we must look for them. Liesel shows us how this is done when she wonders how she can give Max a cloud. Papa gives her the way, “Memorize it, write it down and tell him about it.”

We have to make a story of hope and love out of these small things. Then we tell someone our story. We share with others our stories of hope.

What gives you hope?

We must find the answer to that question for ourselves. What gave you hope to make it until now? What gives you hope to face an uncertain future?

Often, we find messages in books or movies by looking at the complete story. As I'm writing this, I have not finished the book. I join the characters in their journey in not knowing how it will end. I can only see the events as they unfold and the impact of what is happening in each moment. However, I felt it important to share with you the message that this story tells along the way: a message of hope. I will have to find my hope and believe along with Liesel that Max will wake up.

As we live life, we make decisions on the information we have. We do the best we can at each moment, observe the results, and learn as we go. We learn to cherish each moment, each joy, each beauty without letting it be diminished by regrets, second-guessing and asking “what if”.

Sometimes we may be in Max’s position, unable to find our own small things and create our story of hope. At those times, we need to find an Liesel, a Papa, or a Mama to tell us a story of hope.

Need someone to help you find the small things in your life to give you hope? I can help. Call me at: (919)881-2001.


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