One lesson for hope in the new year comes from a book you've probably seen, and may even have read. All the Light We Cannot See was a wonderful surprise. It's also a story that I nearly overlooked.
I do not know what made me read this book. I think it was sheer unrelenting exposure. I kept running into it everywhere I looked, both in stores and online at the library, when I was looking for an interesting read and when I wasn't. At first, I didn't pick it up because I felt that World War II was a worn-out theme. I wanted something fresh and new. Finally, I relented. I would read the book.
A Beautiful Surprise
What I found was a fresh look at an old story. The author used beautiful words, beautiful descriptions, and beautiful characters. It is a story about finding hope within a hopeless situation. I found people who discovered a way to act on their own behalf when they were in a life-threatening situation. These people were captives, dominated by a maleficent force and were by all appearances, powerless.
The story is set in Saint-Malo, France. The year is 1940 and the town is occupied by the German army. Everyone one is under surveillance all the time. Neighbors spy on neighbors to save their own families, and people who were friends in
peace time may be collaborating with the Germans. No one can be trusted.
Madam Manec, a 76-year-old housekeeper, decides she must do something. She
must act on her own behalf and for the good of her world. She takes a dangerous risk; she gathers a group of women she has known all her life and suggests they join together to work for the French resistance against Nazi occupation. They create the Old Ladies Resistance Group. The women initially ask, “What can we do?”, and “It’s not a person you wish to fight, Madame, it’s a system. How do you fight a system?” Madame Manec’s reply is one that is as pertinent today as it was in 1940. “You try.”
There are few circumstances in life where we cannot do something. Change cannot
occur unless we try. We cannot wait for a guaranteed outcome, we cannot wait until someone gives us power, we cannot wait until we feel safe. We must simply try.
These women joined together and passed source codes to the resistance fighters.
These messages saved lives and helped the allied forces advance in their efforts to free their city. They used an ordinary part of life, a loaf of bread, to create hope.
Hope was found, then power was found.
Author Anthony Doerr, describes the fear and struggle these people faced. You can feel the desperation, the horror and the terror they felt when they participated in the resistance activities. Nevertheless, to remain powerless and do nothing, was intolerable to them. These activities helped the people involved to feel hope and to use their power.
I hear so much about how intolerable the world is today. The fear of what is happening and how powerless many feel. I hear how they feel that they cannot have an impact on the course of our country or the world.
I see people who dedicate their lives to changing the world. I see it on a global level and I see it on a local level. I see people take small actions that add up to big changes.
On a personal level, I hear people talk of their hopelessness and pain. For some to face the hard work of change, is overwhelming and they have to wait for a future time when they feel strong enough to face themselves.
Courage to Change
I witness courageous men and women who face their pain and wounds and fight the good fight. They fight the urge to hide inside; instead they join their own internal resistance movement to liberate themselves.
In our personal lives, we come upon situations where we feel powerless to help ourselves. All The Light We Cannot See is a story about the interplay between powerless and power, hope and hopelessness. Through Madame Manec, we are given the message that we can find our hidden reserves of strength, we can find hope by doing what we can, no matter how small. She teaches us to live as much as we can, as long as we can – a lesson worth taking into a new year.