Finding Gratitude in the In-between

Wed, 11/23/2016 - 12:04pm

As fall meets winter, we find ourselves in the seasonal in-between – summer is gone and winter is not yet biting. Yet it is in the in-between that we find moments for appreciation with friends and family. We create these moments in the cycle of the seasons. I think about what it means to live in the in-between – in a place of ambiguity and uncertainty where we must negotiate both the successes and the struggles of daily life. Progress propels us forward, but sometimes it is a roller coaster rather than the smooth gradient we may wish for. The world is a hostile place, so when the ride is rough, the trick is to hang on and focus on the destination. The in-between is a part of the journey, informed by our past as we move to the future one dogged step at a time.

Gratitude reminds us of the potential within each of us to be the change both big & small in the worldPaul Parks worked in the in-between world of the civil rights movement alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In his USC Shoah Foundation testimony, Parks reflects on what Dr. King asked him: “Why are you here, Paul?” Park relays his memory as a World War II African-American soldier at Dachau: “Dr. King, I know what the end of bigotry looks like, [what] the solution of bigotry looks like from the standpoint of the bigot.” Connecting WWII Europe to life for African-Americans in Jim Crow America, Parks understood the consequences of creating a society that supports a discourse on the “other.” Parks had every reason to be resentful, but he chose to live in the ambiguity of the in-between, because that was the place where he could live out his convictions. Gratitude after seeing Dachau was his tool of resilience in the face of adversity.

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Gratitude is a repeated theme in the Visual History Archive. Gratitude and genocide testimony may not seem obvious bedfellows, but survivor stories speak deeply to the human condition; finding the moments that changed a person’s life – a gesture, a phrase, a smile, a tear. Almost every testimony contains gratitude to parents who bore them, raised them, and protected them. There are stories of people who hid them, gave them food, and transported them. These people saved their lives, and the gratitude from these experiences has shaped each respective life.

And so many times I have heard, “if only ... .”

Nimrod “Zigi” Ariav Nimrod “Zigi” Ariav

Nimrod “Zigi” Ariav was at USC Shoah Foundation recently. A strong 90-year-old today, he was 13 when he tore off his white armband in Lublin and decided to go it alone through World War II Europe. As a fighter in the Polish Underground living on false papers, he was badly wounded. Bandaged head to foot, Zigi knew that the next person who bathed him would discover he was circumcised, which in turn could cost him his life. As he laid there between life and death, between being a Jew and a Pole, a fighter and a victim, he decided to bring a young Polish doctor into his confidence. The doctor, surrounded with wounded men from the carnage of Warsaw, bathed him personally, protected his life.  But in his half comatose state, Zigi did not get the name of the doctor, or an address. When he finally recovered, the doctor was no longer there. “My biggest regret is that I never had the chance to say ‘Thank you!” says Zigi, with tears in his eyes.

The power of gratitude lies in the in-between. In times of division and uncertainty we must continue to grow, to learn, to move, and to practice openness, especially when we feel that there is no hope or no good in the world. As each of us enters the in-between – the space where our fears meet our humanity – gratitude reminds us of the potential within each of us to be the change both big and small in the world.

* Show your gratitude of testimony by supporting USC Shoah Foundation this #GivingTuesday. Donate now to the #BeginsWithMe campaign.

Stephen Smith