If only we could all be like Alice

To the editor:

Alice Herz-Sommer

For those of you who missed it on the internet (“Upworthy” and “Youtube”), Alice Herz-Sommer is a 109-year old survivor of Theresienstadt death camp. An accomplished pianist, Alice and her young son were used by the Nazis to make propaganda films to deceive both incoming victims and the outside world. Now living alone in a small apartment in London, she lovingly plays the piano for 4 hours every day. Alice shares her secrets for a long life: Music, optimism, and the determination to see beauty wherever she looks. When asked about technology she exclaims: “It’s wonderful! I can send an e-mail to someone in Alaska and it arrives instantly!” Looking at the world as Alice does, the bad things that happen to us in this life become opportunities for redemption and reconciliation. With faith that all will be well, we can use our freedoms and resources to make this world a better place for all people, now and forever.

Alice’s smile is positively radiant. I remember something a minister once told me: “Sin is the failure to be joyful.” Joy is different from and deeper than pleasure, which our culture touts as the highest form of happiness. Joy has nothing to do with busyness, wealth, family or control and everything to do with faith. In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, “Joy is the most infallible test of the presence of God.” Joy does not deny the reality of suffering and sorrow. “Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter…… Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” (13th-century Persian poet Rumi.) We have been deceived, much like the world was deceived by Nazi propaganda, to pursue pleasure, and we have been distracted by the marketplace. Praise, gratitude, and reverence, the components of joy, cannot be bought or sold. Music is Alice’s passion, her conduit to God. It has brought her both intimate and infinite joy. I believe all people have the capacity for passion, but we are confused and distracted by our buying and selling. Whether we can rise above our pursuit of pleasure and hone our ability to be truly happy is a choice available to us all, as individuals and as members of our communities.

Carolyn C. Peterson