“Those who can sit in silence with their fellowman, not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life in a dying heart. Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears in grief and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken.” -Henri Nouwen
I love documentaries. They are the reason I have a Netflix account. Michelle and I watch alot of them. They let you see into lives, situations and the minds of the subjects and the producers. I watch them for fun and learning but I also watch them to grow. Documentaries pull on your heart, intellect, soul and imagination. You should make an effort to watch some. Netflix has thousands of them on every subject you can think of.
One of the documentaries I’m watching this week is titled ‘Paper Clips’ and it’s about middle school students in the small town of Whitwell, TN. Several years ago the school’s administrators decided they needed to introduce a project that would teach about divesity, which was an especially important and challenging task since Whitwell’s demographic is extremely homogenous. The Holocaust was chosen as the subject in which the students could learn about the struggles of Jewish people and their culture.
During discussion time in a class one day, the teacher was telling how over 6 million Jews had been murdered at the hands of Hitler. A student raised a hand and said she had no idea how big 6 million was because she’d never seen 6 million of anything. The teacher agreed that hardly anyone would have actually laid eyes on 6 million of anything either. It was decided that a collection would be started of some small item. They hoped to collect 6 million but what it could be took some research.
The movie says a student found that the paper clip had been invented in Norway, but this is probably a myth. You can read more about it here on Wikipedia although you may not trust Wikipedia. Ha! But we know for sure that Norwegians wore them on the collars of their shirts during WW2 to show their opposition to the Nazis. So it was decided to collect 6 million paper clips. I won’t share all the details here. You’ll need to watch the film. But when the media picked up the story, people from all over the world sent paper clips to this collection. Paper clips even came in from survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants.
I want to share what just one woman said in the movie. Her name was Sheila Levine and she sent 14 paper clips for the collection, one paper clip for each member of her family who died in concentration camps. She lost 4 grandparents, 1 brother, 7 aunts and uncles, and 2 cousins. She speaks in the movie about how people mostly see the large number but forget that the true tragedy was each individual life that was lost. Sheila says so many people, like herself, were left with no families and would forever be without families. She says, “All I ever wanted was people. I wanted them and I never had them.”
That statement to me was like a blow to the gut. I’d never thought of the Holocaust as such individual pain.
But now all of this has me thinking about the pain all around me; the pain of loneliness and abandonment that I too often see as so large a problem that I miss the individuals. I fight against it in my life by investing myself in humanity but now I’m wondering if we aren’t all attacking it on too large a basis, which is making us less effective. Maybe we should all look intently at the individuals in our lives and pick one to be a person to them. The only defense against loneliness is people. The only offense against loneliness is people. We are the presence of God on earth in a very real, tangible sense.
I know all of you invest in people that you can name individually and I do too. But what if our thinking shifted just a little to be much more intentional towards a special few people who really need invested in? I’m not sure what would happen or if things would even look that much different for you. But I have a sneaking suspicion that they will. You should watch this movie and see if it inspires you too.
At the very least, these thoughts make me want to be here for my wife, kids, friends and family in every way I can even if it requires great personal sacrifice. What price is too high to pay to give someone the gift of your presence? And the only prerequisite to giving the gift of presence is that you’re alive to give it. And if you’re reading this, you’re alive so get to it!
Anyone else have thoughts about all this?