“Everyone should read this,” my friend Betty said, handing me a book she’d been telling me about. I glanced at the tile The Choice, noted it was an International Best Seller, and immediately slotted it in the popular novel category I mostly stayed away from. “It really is worth reading,” she emphasised, no doubt sensing my scepticism. I needed something to take my mind off my husband’s illness and my stressed state, so thanked her for the read and left.
That night, I couldn’t sleep and began reading The Choice. The author, Edith Eger, is a Holocaust survivor, but before I reach that part of her story, the introduction has captured me.
This is not the story of a victim, but a survivor. A bright young Hungarian woman, a ballet dancer and gymnast who lived through terrors we would care never to dream of, but with will and determination she was able to gather strength while captive to survive one day at a time. Words spoken by her mother as they travelled to the camp, would be repeated and repeated in Edith’s mind, for that year and many to come. “Just remember, no one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.” On arrival the parents were herded into one line and Edith and her sister another. It was the last time the girls saw their parents. And too, the words her boyfriend Eric had called as the train moved off to a different camp… “I’ll never forget your eyes … I’ll never forget your hands,” she repeated at night, dreaming of the future they had planned together.
Those words did sustain her, and she was liberated along with her sister and other survivors at the war’s end, although neither Eric nor her parents was among them. She was now ‘free’, but deathly ill, and at the beginning of many more struggles to come: from choosing the United States as a new home; learning a new language; marrying a new love and slowly coming to terms with the person she now was, her dreams of a ballet career long over.
The first years in Baltimore were tough, but a move to El Paso proved a turning point. She found better work, and the family began to prosper. Edith was determined to improve her own status, and began study towards a degree in psychology, which in turn led to a PhD in psychiatry. She believed it would place her in a position to help others dealing with trauma, for this was a subject she knew inside and out.
A a psychological practitioner, Edith Eger went on to help very many people deal with, and often overcome, their trauma; many of their issues stemming from the base of fear, abuse and self-dislike. She however, found her own trauma could not be so easily dealt with. With recurring flashbacks and feelings of worthlessness, she sought personal psychological counselling.
Edith writes throughout this book of the ways people can change their ways of looking at a situation, no matter how impossible they may believe that to be. She talks about how she greets each person she wishes to help; being positive, warm, giving, and even speaks of loving those who may show aggression and ugliness of spirit on first meeting. But the biggest step she took in her own recovery, was to visit Auschwitz, where she was able to find forgiveness. No, not for the perpetrators of the monstrosities which occurred there, but towards herself. She forgave the girl she had been, who in her innocence had believed she may have been responsible for sending her mother to her death.
I wish to add these last words from the section titled Healing. ‘Our painful experiences aren’t a liability – they’re a gift. They give us perspective and meaning, an opportunity to find our unique purpose and our strength.’
I wish to thank Edith Eger for her elegantly written story, endowed with such insight, positivity and generosity of spirit, that, as my friend Betty told me and I whole-heartedly endorse, that The Choice is a book that ‘everyone should read’.
The Choice. Published by Rider, Penguin Random House, United Kingdom. 2017