We are taught that light emanates from the sun, bounces off external objects and into our eyes. And that is how we see.
The blind World War II French resistance fighter Jacques Lusseyran discovered otherwise.
He found we have the light inside us.
Lusseyran went blind in a freak accident at the age of 8.
The Germans occupied France in 1940 when Lusseyran was only 16. The following year, he created a resistance group. It grew to over 600 members.
Lusseyran was charged with interviewing prospective members to weed out any potential spies. His heightened senses seemed to give him extra powers of perception.
Eventually the group merged with a well connected and official resistance group, Defence de la France.
Their underground newspaper had a circulation of over 100,000 during the occupation.
Lusseyran and his friends would carry their shoes in their hands. They quietly slipped the two-page paper under doors in apartment buildings in Paris.
The Defence de la France newspaper became France Soir after the war. A daily newspaper with a circulation of 1.5 million in the 1950s.
Eventually Lusseyran and many of his friends were arrested by the Gestapo. He was mercilessly tortured. 7am to 7pm for days on end. He never gave up any names.
He was sent to a concentration camp, Buchenwald.
The treatment of the prisoners became progressively worse as the Germans started to lose the war. Food was scarce and sometimes non-existent. Prisoners were weak and dispirited.
Lusseyran found an internal wellspring of strength during this time. He helped others. Often he would translate between French and German. He was a brilliant student and had taught himself German by listening to radio broadcasts.
In his autobiography, Lusseyran talks of his body getting blocked up and losing control. First, lungs, then intestines, ears, all his muscles and eventually his heart.
He was watching his body in the act of leaving this world. Not wanting to.
He describes the bodily pain as “twisting and turning in every direction, like snakes that have been cut in pieces.”
In the middle of this torture, Lusseyran said something took hold of him…life! He wrote he had never lived so fully before.
“Life had become a substance within me…It came toward me like a shimmering wave, like the caress of light. I could see it beyond my eyes and my forehead and above my head. It touched me and filled me to overflowing. I let myself float on it…I drew my strength from the spring. I kept on drinking and drinking still more.”
Slowly he came back from the dead. A friend, who Lusseyran thought to be an atheist told him that he didn’t have a chance in the world. Lusseyran burst out laughing. The friend didn’t understand the laugh, but he never forgot it.
He left the hospital on his own two feet. He was filled with happiness. Happiness in a Nazi concentration camp!
What lessons are there for us in Lusseyran’s experiences?
He tells us:
“To forget was the law…(all) must be forgotten…to hold on to the strength to live…Memories are too tender, too close to fear. They consume energy. We had to live in the present; each moment had to be absorbed for all that was in it, to satisfy the hunger for life…
Latch on to the passing minute. Shut off the workings of memory and hope. The amazing thing is that no anguish held out against this treatment for very long…Suffering may persist, but already it is relieved by half. Throw yourself into each moment as if it were the only one that really existed. Work and work hard.”
After the war, he married, had children and taught French literature in America.
Tragically, he and his wife died in a car accident on holiday in France. He was only 46.
Lusseyran showed his gratitude to his country by writing his autobiography AND THERE WAS LIGHT. He expressed two truths that his experiences had taught him.
The first truth is that joy does not come from outside but from within.
The second truth is that light does not come to us from without. Light is in us, even if we have no eyes.
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