Bits of Life Missed Worth Exploring

Revisiting A Book I Read


Throughout most of my life, I tend to read and enjoy non-fiction. Very rarely do I read fiction or biographies. Yet somewhere either in high school or college I fondly remember, even now, the details of a biography that I read by Samuel Pisar entitled “Of Blood & Hope”. It is a story of an international lawyer who survived a concentration camp in his youth. Sharing in great detail both his thinking and emotions during his young years and reflections on life as he aged.

Recently I shared this book with my wife. It sat on a shelf in our basement. To my surprise, I had underlined parts of it almost 40-50 years ago. I took a few moments to read what I highlighted. It surprised me that I still believe what he shared to be true for me today. It had that much impact on my thinking as a youth (without me even knowing this until now), that I wanted to share some of my highlighted passages from Samuel Pisar with you today. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did when I first read them a long time ago.

“,,,was the will to outlast adversity until better times arrived.”

“Strange, how an organism that can go beyond the limits of physical endurance will often give up under a blow against the mind.”

“…..become a chess bum like so many friends of his youth, and see it as an opportunity for withdrawl from the difficult choices that life was once again placing in my way.”

“Success did not necessarily mean happiness; failure did not necessarily mean instant disaster; everything was much more intricately and much more interestingly mixed up in the beauty and paradoxes of life…..”

“The poets taught me one thing more: suffering was not necessarily degrading and evil; it could purify, even enable —- most of all it could teach.”

“I learned that reason must substitute for emotion.”

“At the age at which I was there, I had the advantage of great pliability and adaptability. It was this that saved me from being completely broken, or warped for the rest of my life — the fate of many of my older fellow prisoners.”

“I have observed that the events in people’s lives that seem to affect them most strongly, on the spur of the moment are not the truly elemental ones — marriage, birth of children. death of loved ones — but turns of happenstance, which take them by surprise.”

“As I look back, I understand for the first time that whatever takes you far and gives you much also makes you leave much behind.”

“I know what it means to live in an environment devoid of rules. It is as destructive to oneself as it is to others.”

“There can be no sustained human progress unless minds and ideas are allowed to clash.”

“Our real enemy is the inability to recognize that life is not an uninterrupted feast, but a permanent, painful, precarious struggle for survival.”

“The enemy, whom I learned to recognize early in life, dwells within us.”

“One of the most salient lessons I have brought out of the jungle that waited for me at the end of my cattle-train journey from home is that a human being has a surprising, an infinite, capacity to endure and to invent, even in the most unimaginable conditions, provided he has the will. Neither hunger nor pain, neither horror nor fear has ever shaken me in this belief.”

“The first precondition of survival in the face of deathly peril is clarity of mind.”

“….that man can overcome, if he has the courage not to despair, the courage to confront his fate.”

“It takes an attitude where the mind knows what it wants so it will not gyrate between passivity and overreacton, where every ounce of energy is conserved, not squandered; it takes an immunity to both euphoria and panic; an adaptability in which one is prepared to work as a buttonhole maker and a scholar, to sell prime technology and barter secondhand coffee; a condition whereby every person is eager to fish for himself.”

“We must begin with the establishment of a new kind of relationship between generations, based on reason and respect, not hierarchy; on a realistic, unsentimental assessment of changing, volatile times, rather than on the naive wish to package ready made lives for our children.”

Bits of Life Missed Worth Exploring


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