On the Eve of a New Year

And now I was lonelier … than anyone in the world … I had to be alone, entirely alone, if I wanted to live.

Wladyslaw Szpilman, in The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945

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These are the words classical pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman uses to describe the moment in Nazi-occupied Warsaw when he knew he’d have to hide from those who would kill him, have to be “entirely alone” to live.

His story is beautifully told in the movie The Pianist.  

What he says is true.  In a way, we must be alone to come to life – a life lived at depth and with reach, with meaning – in fulfillment, and in truth.  

This is a challenge to each of us.

However, many struggle mightily to avoid the challenges – to push the loss, or betrayal, calamity, or truth about themselves or others far from them (as if that is possible, and illness and confusion will not ensue).

There is an exquisite moment in the film when a particular invaluable truth is portrayed and it is when, with the Russians approaching Warsaw from the East, Wladyslaw is discovered in an abandoned home by a German officer named Wilm Hosenfeld.

In the stunned silence of this moment, Captain Hosenfeld asks Wladyslaw to play on an elegant piano that has survived persistent bombardments; and, Wladyslaw plays while the officer listens in rapt attention.  It is as if the beauty of this Jewish pianist’s artistry and the composer creative genius have touched the soul of the Nazi Captain.

The truth of the moment is the confirmation of the soul and its place of occupancy in each of them as it is in each of us.

The pianist’s talent and the composer’s gift traveled from one to another, from despised to preferred, from hunted to hunter.  With this the Nazi officer becomes the pianist’s protector – one who hides him and secures food for him so he might live.

The soul.  The unity of beauty, and creating, and music that lifts us and pulls us to each other.  No, evil cannot eradicate this.

Yes, evil and misguided ideas can cloud our way, dissuade us that bad is good when bad has a greater social acceptance.  And herein is the relationship between alone and full life.

The pianist and the officer each, individually and in silence, isolated from all around them, experienced what exists within and the eternal good that is in and of the soul – a soul created by God’s desire and design.

The truth of the matter for me, as I look back on my seven decade journey, is this: the trials and the “aloneness” that they impose on us – permit access to the soul and bridge the gaps between the preferred and the despised.  For you see, each is to cross the bridge of tears alone before life is fully lived from the soul outward.

May you think of this as the new year dawns.


Footnaote – Wladyslaw Szpilman purused his career as a concert pianist until his death at 88, in 2000.  Captain Wilm Hosenfeld died in a Soviet Prison Camp in 1952.