Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An Icon of Hope

The death this week of Alexander Solzhenitsyn brought to mind teenage memories. For me, he was an early icon of resistance and courage, of human will rising above circumstance. My only access to his world was through his book, the Gulag Archipelago, which described the harsh injustices of the Stalin-era labor camps and secret prisons that stretched across Russia like a string of "islands" (the archipelago).

As ponderous as the book was, I could not stop reading it. Why it captured my imagination so at that age I am not sure now. I sure that the "mystery" status of the Soviet Union in the 1970's was part of it. This was long before Reagan labeled Russia "the evil empire," but the threat of our nuclear enemy was very public - even in small town South Carolina. Plus the theme of resistance against oppressive structures, especially at personal risk, is one that just naturally fits with the teen mindset. The frequent struggle then is "What cause will I take up? or What significance will my life make?" Well, I really don't know whether others have those questions, but I do remember a feeling of standing in the doorway to the "world" and wondering which way to go, and, would I find a path.

While in the gulag (prison) Solzhenitsyn wrote portions of his book in his mind, and memorized what he "wrote," so that 1) written evidence would not be found, and 2) he would have it for later publication. That still amazes me, not simply for the mental ability it reveals, but more so for the hope, trust, yes even "faith" in the future it evidences. Why commit to such mental toil unless you truly believe that one day you will be free, and you will be heard?

Survival depends on the evidence of things unseen, a hope or faith that one day there will be a "reversal." Jesus brought such hope to the powerless of Palestine, the cast-offs of society who were forever on the receiving end of exploitation. His first sermon in Nazareth of fulfilling the "day of the Lord" was an announcement of reversals his hearers could not yet see. Some believed in hope, others refused it for fear of what they would lose.

In my teen years I had first-hand evidence of hope and of resistance to reversals. My father was sent as a superintendent of public schools to the small town we lived with the task of integrating the school system. We were not welcomed there, especially when the community leaders realized my dad believed in respect to everyone and fairness for all, regardless of one's race or status. Yet Dad succeeded in his task, I believe because he had such a strong personal faith - a conviction that "right" could and would prevail. Some day I may blog a story or two of that struggle, but for now it is enough to say that a single individual, possessed with a firm faith, can be the catalyst that transforms individuals, structures, and the world.

Farewell Solzhenitsyn, and thank you.

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