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Posted By Opening the Heart

I just finished a book called "The Long Walk" by Slavomir Rawicz. Slav, the author, was an officer in the Polish infantry and he was rounded up by the Russians in 1941 and was tortured for months and tried as a spy in Moscow. Then, when he would not "confess", he was sentenced to 25 years in a gulag prison camp in Siberia. In mid-winter he and 5000 other political prisoners were transported by train, in unheated boxcars, for 3000 miles to Yakutsk in Siberia. About 1 in 5 prisoners died from starvation, exposure and execution before they reached the end of the railway line. Then they were marched by foot in mid-December 300 miles to "Camp 303" where they were forced to build crude barracks for themselves.

It was 2 months before Slav and 6 handpicked fellow prisoners escaped and walked south- for four thousand miles- to freedom. They went through Mongolia, then crossed the Gobi desert with little food, water or supplies. They walked across the Himalayas, through Tibet and into India 14 months after escaping.

It was not just the amazing saga of their survival that touched me, but it was how they survived. After having been falsely charged, tortured and dehumanized by a brutal Stalinist regime, I would not have judged them if they had turned into soulless killers, reaching for survival at any cost. But in that 4000 mile walk they never harmed one person, never took another man's belongings. These 7 men formed a bond, a community of caring, who nurtured and loved one another to keep going when every instinct of body and spirit cried to just lie down, close ones eyes and die. How did they do this? How do we keep walking toward freedom, toward the holy, when the demons pull so strongly at our ankles?<

Some years ago a man in his 90's, using a walker, came to the OTH workshop because he had just lost his wife of 68 years. He had fallen in love with her in the 4th grade. His heart was broken, his life turned upside down, he was lost and said he just wanted to die, to "join her".  Someone during the workshop asked him "How do you keep a marriage together of 68 years?" He paused, remembered something deep, smiled, and said "I looked in the mirror every day and said four words: 'You're no bargain either! " What was it that compelled him to make the extaordinary effort to come to a weekend long workshop with strangers to try to reach higher ground?

After losses and challenges like these, how does someone keep going, re-connect with a community of loving friends and family and even re-embrace their sense of humor?

I don't really know how some of us keep walking to this higher ground. Maybe Victor Frankl was right about his experience at Aushwitz: "The greatest secret of human poetry and human thought is that the salvation of man is through love and in love". Maybe that's it.

I don't really know, but each time i am graced to see it, I bow deeply.

With Love and Respect, Jon