Tuesday, August 27, 2013
We're Marching to Zion
a few days ago, my wife and i watched the way back, a movie inspired by the book, the long walk, by slavomir rawicz. since i haven't read the book, i can't say how faithful the movie is to rawicz's account of his journey of escape from the siberian labor camp where he was imprisoned. i found the movie inspiring, and i'm sure the book is no less so. in this story, which begins during the second world war, a group of men of various nationalities find themselves bound together in their desire to escape the hell in which they are imprisoned.
once they have managed to flee into the bitter siberian winter, the camp authorities have little interest in capturing them, believing that the freezing weather will end their lives, and one of the escapees soon becomes separated from the others and dies from exposure within sight of their campfire. along the way, a polish woman who has escaped from a soviet collective farm joins them.
ultimately the group makes it way to the mongolian border, where one of the men, a russian criminal, turns back, unable to bring himself to leave his homeland, preferring prison there to freedom somewhere else. the rest begin a difficult trek across the gobi desert. the polish woman and one of the men die in the desert. the rest of the group continue, crossing the himalayas with the assistance of tibetans who befriend them. finally, they reach india and are able to return to the west.
the man who i admired most was a polish soldier. i'm sure his character is based on the book's author. he was sent to the gulag from communist-occupied poland because his wife was tortured until she went along with the stalinist authorities by testifying that her husband was a saboteur and a spy. he is driven onward throughout his long journey by the desire to be reunited with his wife so that he can let her know that he understands why she condemned him to imprisonment. his heart is so full of love and forgiveness that he must free her from the prison of guilt in which he knows she is suffering.
at the end of the movie, the two are finally reunited, but not until the end of communist dominance in poland many years after the end of the war. we see them as an elderly couple, the man taking the woman's hand in his to convey the compassion he has for her. this man could have given in to hatred and bitterness, blaming his wife for the hardships that were inflicted on him, but from the start of his ordeal, his first concern is his wife. when he is interrogated in his wife's presence, his interrogator taunts him with her testimony, but he doesn't lash out at her. instead he asks his interrogator, "what have you done to her to cause her to give this false testimony?" he carries his compassion for her throughout his long struggle, always encouraging his fellow escapees to move forward, refusing to let them give in to discouragement.
my prayer for each of us today is that we look beyond the suffering that we endure, seeing that our suffering is not inflicted by others, but rather by our own clinging to a false vision of what ought to be. may our compassion for the suffering of others propel us forward, just as the polish officer was motivated in his journey by compassion for his wife's suffering. shalom.