I first learned about Jacques through an autobiographical essay he wrote that was re-published in Self-Realization Magazine (SRM). It had a deep impact on me. A few weeks ago, I came across this old issue of SRM in my home library and decided to read Jacques’ words again. I then dug deeper, reading two of his books and emerging profoundly enriched. Today, I want to share Jacques’ story with you, most of it in his own words. By the end of it, perhaps you may feel, as I do, that in Jacques you have found a long-lost friend.
Jacques Lusseyran was born in Paris, France in 1924. When he was thirteen, Germany invaded Austria, and Jacques realized something serious was afoot. He decided to learn German, so he could understand the speeches and announcements of the ascendant Nazi Germany. His interpreter abilities were later to help him survive and serve his people during World War II. When France fell to the occupying force, he did not wish to live on the sidelines, so he set up a Resistance movement, the Volunteers of Liberty, while continuing his college studies. Within a year, it had gained six hundred members and created a newspaper to disseminate news about the war among the French. In 1943, Jacques was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp at Buchenwald. Of the 2,000 Frenchmen sent to Buchenwald, only thirty survived, including Jacques. After the war, he eventually became a college professor in the United States, teaching French literature, and wrote two books. While visiting France at the age of 47 in 1971, he died in a car accident along with his third wife.
What, you might ask, is so remarkable about Jacques’ story? There must no doubt be some heroic acts around the happenings of World War II, but many others also suffered this same fate and acted heroically. So why focus on Jacques?
What Makes Jacques’ Story Our Story
There is one defining moment I have not yet shared about Jacques’ life. Here is how he described it. “I am certain that children always know more than they are able to tell, and that makes the big difference between them and adults, who, at best, know only a fraction of what they say. The reason is simply that children know everything with their whole beings, while we know it only with our heads. When a child is threatened by sickness or trouble, he knows it right away, stops his games and takes refuge with his mother.
“In just this way, when I was seven years old, I realized that fate had a blow in store for me. It happened in the Easter holidays in Juvardeil, a little village in the Anjou where my maternal grandparents lived. We were about to go back to Paris and the buggy was already at the door to take us to the station."
“That day in the country, as the buggy was waiting and jingling its bells, I had stayed behind in the garden, by the corner of the barn, alone and in tears…I still feel [these tears] deeply whenever I think of them. I was crying because I was looking at the garden for the last time…I couldn’t say how, but there was absolutely no doubt."
“Sunlight on the paths, the two great box trees, the grape arbor, the rows of tomatoes, cucumbers and beans, all the familiar sights which had peopled my eyes, I was seeing for the last time. And I was aware of it. This was much more than childish sorrow and when my mother, after looking for me, finally found me and asked what the trouble was, I could only say: “I am never going to see the garden again.” Three weeks later it came about."
“On the third of May, I was at school as usual…At ten o’clock I jumped up with my classmates who were running for the door to the playground outside. In the scuffle, an older boy who was in a hurry came up from the back of the room and ran into me accidentally from behind…[I] lost my balance and fell, [striking] one of the sharp corners of the teacher’s desk…one arm of [my glasses] went deep into the tissue of the right eye and tore it away. I lost consciousness [and when I regained it, the] first thing that occurred to me, I remember vividly, was, “My eyes, where are my eyes?” I could hear frightened people around me talking in panic about my eyes.”
On that day, because of the injuries he sustained in both eyes, he became “completely and permanently blind.” All of Jacques’ accomplishments over the next forty years, in fighting German occupation as a fifteen-year old, surviving in a concentration camp and becoming a professor of literature, came without the ability to see. But it is not simply these achievements in his outer world that we can extol or learn from – it is his achievements in his inner world. For in his blindness, Jacques ended up seeing so much more than what most of us see every day.
And yet, you might resist. What do I have in common with a brave blind boy? Here is what Jacques may have said to you in response, as he wrote in his autobiography “Whenever we take the trouble to plumb the depths of an experience and extract from it all it contains, the simplest as well as the most hidden, we cease to speak of ourselves and ourselves alone. Instead, we enter the realm of the most precious, the realm of universal experience, which we share with all others.”
Jacques’ inner and outer quest for truth is indeed a universal experience. It makes his story our story. So, when you can, take a short break, brew yourself a warm cup of tea, and read on. (Click below to continue reading.)
© 2021 Hitendra Wadhwa. All rights reserved.
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