In 1942, the Nazis were actively and forcefully rounding up Jews in France. In the picturesque farming village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon (in southern France), Reformed Church minister Andre Trocme inspired an entire village to change lives. And, as it turns out, the world in which we live.
Each of the citizens of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon voluntarily risked their lives to hide Jews–in homes, on farms, and in public buildings; Jews who were being rounded up by the Nazi SS for shipment to the death camps. (It is said that there was not a single home in the village that did not shelter a Jewish family.) Le Chambon-sur-Lignon became known as the “City of Refuge.” Whenever Nazi patrols searched the village, the Jews were sent, surreptitiously, out into the woodland countryside. One of the villagers recalled, “As soon as the soldiers left, we would go into the forest and sing a song. When they heard that song, the Jews knew it was safe to come home.”
It is estimated that as many as five thousand lives were saved–many given passage to Switzerland. One reason for this display of compassion? These French villagers were descendants from the persecuted Protestant Huguenots. Their own history of persecution connected them to the plight of the Jewish people hiding in their homes.
Perhaps that is true, I do not know.
I only know that for whatever reason, the villagers choose love.
And the rest, well, the rest is history.
Two things about this story struck me.
One , the extraordinary power of compassion (and the courage to practice compassion in a world that measures and weighs and judges). Two, the power of love and music to bring each and every one of us, home. Home, the place where we are given value and love and dignity.
Some time ago I wrote a Sabbath Moment about the Gumboot Dance . A dance of life and joy that is born out of darkness and slavery and oppression. I have no idea what it’s like to be a slave. I have no idea what it’s like to be hunted down, in order to be killed. But these stories affect me. And these stories affect the way I live my life today.
You know what I wonder?
What song did the villagers sing?What kind of music represented freedom and well-being and love and home?
Or maybe it’s not that important. The song, I mean. Although, it is certainly our knee-jerk reaction to figure it out.
But maybe, just maybe, the song is compassion. Plain and simple.
Whatever it is, the song brings people out of hiding, out of unease, out of fear. And that, well that is music worth singing.
And if I’m honest, it makes me wonder if I have the courage to sing the song that will invite people–all people–in my world, to a safe place (without judgment or bigotry or prejudice).
I did an interview some time ago–ostensibly about health-care, but more about the reason that our public discourse has disintegrated into a shouting match. I wondered, aloud, if we have forgotten what the villagers knew: we belong to one another, and there is a song that brings each and every one of us home.
Sadly, I believe, we have buried the music in rhetoric.
We have buried the music in the need to be right.
We have buried the music in the need to win.
When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness to pray and listen until she hears the song of the child she bears. This tribe recognizes that every soul has its own vibration, expressing its unique flavor and purpose. Then the mother to be teaches the song to the other members of the tribe.
But there is one other occasion when the villagers sing this song. If at any time during his (or her) life, the person causes suffering to another member of the tribe, they gather in a circle and set him in the center. They sing the song, to remind him not of the wrong done, but of his own beauty and potential. When a child loses the way, it is love and not punishment that brings the lost one home.
I cannot tell you your song. But I can tell you this: you have one.
Count on it.
And if you sit still, you may hear it. Really.
It is the song that reminds us we are beautiful, when we feel ugly.
It is the song that tells us we are whole, when we feel broken.
It is the song that gives us the power to Gumboot Dance, when we feel shattered.
Yesterday I did a workshop in Tubac, AZ, about intimacy. I told the story about “the song.” And I told them about a woman who came to me for advice–regarding a “relationship issue.” I asked her, “Tell me; what did you do this week that was just for you? What did you do that was nourishing, reviving, replenishing, reaffirming?” (When do you hear your song?) Her puzzled look was her answer.Because here’s the deal: In order to be intimate, you need a self.
When I am close, I know you; when I am intimate, I know myself.
When I am close, I know you in my presence; when I am intimate, I know myself in your presence. In other words, I don’t need to walk into the relationship heavily defended… needing to impress or prove or fix or be rescued.
Oh the comfort, the inexplicable comfort of feeling safe with a person-having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping and then with a breath of kindness blow the rest away. Dina Craik