Today, I’d like to share a very personal story. A story told at a University of Toronto commencement address in the 1980s (which year eludes me – I’m getting old!) by Gyorgy Faludy. My mentor – an Hungarian poet, writer, educator, thinker without equal. Read more about Faludy here. Here are some photos of his last days – 96 and loving life with his 30 year old bride. I highly recommend his poetry and especially his autobiography - “My Happy Days in Hell”. More poetry here.
Faludy recounted his days in the early 1950s in one of Stalin’s concentration camps. He tells us teachers the true meaning of our profession, the true “coal” that burns and steams our engines.
“People were dying every day. They’d come in and drag them out daily.New inmates would take their place. Sometimes, men just walked into the mist and fell down – for no apparent reason.
Somehow word got around camp that “Faludi”, the poet was there. Inmates kept coming up to me and getting me to recite some of my verses. My own or Villon (for my translations were well known) or Shakespeare etc…). Soon enough I was holding a daily session in the courtyard. Ragged, thin as a whisker men would listen in rapture. And soon enough, we began talking about the poems, then talking about other ideas. Soon enough, we were all expounding on our own fields of knowledge. One inmate was a specialist in physics – he told us of Newton and the wonders of the sub atomic world. One inmate was a painter. He’d tell us about his beloved Matisse. Hours of tales of this amazing man.
Other inmates ridiculed us, scorned our group. However, it continued to grow despite the bullying and derision. We’d meet and discuss.
And a funny thing I realized. The men they were taking away, dead, gone, every morning —– they weren’t from our group. Somehow, the curiosity and hunger for knowledge, somehow this community of “knowing” was an invisible shield keeping away the grim reaper. It was sustaining and it will always sustain those who follow its light. I survived the camp. You can too.”