Many of you know that I have spent nearly three years writing a play based on the life and ideas of Eva Mozes Kor. Eva is a forgiveness advocate who survived the blackness and requiem of the Holocaust in Auschwitz when she was 10-years-old. The play, Throwing Stones, weaves in and out of the lives of perpetrators and victims, dipping into darkness and climbing into light. This blog entry is not about the play itself. It is about my struggle to let go of the play and finding a new relationship with the piece itself.
Stepping into the world of Auschwitz, both literally and through the ushering of survivors’ first-hand memories, as well as through books, documentaries and any number of Holocaust scholars I have met along the way, has been like walking through a haunted house. Please allow the metaphor to do its full work in your imagination: haunted houses can either be dark, lonely places weighted with cobwebs, dust and the occasional flickering light or they can look like any ordinary well-kept home filled with sunshine and the scent of freshly brewed coffee. The latter of the two is—in my mind—more terrifying. The normal places that look bright but feel heavy. Think more Poltergeist than The Haunted Mansion. Walking through the remnants of the Holocaust has been like walking through an average looking home on an average day and being slowly bound by invisible chains from ghosts hiding under tightly made beds, hiding in closets full of clothes and grabbing my wrists from inside stocked refrigerators. The ghosts of the past have lived with me for nearly three years.
There have also been ghosts from my own past, whose stories are also in the play, who have set up invisible tents in my living room and in the backseat of my car. I have allowed myself to face them, talk to them through dialogue on the page, to make the connections between their faces, words and actions in the past and my own face, words and actions in the present. Their names have been filling the cavernous parts of my mind and spilling through my fingers. Names I would have preferred to forget in the first place. Faces I would have preferred only to see in the light of day have been winking at me in the darkness of memories I would rather consign to disregard. I have allowed them to haunt my space for nearly three years for the purpose of gathering all the details I could and sharing those details in the context of forgiveness.
Now, the play has been written. It began as a one-woman show in which I was to play 7 men and 8 women. After the first read in front of a director we decided that the play needed more voices. So, Throwing Stones became a 4-person play. That sentence makes it look so easy! As though the play simply morphed itself into a new version of its former self. The truth is that the play is on its 21st and almost-final version. I share this statistic with you not to amaze you but to add a weight to the scale of how much space these stories have been given in my daily life. And now, the play has been written. And now, I can let it go.
And now, I can let it go. But how?
Since realizing the play is “finished,” as finished as any work of Theatre can be “finished,” I have struggled through several weeks of depression. It was difficult for me to understand why I was feeling so low, so lost. I could not understand why I did not feel the will to celebrate the completion of the work. Instead, my house was still haunted and I realized that these ghosts had been floating about my house with a purpose, attached to my fingertips like ceramic horses are attached to the center pole of a merry-go-round. For nearly three years I scowled at them, tried to look the other way, I rode atop of them, I smashed them and cried with them. All the while, they spun around me.
And now I can let them go.
Through the help of a brilliant mind, I realized that sitting with the pain of these stories held a purpose. Sitting in the center of the merry-go-round, exhausting the view of each horse from every angle was courageous. I do not mark myself with this word, “courageous” as an act of pride. Instead, I mark myself with this word in an act of low-bowing humility before God. He gave me the strength, the time, the purpose and the will to call each ghost to attention and to march them through the pages of my play like a reluctant army of rebel soldiers fighting a war against hate, bitterness and unforgiveness. And now I can celebrate the courage.
This courage is the same brand of courage with which I must now trust that the play is in the right hands. I can now tether the boney fingers of each ghost to the pages of the script, contained not in a coffin, which seals in death, but in a living story that will be told for generations to come. A story of forgiveness, letting go, finding freedom: redemption.
I used to watch a lot of scary movies as a child. If there is one thing I know about bad guys and ghosts it is this: they cannot withstand the light. My purpose in writing this play was to shine a light into dark places. May it ever be a torch to those whose houses are haunted and to those who choose to face the enemy and forgive.
–Jill Szoo Wilson