I cannot turn away and leave them to their fate.
I will not turn away, myself alone to save.
These are the closing lines of a story from my series (in)humanity. The story is my version of Raoul Wallenberg's response to the cries for liberation from Jews in Budapest. They are the final words I give to the story's central character.
This week I have been polishing my composition of this story, a work that was begun three or four years ago. In recent weeks, I have finally found the shape that sits comfortably in my voice, my body, my emotions. As occasions arise for the telling of these stories, audiences come before me with whom I can bring these stories to life, I have found that gradually, the stories for (in)humanity are taking their shape, taking their place in the collection.
For 'war. eickmann v wallenberg' the conversation partner has been New Kilpatrick church in Bearsden, Glasgow, where I will be sharing this story and one or two others from (in)humanity this Sunday. They'll be exploring stories from the book of Exodus, stories of liberation, with which this and others from (in)humanity will engage with their themes of fear and love, persecution and liberation, war and peace.
So it was that this morning I was rehearsing this story of Raoul Wallenberg inspiring a huge effort to save the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest at the end of World War II, the story of John Newton writing Amazing Grace as he remembered the storms of life at sea on slave trading ships, and the spoken word ode to St Magnus of Orkney who laid down his life in order that peace might come to his island home.
Then, this afternoon, I attended a workshop at The Scottish Storytelling Centre at which the theme of wonder was to be explored in light of inter-faith conversations. Much of (in)humanity touches on the fear of difference between people of different faiths that leads humans to cause harm to each other, and the love that transcends difference to celebrate our shared humanity and inspire great acts of courage and generosity. As we discussed the last publication of Gerry Hughes, Jesuit priest and a leading thinker and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, Cry of Wonder, it became evident that he saw fear as inhibiting our embrace of wonder and gratitude in response to the gift of God's love.
And I saw one moment from my story of Raoul Wallenberg from a new perspective. I saw his devotion to liberating the Jews of Budapest as inspired by wonder – the simple and profound wonder at these humans who persevere, who hope, in the face of repeated oppression and persecution across generations and places. His wonder at humans, his delight that they are, is an expression of love for fellow humans, and it is so profound that he cannot turn his back on them when the danger to himself increases quite alarmingly.
At which point I am always reminded of the story of Jesus, who in John's telling of the story speaks these fairly well known words: greater have has no one than to lay down their life for their friends.
To see strangers as 'friends'. This is what Wallenberg's wonder at the Jews he meets does for him. Wonder transforms the way he sees the 'other', to see them as wonder-full, beloved, precious. And he does all he can to protect as many as he can. He lays down his life for his 'friends' – neighbours, brothers and sisters. Fellow humans.
The stories of (in)humanity are in many ways really difficult stories to continue to live with, rehearsing them every day or two, entering into the vicious vindictiveness of the Nazi soldier Eickmann, the remembering of slave trading, the deaths and betrayals, the fear. But to be constantly in conversation with these stories of love, hope, the stunning best of humanity makes the practice so worthwhile. And I want to share the stories with more people, to inspire us to live not according to fear, but according to love.
To not turn away and leave our friends, neighbours, sisters and brothers to their fate.
To not turn away, ourselves alone to save.