Friday Book Club: The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger.
Thanks to those of you who’ve made the trek down to Baja to spend a few spacious weeks with us for Sabbatical Sessions. Fernando Vazquez made the trip from Mexico City and brought me a few books (much appreciated by this bookaholic who still hasn’t figured out how Amazon can deliver to our dusty street with no name) including this New York Times bestseller.
While this heralded and eloquent memoir has gotten quite a bit of attention for its gripping Holocaust story, it is the subtitle of the book “Embrace the Possible” that led me to choosing it for today’s book club. There are few books I’ve read that personally embrace the idea of growth mindset (without using that term in the book) more than this one. It is a memoir forged on the foundation of forgiveness, resilience, autonomy, and generosity written by a wise psychologist later in her life.
When Eger was 16, Josef Mengele, the abhorrent Auschwitz physician, made horrific choices for Eger. He chose for Eger to live and sent her parents to die. That same day, he chose Eger to dance “The Blue Danube” for his entertainment. Although a prisoner, Eger infused that dance with all the joy that dancing always brought her. Mengele gave her a loaf of bread as a reward for her bravura performance. Eger shared the loaf with the other prisoners, and later, a girl who had eaten that bread chose to help Eger, saving her life as a result. The ability to choose, even though those choices were circumscribed by an electrified fence, gave Eger the strength to survive.
After the war, she repressed these memories to spare others the pain of her experience. Wracked with guilt for having survived when so many perished, Eger watched her marriage crumble. Another choice confronted her: Stay mired in the past, or face it and learn to live in the present. Her journey took her back to Auschwitz, where she unlocked the last and darkest memory of that first day, and forgave not only her tormentors but also, and most importantly, herself.
What I take from this book is that we can find grace and live graciously in the wake of the worst of circumstances. This is part of the reason I’ve always been drawn to Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” as well. But, “The Choice” is also a book about purpose and legacy so it’s in tune with many of the principles of MEA regarding how we use the second half of our adulthood to cultivate and harvest our wisdom for the sake of giving back to others.
At the end of chapter 13 when Eger is introduced to Frankl’s book, she recites this passage from his book, “Everything can be take from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” She continues in her own voice, “Each moment is a choice. No matter how frustrating or boring or constraining or painful or oppressive our experience, we can always choose how we respond. And I finally begin to understand that I, too, have a choice. This realization will change my life.”