The Movie: Schindler’s List, 1993 (Steven Zaillian, screenwriter, from the book by Thomas Keneally; Steven Spielberg, dir.)
Who says it: Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern, a Jewish accountant who runs the factory for Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson)
The context: Stern has helped Schindler compile a list of Jews to be saved as workers for Schindler’s factory; this is a quotation from the Talmud.
How to use it: To acknowledge the infinite value of each human life.
A lot will be said today about the people who died three years ago in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. That's important, but I want to acknowledge the thousands of people who survived. Thousands of people miraculously made it out of the towers alive; thousands more, including my friend John Erath, walked away from the Pentagon. We don't even know how many people lived because of the plane that went down in Pennsylvania.
It's impertinent for me to imagine the way it feels to be the one who lives through an event like that -- but I do anyway. That insane relief, followed by horror and an inevitable guilt -- and then, maybe, by a feeling that they must have been saved for something. Which is its own terrible burden.
Twenty people were saved from inside the towers' collapse, rescued from being buried alive. They were literally resurrected; how could they not feel they were saved for some reason?
That kind of thinking can be a curse as well as a blessing. Unless you join the Daughters of Charity, it's hard to know whether you're living a useful life, much less a life that fulfills some divine destiny.
But one of the points of human existence, I think, is that we can't know. Maybe it's enough just to be alive and present in one place at one moment. Maybe it's not our own individual survival that's important, but the survival of a great-grandchild who won't be born for another hundred years.
Oh, and for those of you following this continuing saga, my car was NOT ready yesterday. I wasn't even able to reach the guy at the repair shop, so this morning I'm driving (my rental car) over there. Stay tuned.