- Michael Milgraum
I recently wrote an Afterword to my psychospiritual novel Never Forget My Soul. The Afterword was printed in the new version of the book, which came out at the end of last year. The complete text to the Afterword is below:
Some people have asked me why I named this book Never Forget My Soul. Perhaps something my daughter said, when she was seven years old, provides the best answer. I remember it like it was today. There she was, in all of her innocence and beauty, lounging in her bed after a good night’s sleep. Wanting to share with her my enjoyment of her presence, I said to her, “You’re such a cutie face!”
She responded to me, saying, “People think that people are things, but they’re not.”
Intrigued by her observation, I asked her, “Then what are they?”
She thought for a moment and answered, “They’re creations.”
Wisdom from the mouths of babes, indeed!
The history of the world has been a battle between one faction that believes that people are things and the other that believes that they are creations. What is a creation? It is something unique, singular, into which the creator pours his vision and energy, in order to bring it to fruition. Creations are the result of the organized, deliberate force of a creator, who invests his care and effort, in order for the creation to come into being. Creations are the progeny of love. Anyone who appreciates the love invested in a creation will naturally honor it, because it is natural for the human spirit to honor love. Each of us, as a creation of God, is of inestimable value, a work of art, to be appreciated, protected and cherished. This has certainly been the perspective of my own spiritual heritage, Judaism, which has stood, since the very dawn of civilization, proclaiming that we are creations, made in the image of God.
The opposing faction has also existed since the dawn of civilization. This faction has found the “individual dignity” view to be a major inconvenience, and has indeed preferred to see people as things. “Things” are interchangeable and dispensable. They are a means to an end. They can be attacked, maimed and killed if they get in one's way. The Nazi propaganda and death machine, described in this book, is yet another tragic page in a long history of thugs exploiting others, in the pursuit of an unquenchable thirst for power.
And yet, there was something special about the Nazi insanity that makes it stand out in the vast array of despots who were intent on ignoring and crushing human dignity. The Nazi purpose was not just to enslave people; rather, it was a war specifically against Judaism, that ancient voice proclaiming that men are creations and cannot be treated as things. To the Nazi, the highest law is the law of nature, which says that the strong survive and the weak succumb. But to the Jew, there is a higher law− God’s law, telling each of us that we are not the center of the universe, that we have responsibility for the wellbeing of others, that kindness is more precious than power and that a life without morality is a shadow of a life. Hitler blamed the Jew for bringing morality to humanity. His war against the Jews was an attempt to uproot morality from its source, so that his dark empire could pursue its bloodthirsty aims unimpeded.
Ever since the world became aware of the horrors of the Holocaust, the rallying cry of all enlightened humanity has been that we must never forget. But "never forget" what? Certainly not just the death, horror and destruction. Yes, we must remember the unimaginable magnitude of the losses, the suffering, the collective trauma of a whole generation and the generations that followed. And we must honor the fallen. But we must do more, because memorial services will not change the world, will not uproot cruelty and injustice, will not crush the armies of hatred. What is it that we must we never forget? We must never forget the Jewish spiritual heritage that Hitler so vehemently wanted to crush that he undermined his own war efforts, using dwindling resources, in order to ensure that the death trains kept running on time. We must remember that each of us is a creation. We must remember that we each have a soul, which bears the mark of the Creator's love and which calls out to us to nurture, protect, and listen to this divine spark. We must hear the anguished cry of each person in need or in pain, begging us to “never forget my soul.”
Furthermore, we must affirm the preciousness of our own and others' souls not just in the face of the armies of tyranny. We must courageously cleave to the soul, while the vast thrust of Western culture urges us to forget it. We must defy the fashion and beauty industry and celebrity images which objectify women. We must strive for islands of peace and reflection, rather than obsession with our portable screens. We must remember that emotions are a reflection of the human soul and that not every uncomfortable feeling needs to be suppressed with medication. And we must affirm that we are not merely animals, fulfilling our urges, but souls with a mission to do good in this world, thereby honoring our Creator.
God is the creator of all things, so how is humanity special in the array of all that He has created? The answer lies in my earlier reference to the idea of humanity being created in the image of God. What does that mean—“image of God?” I believe it means that, among other things, that just as God uses His intelligence and will to create, so do we. This creative power is at the very core of man and pervades all that we do. In writing this book, I thought that the group therapy process could be a very powerful vehicle to demonstrate how man is constantly creating. We create our world by how we chose to see it, whom we interact with, what we ignore and what we engage with. As the group members take risks to share themselves more fully or listen in a different way, they are creating new versions of themselves, growing and discovering new possibilities that they may never have thought possible. In an age that views psychological problems as merely disordered neurochemistry, we need to never forget our souls, which yearn for growth, recognition, and a more meaningful engagement with life.
Writing Never Forget My Soul has been an incredible journey for me—an opportunity for growth and a chance to connect with so many people in a new way. I have traveled the United States, telling people about my work, trying to remind them to listen to their souls.
Last year, I had a street-side booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival and enjoyed such meaningful interactions with passersby, who were intrigued by the themes of trauma, spirituality and healing discussed in my book. An African-American woman approached me and said that her son had been shot a year ago. It was a loss that, understandably, had taken her the good part of a year to come to terms with. Many children of Holocaust survivors stopped by too, just to let me know that they, like me, faced this question: “What is our source of hope, soothing, and meaning, now, having such a legacy?” A substitute teacher from the New York City school system spoke to me in tears, telling me that it breaks her heart to see the cycle of poverty, ignorance, drugs, and violence that destroys young lives. A self-proclaimed atheist stopped by to ask me what my definition of spirituality was. We agreed that it involved connecting with something that is greater than oneself and that it brings one a feeling of elevation, beauty, and inspiration that transcends the mind. He denied the existence of God, but I believe this man too was seeking a perspective that affirmed… well, that he is not a thing.
That day at the festival drove home for me a fundamental truth, one which we all should ponder: Those people you pass on the street today—any one of them—could be one of the people who stopped at my booth, one of those who opened up about loss, pain, despair, longing, and hope. So many of us are in such a rush. How often do we get angry at people who “get in our way,” obstructing our path to our “very important” goals? If we remember that these people too are creations and not things, then we may see them and ourselves in an entirely different way. And if we can spread the word, so that enough people share this perspective, then we just may create a world where a holocaust can never happen again.