The First Red Leaf of June

by Paul Gerhardt

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl recounts his experiences at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust. He tells of a young woman in the camp who knew that her days were numbered. Frankl writes:

It is a simple story. There is little to tell and it may sound as if I had invented it; but to me it seems like a poem. This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. “I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. “In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. “I often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here–I am here–I am life, eternal life.

Frankl’s suggestion that the story is like a poem has inspired this reflection. Fans of Jordan Peterson may note some familiar themes:

A spark of divinity here remains;

‘Twill not be consumed by fire.

What shall we offer; what shall it cost

To sing in the heavenly choir?

Has work not set free these lost, wand’ring souls

Who by corruption, have fallen so far?

Or is the fall in corruption itself,

And redemption in aiming for a star?

A sacrifice is demanded of us

But one choice it shall require:

A fork in the road; our fate has been sealed,

To face either fire or fire.

Twist upon twist in the fabric of nature

Now ends in the death of a youth.

But the first red leaf of June to descend,

By death, will vindicate truth.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other authors at Cogent Christianity.

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