Saturday, November 5, 2011

Peter Bilezikian and Primo Levi: Empathy Can Kill

Marash Girl's dad, when asked why, as a young boy, he did not feel compassion for all of those who were suffering and dying around him in Marash during the Armenian Genocide, answered, "If I felt sorry for the others, I could not have survived.  I walked over dead people, watched children, stomachs bloated, drop dead from starvation . . ."  And he himself, who was always hungry, never allowed himself to feel hunger because he had gone hungry for so long.  He never felt compassion for himself.

At age 97, he still had the scar where the bullet shot at him in 1917 from the top of a minaret creased him across the top of his forehead on its way to murdering the woman who had refused him a piece of bread. (He finished all of the loaves she had been baking.) Perhaps that is the reason he could never refuse anyone who asked him for anything.

Fast forward 90 years.  David Sedaris, in his essay "Possession" (Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim),  quotes Primo Levi as saying, "If we were capable of taking in all of the suffering of all of those people [who suffered during the Holocaust], we would not be able to live." 

I think Peter said it before Primo Levi.


  1. (PART 1)
    Father had suffered through ‘the granite block of the darkness of days’ and yet I never once heard anger or bitterness escape his lips toward the perpetrators of the crime against our humanity. We were raised in a spirit of forgiveness that blew from the soul of our parents, souls in which the Holy Spirit had made residence and which liberated them from ‘the granite block of the darkness of days’.
    That was how and why dad never was able to refuse a call in the middle of the night in the dead of winter from somebody whose furnace or oil burner was no longer working. I knew that because the phone was in the corridor ten feet from the entrance to my bedroom. The ring would awaken me and I would hear my father speak, and the tone of his voice. He never complained. He got dressed, put on the layers necessary to survive the blizzard raging outside or the bitter cold of a forever winter’s night and like the Christian paladin he was, ride to the rescue of those stranded under a cold winter sky. Because he and his family were rescued so many times while trying to survive Marash and the war against humanity, as rescuer, it never occurred to dad to send a bill to those he rescued. Dad would have said Jesus rescued us from our bondage to sin, and never sent us a bill, because He paid for the rescuing and the sin on the cross of Calvary. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment. He said, ‘to love the lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and the second is unto the first, to love thy neighbor as thyself.’ Further on in the New Testament St. John declares that any man who says he loves God, but hates his neighbor, is a liar, and his father is the devil. Dad hated certain ideas and philosophies, but not people, not even the people who held those philosophies anathema to his thinking.

  2. PART 2:

    “When you are a Catholic, miracles happen.” This was the evangelism for Roman Catholicism that daddy would hear often enough from Johnny Flynn, a close friend, and one of the salesmen that frequented Newtonville Electrical Company, the business established, owned and operated by daddy and his brother, Uncle Paul. Johnny Flynn was six feet tall, 3 inches taller than my father, had those telltale Irish brown eyes that looked at home on the face of a boy, but always improbable on the face of an adult. He was a spare man with unsparing freckles over all his face, faded, then, from the onset of middle age. He was an average catholic for those days of the last years of the Korean War, if you counted the six children he had. Dad never took issue with Johnny Flynn’s declarations of miracles awaiting any who were blessed to be Roman Catholic or might become Roman Catholic, or his attempts at proselytizing dad. On Christmas Eve, 1951, dad got a call from a friend reporting that Flynn’s home had no heat, and had been that way for a couple of days. Dad wondered why he had not been told by Johnny, a good friend, and then he realized, no doubt, Flynn was too embarrassed to admit he did not have the funds to pay for a service call. Dad advised Harry Mooseghian, a protégé of his, to meet him late in the evening so they could embark on an adventure together. When it was dark enough and late enough, while Flynn’s family slept, the two snuck into the cellar of Flynn’s home, through the unlocked bulkhead doors. Sure enough, the culprit was a faulty oil burner. Dad returned to his store, found a model identical to the one Flynn had, stole back into the cellar a second time through the bulkhead doors, and exchanged the good oil burner for the ruined one. The following Friday, Johnny Flynn, visiting dad along with all the regulars that met there on late Friday afternoons for coffee and donuts, breathlessly recounted the tale of the miracle of waking up on Christmas morning, the week before, to a home well heated. For two days the Flynn family had shivered through the misery of December cold that hovered just above freezing, and on Christmas morning awakened to a home delivered and resurrected from the dead of winter. Johnny Flynn, flush with the proof of one more miracle in his life, and because of his deep affection for my father, tried again to convert Peter with, “When you are a Catholic, miracles happen.” Johnny Flynn went to his grave never knowing the story of his deliverance.
    Whether it was helping out widows locally, or Armenian orphans in Beirut, or anybody else the Lord called upon him to help, it was done quietly, always.
    Peter would be the first one to quote the following scriptures (Romans 8: verse 35, 37, 38, 39) as a testimony to where he was going following the death of his body.
    35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
    37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
    38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
    39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    Because Peter Bilezikian was one of the sheep in the pasture of our Lord Jesus Christ, The Great Shepherd, he knew that he would dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.