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rolling up the sleves“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” – Rumi [Tweet this.]

Have you ever looked at a family, a gentleman, a lady, a total stranger and thought, “I wonder what their story is?”

Maybe it was in their look, his limp, her quiet smile or astonishing gift, but something about them made you curious. Something about them….

Ah, but we get busy. So we get back to work, back to our meal, back to the email, back to our life without pausing and learning more about their story.

My friends, this was my experience last Tuesday. Through a connection of a new friend who joined us at LAUNCH, I was able to meet Ben Fainer. Yes, Ben Fainer!

Oh, you never heard of him?

Well, neither had anyone else in the restaurant that stared at us as we laughed, cried, shared, listened, hugged and rejoiced during our meal together. Let me share briefly the amazing story and life of this man.

In meeting Ben you know immediately there is something different about him. His eyes sparkle, his hands remain strong, his 84 years are masked by a continuous, boyish grin. He has a beautiful accent that marries his homeland of Poland with his teenage years in Ireland. But it’s not until you hear his story that you realize why this man is such a treasure.

At age nine Ben’s town of Bedzien was taken three days after the Nazis invaded Poland. His family was dragged from their house and forced to line up with their neighbors. The Nazi officer sent his mother and siblings left, to Auschwitz. Ben was sent to the right, to labor camps. The momentary glance back at his mother would be the last time he’d ever see her or his siblings. 

This little nine-year-old got on a train and was taken to a labor camp. In these camps Ben was beaten, starved, and forced to work. It was in these camps that hundreds of times during his six years in confinement he had to crawl over lifeless friends to get outside and begin his workday. And it was in these camps that Ben decided, as he told me at lunch, that the Nazis could kill his family and friends and hurt him physically, but they sure as hell weren’t going to break his spirit.

Liberated in 1945 by the US Army, Ben is the longest known survivor of the labor camps: over 2,000 days.

After he was liberated he spent years in Dublin, then Canada, and in 1957, he moved to the US. Through all the moves and miles and relationships, he never told anyone what he’d endured. He didn’t even tell his children. He wore long sleeves year round so others would not see the number the Nazis tattooed on his forearm.

It was his secret.

Ben slowly began embracing his story after the death of his wife, Susan, whom he described as his confidant and angel. After six decades of keeping his silence and working hard as a tailor, Ben retired and began offering details to family that had always been curious (they never fully bought the excuse he’d offered that the number on his forearm was his telephone number growing up.) He began speaking at Holocaust memorials and military events. He even wrote an outstanding book called Silent for 60 Years.

What has amazed Ben most about sharing his story is the impact it has had on others. He assumed the story of a simple tailor would not impact anyone beyond his family. He was wrong. He was surprised and humbled by the emotions they showed, the love they offered, and the new relationships that formed.

My friends, we all have stories. Not all of us bear the mark of an unfathomable crime against humanity like Ben. Not all of us have physical scars from past experiences. But we all have stories that are worthy of being lifted up, embraced and shared. [Tweet this.]

In boldly owning, embracing and celebrating your story you are gifted in not only living authentically, but in breathing life and possibility into those lucky enough to know you.

For you see, your wounds are the place where the light enters you. And they’re also the place that reminds others of the unbelievable gift within their lives.

So roll up your sleeves, lift up your story, and know the best is yet to come.

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