Erich Maria Remarque was a German novelist best known for his work “All Quiet on the Western Front” which was made into a very successful war movie. My favorite novel by him, however, was “The Spark of Life,” which deals with the lives of German political prisoners in concentration camps. Too weak to provide forced labor, the prisoners are held in a small labor camp where they are expected to die. The story focuses upon prisoner “509” and five other prisoners. 509 believes that the Allies are winning the war against Germany and is aware that a town close to the camp is being bombed by Allied aircraft.

Sensing that they will be freed by the Allied troops, the prisoners launch a resistance against the guards.

The book is fictional, but gruesome in its depiction of the evils of war. To me, however, the true meaning of the novel is in its name, The Spark of Life. What was the spark of life to 509 and the other prisoners? In one chapter of the book, 509 and his fellow prisoners are encouraged to continue their resistance when they see that a nearby building they have admired for months is still standing, only to discover upon their departure from the prison that what they saw was one wall of the building; in fact, the entire structure but that one wall had been destroyed. But, to 509 and the others that wall provided the hope they required to continue their fight. It infused them with hope and the desire to press on. The Spark of Life was, and is, Hope.

In our non-fictional lives, hope is the spark that enables us to push forward. We all have relatives or friends who have health, family or relationship problems. Some of them persevere because someone has given them hope to continue on in their lives, a doctor, family member or friend who has provided hope that their difficulty will be dealt with successfully. If you have a serious condition and have no reason to believe that it will be cured, there is no question that some part, or all of you, will die without the hope of being able to overcome it.

I guess the lesson to be derived from the book and the meaning of its title is that each of us needs to try to provide hope to those who feel alone in their fight to conquer some issue they are facing. Indeed, that is why we live in societies and not alone on our individual islands. So, be aware, be kind and help someone by being there to provide The Spark of Life.

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