The Long View
The inner light of a man
As “God On Trial” draws to a close, the three-man tribunal meets to determine its verdict. The jurist recounts how he had never known his father, had never even known his father was a Jew, had lived as a “normal,” that is, a Jew-hating, German like many others. Until the day the government whose laws he had taught and upheld decreed he was a Jew and sent him to Auschwitz.
“Don’t let them take your God away from you too,” he implores the others. “Whether he exists or not, don’t let them take that away too.”
Yet all three decide to convict God for breach of contract. Which satisfies the prisoner who demanded the trial -until he is taken away to face the gas chambers, when, overcome by terror and despair, he asks the other rabbi, “What now?” The rabbi begins the prayer for the dead, and tells him, “All that is left is to pray.” And the man who demanded that God be put on trial begins to pray.
For some viewers of the film, this scene is a demonstration of the impotence of intellect, and of reason, and a demonstration of faith as total surrender to God. For others, of the weakness of human nature – there are no atheists in foxholes.
One of my favorite snippets from “Voices: 1870-1914,” a collection of literary and historical odds and ends by Peter Vansittart:
“What,” the head of a tribunal established by the Paris Commune of 1871 asked the Jesuit on trial, “is your occupation?”
“Servant of God,” defiantly replied the Jesuit.
“And what,” he was asked, “is your employer’s address?”
“He exists everywhere,” came the Jesuit’s reply.
“Take this down,” the head of the tribunal instructed the clerk. “The accused, claiming to be servant of one God, vagrant.”
The irreligious, or anti-religious, have no problems both mocking and dismissing faith. But let me put forward something proposed by Tzvetan Todorov in his book, “Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps.” He quotes a Soviet Jewish writer, Vasily Grossman, who pointed out that while there is, undeniably, both good and evil, there is also something else: “everyday human kindness,” which reveals itself even under the most horrific conditions. The kind shown by “an old woman carrying a piece of bread to a prisoner, the kindness of a soldier allowing a wounded enemy to drink from his water-flask, the kindness towards age, the kindness of a peasant hiding an old Jew in his hayloft.”
There is humanity as perpetrator of pogroms; there is humanity as victims of death camps; there is the human as sadist, as martyr; but also, the human as example of temperance, of mercy – an exemplar, not always, but in the way that matters, perhaps only once, but once when it counted.
And so, for me, one brief incident crystallizes the essential Joe Orosa. We were discussing a project over dinner. Work is not intrinsically incompatible with pleasure – Tito Joe thoroughly enjoyed his food – and there is something about sharing a meal that provides ample opportunities for getting a glimpse of the true nature of a man. He was obviously enjoying both the company and his meal, and in particular, had a merry twinkle in his eyes as he let his wife take center stage. He was basking in her enthusiasms.
Marily Orosa is a person of strong opinions and, opinions being my bread and butter, I didn’t hesitate to share a pretty strong one about the lack of honesty of a political figure then in the headlines. Joe Orosa looked up from his food, pursed his lips ever so slightly and said softly to me as he shook his head, “And what if he is not?”
I can’t explain why I found his gentle reproach to be such a powerful one, at the time, and since, except that it came from a man whose integrity I never doubted, concerning someone else whose integrity no one, I’m sure not even “Tito” Uncle Joe, ever considered to have existed at all. All I can say is, when a decent man makes a decent response to what, after all, may be an essential truth, I can only say that by such small asides and gentle reproaches do you learn that there are really people who can hate the sin, but love the sinner. By doing so, the distinction between being self-righteous (a particular aspect of the Sin of Pride writers are prone to committing) and simply being righteous becomes as clear as day.
Of course, there were other incidents in which I saw Joe Orosa gently, but firmly, laying down the line and drawing a dividing line between what was acceptable and what he would never do. What struck me as particularly admirable was that he always did so, not from the perspective of thwarting others, but simply from the point of view of what was the fundamentally correct thing to do, and what’s more, that if one stuck to one’s path, others would not find it difficult to tread that path, as well.
He was polite without being unctuous, polished without being pretentious, guided by faith but never intolerant, successful without being ruthless, firm without being fanatical. In the projects I had the privilege of working with him on in Studio5, the company he and his wife ran, and where he attended to business and served as the ultimate editor, as his wife did the schmoozing, the selling, and endless follow-ups publishing requires.
This man – he who would be hunched over an ordinary conference table, not even bothering with a desk, peering at manuscripts, and who could improve them without anyone, writers, most of all, being able to pinpoint how he did it, but which he did, book after book. His touch was ever-present but somehow, so imperceptibly; surely in his work as in his life, his Creator could ask for no finer, living, prayer?
So with his passing, the words of Paul, writing of his own ministry in his second letter to Timothy, seems to me the most suitable epitaph for Jose de Santos Orosa:
For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
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Marily Orosa’s blog is at http://marilyo.multiply.com/journal.