Whoever walks through the devastated streets of the bombed-out cities, whoever looks and shutters at the ruins of castles and churches.
In which the life feeling of great periods is reflected, whoever looks into the abyss of the hearts when death has ripped open... he may consider it presumptuous to speak about the joy of life as one of the invincible forces of the human soul. Perhaps the soldier has the greatest right to do exactly that: Not only for the sake of comfort, but from the living feeling of the reality from which the joy of life stands in contrast to the incalculable and the darkness, yes, which alone make them bearable. In the weeks of the new year, one could hear the sounds and hustle and bustle of carnival celebrations throughout our beautiful cities. Streets which once were alive with joyous throngs are now covered with the ashes of destroyed houses. Instead of decorations, one sees ruins strutting up over our heads. Men who once drank from the cup of life new lie under the earth or struggle with their gray and now serious faces in the loneliness of the battle for the existence of European culture. Women have fled far away to the farmyards and villages. Where does there remain a light, a thought, which can lead us back to the joy of life?
Perhaps we should discuss what the joy of life really is. Whoever seeks them only in external expression will hardly find them in war. Whoever cares only for the somewhat raw materialistic pleasures will be disappointed with the sparse remains... and claim that there is hardly anything worth living for anymore, or to praise this life for or to love. The deeper joy of life, however, is not dependent upon time and fate, not upon needs and bitterness. It is one of those quiet wonders, which God gives to those who are aware of his existence. It cannot be thrown upon us from outside. It lives within our essence and our being. It lives within us. The man who has it is rich even if he goes about in rags and lives in earth caves. Whoever lives in a palace and has all the expensive trappings in life is nonetheless the poorest guest upon this earth, if he does not have this genuine joy in life.
It begins with a simple consciousness of existence. There are men who after a good night’s sleep, look at the new day and complain because they stand before work and tasks. Others arise after a few hours of restless sleep with a hardly understandable feeling of contentment, glad about the reality of their life, and perhaps simply because it gives them breath, sight, feeling, hearing and thinking. The war has shown us in an amazing manner that our pleasure in the simple things in life can be much deeper and more meaningful than the once so highly praised “pleasures”. And this demonstrates genuine modesty and the capacity for strong feeling. Who could have explained to a soldier that nothing more than a clean bed, a thinly covered table, yes a short nap, a glass of wine, a pretty picture or an attractive girl walking by could fill him with such joy? And when we were home, somewhat bored and standing in front of a full rack of books, looking for a single book for a quiet hour... who could have told us that we would one day be able to forget the world and ourselves, the war, filth, suffering and even death... because a pleasant coincidence in an abandoned house in the east provided us with a badly torn up copy of an Eichendorff book? Who could have made us believe that one day, in a dark bunker, in worst cold and plagued by bugs, we could listen to the melody of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” by a faint light, and that we would fall into a dream of eternal beauty of the world and forget all of the terrors around us?
In such moments, the joy of life lights up around us like lightening... or like the soft light of a summer sunset. Whereas we once went through the well-lit streets of the city looking for pleasure, we now nearly loose our breath while looking at the radiant beauty of the starlit night, which strangely reflects against the moon, and this gives us an inner feeling of belonging to the universe. No one can be a more passionate disciple for the joy of life than the simple soldier, who is driven through the eternal fire of combat, who has walked through the wall of death and of horror and who is suddenly speechless as he stands before the still of an evening and sees the crops gently caressed by a soft wind. In such moments, he feels in the pounding of his own heart the glorious and wonderful life he has been given. A joy then flows through him, which cannot be compared with any other pleasure of this earth. And so, we appear to be rather modest, but only apparently, because such modesty at the same time is the highest claim we can demand from life.
At this hour, when the fate of the war most heavily tests our hearts, both at home and on the front, it appears to be a hopeless effort to speak about the joy of life. But courage belongs to joy no less than it does to struggle and death. To overcome death means to gain joy. Without that, our souls would have long collapsed under the great burden of their hardships. Without that, the women at home would have long been driven into the darkest, inescapable depression. This joy for life stands as a shining “nevertheless” above our hard-pressed people, against which bombs and phosphor are useless. A piece of childhood lives in it. Complacent bragging and blind ambition are strange to it. The love for nature and for people, for animals and for flowers, for music and for verse, for pictures and for art in stone end metal are all a part of it. It teaches us that whenever we lose something, we should look upon that which remains. It teaches us to recognize the meaning in every test.
Who would deny the joy that husband and wife find during their vacation days together. Who is able to claim that - during the bountiful days of peace with its everyday pleasures - he was able to so deeply feel the love of his wife, the joy of having children and a piece of security? And even if fate takes from us that which is most dear, the willingness to help again leads us back into the arms of life.