Written By: Erica Anderson Reviewed Edition: Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1964 Hardcover, 152 pages No ISBN Shown Quotes Table of Contents
Erica Anderson admired Schweitzer immensely, and her book is interesting
both for its insights into Schweitzer's life and in its description of
her dedication to her film project. It is well written and includes
30 pages of photographs, including a few rare pictures of Schweitzer at
ease in front of the camera. Her film Albert Schweitzer won
the 1957 Academy Award for best documentary. (I would appreciate
any pointer to a videotape copy of it.) Although her book ends with
Schweitzer's viewing of the film in 1958, her friendship with Schweitzer
continued, and upon her death she was buried at Lambarene.
"One day a patient who has been dismissed as cured breaks into the pharmacy and steals some drugs. Schweitzer does not tell the police. He merely tells the thief in no uncertain terms never to return to the hospital settlement again. And yet, when the man later comes back sick, he is of course given treatment."
[After suggesting that Anderson stop smoking and save the money]
"'I once smoked even more than you do,' Schweitzer says, 'It was terrible. I smoked heavily and I smoked everything I could get my hands on--cigars, cigarettes, and pipes. When I was studying at the university, I could not even put a thought down on paper without being swathed in a cloud of smoke. Eventually, I could not even get out of bed in the morning without having a smoke first. Then I said to myself, 'This thing has got out of hand.' I did not give it up, though, until the turn of the century. I was in Paris, and on the evening of the last day of the year 1899, I threw out my cigarettes and cigars. Then I cleaned my pipes, put them away, and promised myself never to draw another breath of smoke the rest of my life.'
'Do you mean you haven't smoked since?' I ask.
'Of course not,' he says, with a beautiful childlike naive expression, as if it were the most natural, the only way."
[Mlle. Kottman, an assistant of Schweitzer's at Lambarene, after Anderson noted how refreshed Schweitzer appeared in the evening after being very tired during dinner. ]
"She replies that the secret of his vitality is the frequency with which he shifts from one activity to another. When he's tired of writing, he goes out and works in the hot sun, building. When his feet are dragging from outdoor labor, he changes into his organ shoes and practices at the piano. When fatigue strikes him there, he returns to some desk work. Employing this rotating schedule, he's continually refreshed, instead of tired, by each new activity."
"While in Gunsbach, Jerome [Hill, her sponsor for the film] and I are struck by the number of people who keep streaming into the Schweitzer house. They come from everywhere--neighbors and friends from the valley, from the nearby cities--Colmar, Strasbourg, Mulhouse, and Paris. But there are almost as many from other countries, too, from Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, India, England, America...a constant flow. And Schweitzer is always ready to receive anyone who has a question to pose, a problem to discuss, whatever it might be. He remarks that the reason he became a minister instead of striving for a professorial career was simply to have a more personal and daily contact with people than the academic life would permit. Even now, while he is home, he is asked to aid all kinds of human suffering. A father comes to him, in deep despair about placing his Mongoloid child in a mental home; a young bride terribly disillusioned by her marriage; a lonely widow. Schweitzer offers far more than general advice. There is something deeply and distinctly personal in his dealings with people. When the widow is leaving him, for instance, Schweitzer follows her a few steps away from the house. 'This is the spot where your husband said good-by to me for the last time,' Schweitzer tells her gently. For some astonishing, inexplicable reason, he remembers the day, the month, and the year of the event, though it happened thirteen years ago!"
[In Gunsbach, for the screening of her film]
"'Please let's go,' I beg. 'I want you to have a good seat.'
'Don't worry about that,' Schweitzer replies. 'They will have reserved a seat of honor for me, and that's precisely what I do not like. That's why I want to get there late. I want to sit among the townsfolk. I am one of them.'
When we reach Munster, the bells of the church are ringing.
'We'll get out here and walk to the cinema,' Schweitzer says. 'I don't want to drive up to the door, like some celebrated statesman.'
I park the car under the linden trees in the square, and we walk over to the movie house where it seems that the entire population of the Munster Valley has turned up.
'Let's go in the back door,' Schweitzer says, looking as if he's been seized by a sudden attack of stage fright. But the auditorium is packed, and when Schweitzer appears, the entire crowd rises and bursts into a roar of applause. This results in Schweitzer's turning right around on his heels and fleeing out the door.'
I make after him.
'Docteur! Docteur!' I call. 'Please come back. They mean well. What's the matter? Why are you running off? People applaud so often when you appear, aren't you used to it yet?'
'It's different here,' Schweitzer replies, hiding behind a row of trees in dark, outside the building. 'These are my friends, my neighbors. You go in, Erica. Tell them I won't go back unless they stop clapping and unless I can sit way back in the balcony, not on that seat they've reserved for me. Eh? And I see that many people are being turned away, so tell them a couple more kids can sit on my knees. Only under these conditions will I come back.'
When the last pictures fade out on the screen, they burst into applause. There is no holding them back. Schweitzer turns to me and says: 'This time it is for you, Erica.'
But I know it is the man and his life to whom the applause of the people of the Vosges Mountains is addressed. They have seen their Doctor in Africa, in another part of the world they will never reach. They have seen him being himself, as he always is, whether in Europe or in Africa, whether he is philosopher, preacher, physician, or artist. And they understand his work better now, after seeing for themselves the haven he has established for those in pain."
[To a small boy itching to get back to work after a lunch break] "You have a big secret, whether you know it or not. The secret of enjoying your work. It is a great wisdom, my boy. Hang onto it."
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