Last Sunday my husband read to me long passages from the book The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, an account of that most terrible 900-day attack by German forces. The Nazi intention was to starve the city rather than waste their troops, so they cut off all supplies and deliberately bombed food warehouses. About 1.2 million people died of starvation. They were reduced to eating shoe leather, cats, roots and weeds. And then – nothing! They were without food, water and electricity in the frigid winters of Russia.
When Carole, John and I were on a mission in St. Petersburg, we were invited into the home of a man who had lived during the siege and survived. He was 11 years old at the time and had been shot. The only reason he lived was because he was sent to the hospital and had tiny bits of food, which others didn’t have. As an old man, his face still registered that unspeakable horror and he was unable to function in life.
People were pitiful skeletons and so weak they could barely stand and walk. They were tempted to just lie down and give up. Over and over they were warned, “Do not go to bed.” Once you gave in to just lie in bed, you died. That was the final danger.
An amazing thing happened. Someone called the people to work at clearing the roads of the city, which were filled with ice and terrible refuse. Hundreds and then thousands answered the call. Barely able to stand, with some crawling, they used shovels and whatever they could find, even children’s sleds, to haul away the rubble of bombings and the death that covered the streets.
The story of Leningrad’s survival and recovery is an amazing history, one that has been recorded in grim detail as well as in the mystery of how anyone could live through such total deprivation. Most biographers label it “the amazing will of the human spirit.” And somewhat it became the pride of Russian stamina.
But I believe it is a story that proves the power of purpose. That work, having a goal and a purpose, caused the survival of so many who would otherwise have died. There were other stories of single individuals who rose to give others a direction and hope.
So many children lost their whole family and had to live in orphanages. There was a schoolteacher who dressed in her very best and every morning she went to the orphanage. She demanded the children declare aloud: “This is a good day. Tomorrow is a good day, too.” In time they declared it for themselves and ultimately, they believed it.
Purpose…is having something to live for outside of yourself, and that can be as simple as cleaning a street of wretched filth. To clean the streets had a meaning: there will be life past this!
Purpose gives meaning to existence,
and meaning is living.