There is a character in the book (Father Elijah) I am reading, who saves David’s life (later Father Elijah) when he is a young Jewish boy in the Warsaw ghetto, being pursued by German soldiers. In the end, after they are betrayed to the authorities, this man, Pawel Tarnowski, gives his life that David, who has become a son to him, might have a chance to live.
Later in his life, through an astonishing miracle, David receives a note that Pawel had written to him and hurled from the train carrying him to the extermination camps. It closes with a profound statement:
I go down at last to sleep, but my heart is awake.
Though he is staring death in the face and he has started on the inexorable journey that would lead to the ovens and the end of his life, he makes a poignant contrast between death (sleep) and life (awake) – “my heart is awake.”
When I read that, I thought of the passage from Ezekiel:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
Despite everything that was happening to Pawel, his heart was a heart of flesh; it was awake with real life and his sacrifice for David was a type of the sacrifice that Christ has made for us all.
There are often moments in reading fiction that you wish the characters were real. At that moment in the story I wanted Pawel to be real. I dearly wanted to meet him in eternity and talk with him, and share with him my deep regard for his words, his sacrifice, his true heart.
While Pawel is just a fictional character, I am sure there is a real Pawel (a person just like him) somewhere in the Kingdom of God, in the history of the faith once delivered, a saint who by God’s grace I will meet and I will tell him my story and Pawel’s story and I will let him know that I appreciate his sacrifice and how it reminded me of Pawel, who reminded me of Christ and I will thank him.
When I face my death, I pray that like Pawel, I can say in all joy that my heart is awake.