2013 – Most Philosophical Student in America.

Christopher Mergen, Maryland.

Which is More Powerful, Love or Hate?

Love is the primary motivator of the human spirit. In a world that regresses towards lethargy and inaction, it is an inextinguishable flame that burns, as Plato's Agathon declares, in "the hearts and souls of both gods and men." Unlike its counterpart, hatred - a palpable darkness that momentarily stifles all that it descends upon - the power of love lies in its resilience. In the words of Nelson Mandela, love is "a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished." We humans are drawn to love's blaze: it shines in the darkness, a source of courage, reminding us of who we are and what it means to care for others.

At times, the darkness can seem impenetrable. The Stygian cloak that shrouded Europe from 1939 to 1945 smothered the fires of love, leaving them to smolder as it swept across the continent. A concentration camp in Northern Luxembourg kept my grandfather in his own darkness, one in which he was forced to march great distances and disarm the unexploded bombs of the Allied forces. By faking his own death, he escaped from the camp, cowering in a ditch for a night. In the morning, some American GIs found him. They couldn't speak Luxembourgish, but they recognized his family name; his parents owned a pharmacy in the small town of Diekirch, and the GIs had spent Christmas dinner as their guests. Bringing him back to their camp, they gave him a toothbrush and his first bath in weeks, and sent him to eat in a United States Army mess hall. He was exhausted and weighed less than 100 pounds.

In the mess, my grandfather was given a compartmented tray to fill in a chow line. There was a bin of pineapple rings, treats that he had usually received once a year on Saint Nicolas Day, if at all. He gingerly lifted a ring from the bin and placed it in a compartment on his plate. Later, when he had finished his meal, he stood up and asked a rness worker if he could have another ring of pineapple. Hearing him, one of the other soldiers grabbed him by the arm, led him over to the bin, and began heaping rings onto his plate, saying "Take as rnuch as you'd like."

A spark in the gloom. A plate piled high with pineapple, an encouraging voice, a friendly hand on the shoulder - small things like these prove that love can survive in the midst of the darkest of nights. They rekindle the fire within our souls that drives us forward, radiant against the night. This is the power of love, "the god who," according to Agathon, "gives peace on earth and calms the stormy deep, who stills the winds and bids the sufferer sleep," and who was ultimately strong enough to resist the power of the Nazi war machine. One of the flames that the hatred of the Nazi movement had smothered blazed anew, irrepressible. My grandfather kept fighting.



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