Could Have

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Polish born poet, Wislawa Szymborska, is considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. The Polish authorities tried to silence her and outlawed her poems, as they did not align with the communist ideology. But she continued developing her unique voice, and eventually won the Nobel prize in literature (1966).

In one of her poems Szymborska stated that “no more than two out of a thousand care for the art (of poetry)”. In reality though, copies of her books have been sold in quantities that compete with prose, and were translated into a myriad of languages, among them Hebrew.

In a simple, direct style, bare of the artistic flowery elements that usually characterize poetry (rhymes, imagery, motifs, etc.), she touches on some of the most monumental issues, using the simplest of means. In almost all of her poems she captures small moments and lingers on them, while expressing much acceptance of human weaknesses.

Her poem “Could Have” caught my eye. From a different angle she tells the story of survivors of a war that is not named specifically, but is well recognized between the lines.

Could Have

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.

You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck – there was a forest.
You were in luck – there were no trees.
You were in luck – a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant…
So you’re here?

Still dizzy from another dodge,
close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn’t be more shocked or speechless.
Listen, how your heart pounds inside me.


The national annual holocaust memorial day (Yom HaShoah) starts tomorrow. The thousands of survivors who are still among us, like Mania and Esther, Miriam and Inna, Arkady and Yafim and the others we keep in touch with throughout the year – for the most part believe it’s a mere coincidence that they survived. Will you take a moment, think about their bruised soul, and pray that they will lift up their eyes to the One who saw every “could have” they have been through, and has a mysterious way to weave their brokenness into the wholeness His Son’s blood provides?

3 thoughts on “Could Have”

  1. Thank you, Orna, for bringing to our attention in this way, “the thousands… like Mania and Esther, Miriam and Inna, Arkady and Yafim….” Even your prayer for them was poetic. As I stopped and murmured my agreement with you to the One, I was again astounded at how He does see every movement and feel every breath.


  2. This is so powerful Orna! Thank you for sharing this story!! On Tue, Apr 26, 2022 at 10:41 AM Orna Grinman | Ot OoMofet Ministries | A Sign and Examp


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