During the Second World War German paratroopers invaded the island of Crete. When they landed at Maleme they were met by islanders bearing nothing other than kitchen knives and hay scythes. But the consequences of resistance were devastating. The residents of entire villages were lined up and shot.
Overlooking the airstrip today is an institute for peace and understanding founded by a Greek man named Alexander Papaderous. Papaderous had lived through the war and was convinced his people needed to let go of the legacy of hatred the war had unleashed and so he founded his institute at this place that embodied the horrors and hatreds unleashed by the war.
One day while taking questions at the end of a lecture Papaderous was asked, “What’s the meaning of life?” There was nervous laughter in the room. It is such a big question. But Papaderous answered it.
He opened his wallet and took out a small, round mirror and held it up for everyone to see. He told how as a small boy from a very poor family he came across a motorcycle wreck. It was during the war and the motorcycle had belonged to German soldiers. Alexander saw pieces of broken mirrors from the motorcycle lying on the ground. He tried to put them together but couldn’t, so he took the largest piece and scratched it against a stone until its edges were smoothed and it was round. He used it as a toy, fascinated by the way he could use it to shine light into holes and crevices.
He kept that mirror with him as he grew up, and over time it came to symbolise something very important. It became a metaphor for what he might do with his life.
I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.
Source: reported in Robert Fulgham, It Was On Fire When I Laid Down On It