On this day in 1875 the French physician, missionary, philosopher and musician Albert Schweitzer was born. An expert pianist and organist, he became an authority on the building and restoration of historic church organs. However, at the age of thirty, he decided that he would give himself to humanity, with Jesus serving as his example. He therefore studied both medicine and theology with the idea of becoming a missionary and was eventually able to secure backing for the establishment of a hospital in Gabon, West Africa.
In 1913 he and his wife and son departed for Africa and established the famous hospital at Lambaréné in Gabon. It still exists today. This became the main focus of his life’s work until he died there in 1965. In 1952 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophical work ‘Reverence for Life’. Schweitzer was a friend of Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell and active in promoting nuclear disarmament and world peace. Here is Louis Macneice’s wonderful and inspiring poem Thalassa which I think Schweitzer would have appreciated:
Run out the boat, my broken comrades;
Let the old seaweed crack, the surge
Burgeon oblivious of the last
Embarkation of feckless men,
Let every adverse force converge —
Here we must needs embark again.
Run up the sail, my heartsick comrades;
Let each horizon tilt and lurch —
You know the worst: your wills are fickle,
Your values blurred, your hearts impure
And your past life a ruined church —
But let your poison be your cure.
Put out to sea, ignoble comrades,
Whose record shall be noble yet;
Butting through scarps of moving marble
The narwhal dares us to be free;
By a high star our course is set,
Our end is Life. Put out to sea.
Today I reflect on the example of Albert Schweitzer, who has been a force for good in the world.