25 Reflections: Albert Schweitzer

Another gift this journey has given me is a new life hero: Albert Schweitzer. I first encountered the words of Dr. Albert Schweitzer when I was in college. His book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, was assigned reading. Afterwards, I’m sure I wrote a paper or answered questions on a test. But none of it stuck with me. I wasn’t ready for it.

Kaysersberg is Albert Schweitzer’s birthplace. He was born in the building pictured below, which is now the Albert Schweitzer Museum (currently undergoing renovations). As we have wandered throughout the village, we have stumbled upon his words that are posted on plaques in various places near trails and on buildings. All of it has made me newly curious about who Dr. Schweitzer was.

Albert Schweitzer’s birthplace, now a museum

His Life

Dr. Schweitzer considered his greatest legacy to be his philosophy surrounding “Reverence for Life”–the idea that all life must be respected and loved, and that humans should enter into a personal, spiritual relationship with the universe and all its creations.

I loved this story from his childhood that was shared in one of his biographies:

One Sunday morning, when he was about 8, he had an experience that helped to shape his life. At the strong urging of another lad, he reluctantly aimed his slingshot at several birds which, as he later wrote, “sang sweetly into the morning sunshine.” Moved, he “made a silent vow to miss. At that moment, the sound of church bells began to mingle with the sunshine and the singing of the birds…. For me, it was a voice from heaven. I threw aside my slingshot, shooed the birds away to protect them from my friend’s slingshot, and fled home.”

That sweet little boy grew up to become the ultimate overachiever. He became a philosopher, theologian, acclaimed concert organist, writer, and a medical doctor! He and his wife moved to Africa where they opened a hospital in a town called Lambaréné in western Gabon. This was the place where he put his core beliefs into practice–using his talents and gifts to serve his fellowman. He reflected, “A man’s life should be the same as his thought.” He treated many patients with leprosy and other serious diseases.

Albert Schweitzer in Lambaréné.

In 1952, Albert Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for his altruism, reverence for life, and tireless humanitarian work which has helped making the idea of brotherhood between men and nations a living one.” He used his $33,000 award to start a leprosarium at Lambaréné. He was appalled by the nuclear arms race, and used his voice and his platform to speak out against nuclear tests and nuclear weapons.

“I Have Made My Life My Argument”

I am so inspired by the gentle life of Albert Schweitzer. He lived a truly Christian life, where his actions were aligned with his beliefs. When he was criticized (because even someone like this has critics!) he said, “I have made my life my argument.” What a powerful thing to be able to say.

Albert Schweitzer in Africa

His Words

Here are a few of my favorite Albert Schweitzer quotes.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

Albert Schweitzer

Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.

Albert Schweitzer

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.

Albert Schweitzer

Seek always to do some good, somewhere… Even if it’s a little thing, do something for those that need help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.

Albert Schweitzer

“In the hopes of reaching the moon men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet.” 

Albert Schweitzer

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

Albert Schweitzer

“No one can give a definition of the soul. But we know what it feels like. The soul is the sense of something higher than ourselves, something that stirs in us thoughts, hopes, and aspirations which go out to the world of goodness, truth and beauty. The soul is a burning desire to breathe in this world of light and never to lose it–to remain children of light.”

Albert Schweitzer

Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.

Albert Schweitzer

Learning From His Example

Something in my heart tells me that there is more for me to learn from Dr. Schweitzer. I plan to read more of his writing when I get home and can find his books in English :).

Albert Schweitzer examining a young patient at the Lambaréné hospital in 1954. Photo: Getty Images

I am so grateful for this journey to France that has allowed me to re-discover the life of Albert Schweitzer. And yet, as much as I value this adventure we’ve had and all the memories we’ve made, it’s important for me to also acknowledge that it has been a self-indulgent time. While adventuring is aligned with my values and beliefs, I know in my heart that life can’t be all adventures. A truly meaningful life is a life lived largely in the service of others. Now that I’ve finally figured out the difference between giving from a place of abundance rather than a place of scarcity and depletion (which took a while), I think there is a lot for me to do.

I’m not sure what the next part of my life will look like, especially when it comes to how I want to serve. But I have a feeling that if I just open myself up and look to the examples of people like Albert Schweitzer, I will find my way.

For more things I’ve learned in France, visit 25 Reflections: World War II.