A student of Martin Heidegger and Carl Jaspers, she fled to the States during the Nazi period in Germany. Her book, The Human Condition, influenced many during the second half of the 20th century, particularly the chapter on action. She begins the chapter with the words of Isak Dinesen, the author of Babette's Feast, "All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them."
Arendt says that the power of the story comes when we finally disclose in narrative form who we are by noting our actions and words. When we become conscious of our life in this way, as recounted in our actions and words, we can begin to see our life as part of the fabric of the society we live in. Realizing that our lives are individual stories enacted between a birth and a death, we understand and pass on our stories, says Arendt, by acknowledging our weaknesses and our inability to foresee the future. However, within this imperfect reality, we nevertheless must act and speak.
This perception comes from her understanding of the word 'natality.' The professor notes that her idea is the mirror image of what her teacher Heidegger taught: "Being unto death." For Arendt, birth was a new beginning, giving the person trust and hope that even the wisdom of the Greeks was not able to discover, and that Arendt, though not a Christian, was able to comprehend. She ended her reflections on this point with the words: "Humanity in this world has been given trust and hope expressed in the joy that comes with the Christmas story: the birth of a child."
To understand the word 'natality' that Arendt uses, the professor says we must understand her use of the words 'forgiveness' and 'promise.' The past cannot be undone, and we do not know what the future holds for us. Because of our innate weakness--the weakness of a newborn--we become dependent on our willingness to extend forgiveness, both to others and to ourselves. And since we do not know what the future will be, we become dependent on the promise of a better future, which gives us hope to go into that future to "build islands in the big ocean of life." Arendt says it was Jesus who gave us this hope for forgiveness and promise.
We are not born to die but to be reborn into a new beginning. We can know happiness, says Arendt, by using the twin tools of forgiveness and promise. The same good news of the Gospels we try to live daily. Merry Christmas.