Thursday, January 14, 2010

Unconditional Life: Learning From the Heart

In the midst of hopelessness, where life is approximately 400 years behind the United States (ironically, Haiti was the first nation to emulate the United States in 1804 when they broke away from France and tried their hand at democracy), and people suffer from the worst kind of poverty, it's unthinkable that more tragedy could possibly inflict itself on a nation, who, if anything, deserves relief from their dire conditions.

Unbelievable, as it may seem to many of us, the Haitians make up for what they do not have in material goods and fundamental staples, by retaining their faith and spiritual connections. Despite that faith, their hard work, immense suffering, and their efforts to try and take care of one another, something always interferes and sets them back even further.

Back in 2004, that something was Hurricane Jeanne, which left 1,500 dead. In an article, Facing Haiti's Hopelessness, She Helps, Ernest Cooper of the St. Petersburg Times, highlights the missions of one surgeon, Sylvia Campbell, who said at the time, "It's so much sadder than it was before. The Haitians are so much poorer, so much hungrier," and that she is "awed by the Haitian struggle -- and their unyielding humanity". One example amongst so many is when neighbors walked five hours with one woman who need emergency surgery.

"They're such gentle kind people. It's so horrible that they have to go through more tragedy. You wonder how could people survive, yet they have incredible faith, an incredible gentleness to their spirit." -- Sylvia Campbell
Today, once again, it's so much sadder than it was before. Yet, there is no doubt the Haitians will continue to go on, living and loving. These afflicted people exemplify what Dr. Dan Gottleib, host of Voices in the Family on NPR means when he talks about the "gift of hopelessness" in his book, Learning From the Heart

Dr. Gottlieb has experienced his fair share of tragedy. At age 33-years old, he suffered through a car accident that left him a quadriplegic. A couple of years after the accident, he came to a deliberate crossroads in his life. This was the point at which he decided he was going to choose life or death. Taking himself off to his bedroom where he could be alone, he confronted something...a spiritual being, an image of God, the "heart" as he refers to in his book; he's not sure what or who it was that responded to him, only that something did.

At first Dr. Gottlieb said, "OK, I'll live with this if you can give me hope that one day I will walk again."

The voice responded, "No hope...live or die, choose one."

He tried again and said, "OK, give me hope that I will not continue to be as sick as I have been over the past couple of years."

The being responded exactly the same way, "No hope...live or die, choose one."

Everything Dr. Gottlieb asked for received the same response, and so he chose life, unconditionally, the way life was right at that moment. Today, he has a thriving practice, authored several books and hosts a radio show, but that did not come easily or without more heartache, as he lost his sister and then his wife to divorce and shortly thereafter, to death.

Semantically, faith and hope are very similar, except the word hope places more conditions, and is more specific, whereas faith is more general -- confidently believing in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of something or someone, whether it is life in general, a person, an idea, God, etc.

But placing conditions on love and life automatically limits our potential, eliminates freedom, and guarantees failure because there is no doubt that someone, something, or life in general will not measure up to the terms we've imposed. We can't escape it...life, and/or the people in our life will hurt, betray, and disappoint us repeatedly. Does that mean we should give up? Stop loving? Stop living? The easy answer is yes. However, keep in mind that we have, and we will hurt, betray, and disappoint in life and love as much as life hurts, betrays, and disappoints us.

Instead of abandoning hope altogether, Dr. Gottlieb said he can live with the definition of hope Jerome Groopman the author of "Anatomy of Hope" gives, "the belief that tomorrow can be better than today".

The Haitians who live in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, in circumstances, incomprehensible to most of us, without an education, have learned from the heart. They know that to give up, is to have given up on the only reason for our existence...to contribute to life, that is, to live, and love. Each time we stop loving someone or choose against life, we truly fail, as we have refused to fulfill the one and only reason we exist. It is as simple as that.

2 comments:

Anonymous,  11:17  

I understand what you're saying and I agree for the most part but the Haitians aren't quite how you described. They're far from perfect.

Roth's stepchild 12:18  

I'm sorry I gave that impression. I think they, like all of us, are far from perfect, and as any population, I'm sure there are more than enough individuals that leave a lot to be desired.

However, on the whole, just the fact that they cling to their humanity and appetite for life illuminated by their vibrant culture despite their horrific circumstances is amazing. After over 200 years of oppressive regimes, natural disasters, etc, they could've turned into barbarians but they have chosen not to, and that in and of itself is remarkable.

Thanks for your comment!

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