“At a time when the tide runs toward a shore of conformity, when dissent is often confused with subversion, when a man’s belief may be subject to investigation as well as his action, we have thought it useful to present these brief statements by people who have attempted to define what it is that they believe.”
—Edward R. Murrow, from the foreword to “This I Believe,” a 1952 collection of essays
In 1949, World War II was fading into the nation’s rearview mirror, but things weren’t all that chipper. Engaged citizens bemoaned the spiritual state of the country and worried that materialism was becoming all-encompassing. They worried about an uncertain economic future, the shadow of war, the atom bomb, military service for themselves and loved ones, and the general fears and frustrations of young people facing the future.
Ward Wheelock, a successful Philadelphia advertising executive, met with leaders from CBS, including Edward R. Murrow, and persuaded them to help produce a daily five-minute radio program that would feature well-known figures stating their personal philosophies — the guiding beliefs by which they led their lives.
The show — “This I Believe” — hit Philly airwaves in March 1951 and quickly became a sensation, spreading to radio stations and newspapers across the United States. Soon enough it evolved to include the beliefs of average citizens, and the program went international and spawned four books.
But it soon received two serious blows; in 1954, Wheelock’s advertising agency lost the Campbell’s Soup account, which then accounted for 90 percent of its business. He was no longer able to bankroll the series. Then, in January 1955, tragedy struck: Wheelock died when his yacht disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. That effectively ended “This I Believe.”
Fast forward to 2003, and enter Dan Gediman. The Louisville resident and longtime public radio producer was at home sick one day and started browsing through a book on his shelf. It was a 1952 collection of “This I Believe” essays, and he was amazed he’d never heard of it. After talking with colleagues at National Public Radio, he realized it would make a great NPR program, and he got busy raising funds to resuscitate the program. It now runs weekly on NPR’s “Morning
Edition” and “All Things Considered,” and executive producer Gediman leads a production team that is based in Louisville.
The next step in Gediman’s vision is to find more outlets for essays, which helps explain a new partnership between LEO and WFPL-FM. Beginning this month, LEO will print, and WFPL will broadcast, essays written by Louisville-area residents. Everyone is encouraged to submit a 300- to 500-word essay via www.thisibelieve.org, where you can find essay guidelines and an easy-to-use form for submissions.
One more thing. Henry Holt & Company has just published a new book of “This I Believe” essays, from folks
like Gloria Steinem and John Updike and Isabel Allende and Bill Gates. Next Thursday, Oct. 19, the Louisville Free Public Library plays host to a live reading, featuring numerous readers, including Bruce Simpson of the Louisville Ballet, Laura Shine of WFPK-FM and Frank X Walker, the Lexington poet whose essay is included in the book.
The 7 p.m. event is free but a ticket is required. Call 574-1644.
Another event, sponsored by the Center for Interfaith Relations (with Carmichael’s Bookstores), is set for Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. in the Undercroft at the Cathedral of the Assumption.
Nonviolence can help forge a more just world.
by Michael L.Westmoreland-White
I came from a family in which a term (not a career) of military service was traditional. It was assumed that when I turned 18, I would enlist in a branch of the U.S. military for a “hitch” before returning to civilian life. So I did, joining the U.S. Army in 1980.
However, on my way to basic training, a friend from high school challenged me to memorize the Sermon on the Mount. So I spent my days learning to be a soldier and my “spare time” reading and memorizing the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5-7 with the blessing on peacemakers, commands to love enemies, turn the other cheek and so on. This set up cognitive dissonance that came to a head about a year later while I was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. I encountered some German Christians deeply committed to peacemaking. Convinced this was also the route I was called to follow, I applied for a discharge as a conscientious objector. It took me about a year, but I was granted an honorable CO discharge.
That changed the entire direction of my life. For the last 20 years, I have been a peace activist. I have traveled to Nicaragua twice (1983 and ’84) with Witness for Peace, working to prevent a U.S. invasion and collecting evidence on the depravities of the Contras for Congress. I have been involved in resisting nuclear weapons, in attempting to close the School of the Americas and in numerous marches and protests against the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
At a time of global terrorism, “preemptive wars” and the accumulation of huge arsenals by the United States, I have found my convictions on nonviolence reinforced. Clearly violence and war are not helping to do anything productive in the world. Active nonviolence and peacemaking can help forge a more just and peaceful world and has made great strides against overwhelming odds.
My commitment to nonviolence grew out of my developing faith as a Christian, but I don’t want to give the impression that only Christians can have such a commitment. In the world’s great religions in our day, there seems to be a debate between those committed to “redemptive violence,” whereby they hope to rid the world of evil by killing all the evil people they can find, and those committed to a different way, a way of peacemaking and nonviolent struggle. Our time is a time of choosing: I stand with the nonviolent ones — nonviolent Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians and those whose commitment to nonviolence is itself a form of spirituality.
Means and ends must cohere. The problem with wars of liberation or wars for democracy, is that they try to get just and peaceful ends from means that are fit for death and destruction. The path of nonviolence seeks ends that flow from the means we use. I believe it to be the path toward a more human future.
I accept the responsibility to keep my community alive.
by Christine Nakwa
I have a movie that runs in my mind — it’s about my childhood experiences and it’s the reason I believe what I believe. I see it clearly like a crystal stone, how people in Sudan suffer due to lack of doctors. When I was seven years old, my zeal for being a doctor started; I lined my friends and pretended to perform treatment and injected them. I always encouraged them to come back if they did not feel better. I wanted to be a doctor because of the respect they gain, their snow-white coats telling how genius they are. In my village, being a doctor brought so much respect to the family name, and people judge through family names. It was a dream, but not a mission. Then one day, I believed.
For a long time I had been under the illusion that doctors can fix everything, but then the unimaginable happened: My best friend died because of waterborne disease. She was my age. As I went to visit her in the village clinic, I was astonished: My eyes almost popped out of their sockets when I saw the patients squashed together. I could not distinguish between patients who were in intensive care and those who were on their last breath. There was no medicine; the patients were given aspirin to keep body temperature down. So many people died of easily preventable diseases such as measles and dysentery. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the doctors trying to cut off the leg of a man who had stepped on a landmine, to avoid infections. I felt the malaise he was going through as it penetrated deep into my soul.
Poor hygiene could almost determine why not many people made it out alive. The day my friend died, I was so weak, and my feeble legs could no longer bear the weight of my body. Her sound swells in my consciousness like a dull headache. I remember her sky blue eyes. Her death made me question how someone could die from waterborne disease. If most of the diseases are preventable, I believe pursuing my dreams might give me answers.
I want to go back to the Sudan and help save my people from poverty. I believe I have all my resources and opportunities; nothing will hold me back. Wherever my dreams may lead me, I will still remember where I am from. I accept the responsibility to keep my community alive. No worthy endeavor is without risks and pitfalls; I am ready to face the obstacles that I will encounter and am ready to change my country. Consciousness is the root of all my courage. Hope sees the invisible; it feels the intangible and achieves the impossible. I will not stop until I get to the edge.
All of us have the possibility for greatness.
by Joseph M. Smith
Sixteen years ago I began to believe in the goodness of people. Before that, as a law enforcement officer, I was inundated daily with the seediness of life and the role people assume as takers and givers. What radically changed my outlook was an accident that paralyzed my 16-year-old daughter. A freak accident, slipping in wet grass while performing a gymnastic exercise that had been performed thousands of times took my daughter’s mobility, or so I thought.
Many local people donated time to help with the daily chores of mowing grass, cooking meals, painting and redesigning my home to make it accessible. I had never been on the “receiving” end of people wanting to give with nothing in return. It was a very humbling experience never to be forgotten.
More amazing was my daughter’s attitude toward life. She graduated from high school a year early and began attending college, majoring in psychology. She completed her master’s degree in counseling psychology and began working with a humanitarian organization collecting wheelchairs and medical equipment to be distributed throughout the world. Again, she is a giver, not a taker. She has taught me that in spite of setbacks, each person can achieve greatness by looking forward to the possibilities of each day. I have watched her as she has traveled extensively over the past few years to Mexico, El Salvador and Kabul, Afghanistan, delivering wheelchairs and medical equipment to others who have lost hope and dignity.
I believe that all of us have the possibility for greatness each and every day. As I read the paper each morning and learn of the atrocities that occur throughout the world, I now recognize the goodness of people helping each other in times of need, whether it be the aftermath of hurricanes, auto accidents, kidnappings, bombings, earthquakes, floods or fires.
Yes, I still believe that life is seedy, but it is also redeeming. We make a conscious choice when we awake each day to become a taker or giver, but I believe that our nation will continue to be great because we truly care for each other in spite of our cultural, ethnic and religious differences.
The act of dying has a broader social meaning.
by Suzy Szasz
I believe in memorial services. I’ve learned this the hard way — from all the times someone close to me has died, the obituary informing me: “There will be no memorial service.”
I remember the first time I felt this way. It was the summer of 1990, just days after my 35th birthday. My grandmother, “Anya” as my father called her in his native Hungarian, died a few months shy of 96. Widowed for almost 30 years, she had managed to build an enormous circle of friends, not surprisingly by this time, mostly younger than herself. Active well into her 80s, she had grown increasingly frail prior to her death, but her mind remained sharp and her spirits good. By 90, she gave up swimming regularly at the Y but kept up volunteering at the Red Cross, playing bridge, baking tortes with layer upon layer of chocolate cake and whipped cream. She liked to bake and I liked to eat, both facts clear to anyone who saw us together. She was also strong-minded: She wanted no memorial service. My father, sister and I abided by her wishes. But it has always bothered me.
Fifteen years later but still a young 50, I’ve witnessed the death of too many acquaintances for someone my age, from a variety of insidious diseases: ALS at 40, multiple sclerosis at 45, lymphoma at 50, and an assortment of cancers, all under the age of 65. And too often, the last wish of my dying friend included those same instructions: no memorial service, leaving those of us who loved “Mary” or “Sam” to mourn their deaths alone instead of celebrating their lives together. And so I ponder, alone, days after the latest sad news of another death appeared in my e-mail.
Why can’t we understand that even though the act of dying is inevitably individual, death, like life, has a broader social meaning? Why don’t we grasp that death must not only be shared but embraced by the living? Have we become so secular a society that we’re afraid to observe rituals?
I admit I think about this more than most people my age, nearly dying at the age of 13 but instead living with lupus ever since. Suffering a severe flare 15 years later that once again almost killed me, but instead forced me to stop working for a year, learn how to walk again, and left my already short stature diminished by three inches. These things leave an indelible mark, however much they may fade.
When I die, I promise not to cheat my friends of the chance to get together with me one last time: to share short jokes, to eat Swiss chocolate truffles, to drink French champagne. If I’ve forgotten something, I leave it them to add what each remembers about me best. But most important, I hope they’ll remember to tell someone they love: “Have a memorial service for me.”
There is value in finding out who in my aloneness I am capable of being.
by Emily C. Bremer
I believe that if you accept life’s challenge when it creeps up to you and says, “Come on in, the living’s fine,” that it is the best move you could make. There was a stage of my life when I would back off, get out the camera and trap the experience in 4-by-6-inch borders. Not anymore. I believe it is important to force yourself out of your box. Forcing myself out of my comfort zone was the only way I could really take any chances, any risks. And it’s the person who risks nothing who gains nothing.
Midway during my college studies in Chicago I felt this incredible desire to feel small again. For whatever reason in a large city and huge country, the world no longer felt grand and full of possibility. It is ironic that it took a country two-thirds the size of California with millions more sheep than people to give me that smallness I craved. Before the year abroad I was following the commonly tread path of college — summer internships, career. A trip thousands of miles and oceans away, alone, was not characteristic. And that is exactly why it had to be done. I believe there is real value in finding out who in my aloneness I am capable of being. I think it is the quiet moments, the moments of retreat, that tell us what needs tending. The isolation forced me to ask the questions that go unanswered. I believe we all must go it alone at one point. There is no other way.
Some of the happiest people I met during my travels have spent the better part of their lives tending to sheep or grapes. When I met them I thought it must be nice to not have to live so fast. Until that point I succumbed to the frenzied pace too often. I’ve folded the laundry while making plans with a friend on the phone. I’d like to think I was accomplishing two things at once; however I fear what I was really doing was ruining two separate experiences by attempting to have them simultaneously.
My travels and quest to feel small in the big world taught me that happiness can be about stirring together a bundle of smaller pleasures such as a perfect left-hand surf break or the incredible taste of grapes. My travels taught me to appreciate people and human contact. Too often, human touch and interaction evades our lives. Getting to know the name and person who develops your photographs or slices your cheese can be incredibly rewarding, if you just take the time. Life doesn’t have to be about having everything in your life in order or about the big sweeping moments. It certainly doesn’t have to be about living hurried. And I believe one of the greatest ways to accomplish this is to accept the challenge when life comes up to you and says, “Come on in, the living’s fine.”
Life requires me to appreciate and embrace the framework I was given.
by Wayne Willis
I was thrown into this world in the mid-20th century, into the United States of America, into a small Tennessee town, into a Caucasian, working class, Christian fundamentalist family. Had life’s lottery deposited me in the 10th century, into a nomadic, brown-skinned, Muslim family in Afghanistan, I’m aware that what I believe would be almost totally different.
I believe that what life requires of me, regardless of the place and time into which I was dropped, is to appreciate and embrace the framework I was given, and then go beyond it — transcend it. Unless I expand the boundaries I was given, I will be tribal and provincial, narrow and dogmatic, petty and intolerant of those unlike me. So I aspire to live out the truth of the Native American prayer: “O Great Spirit, with all people, and all things, let us be as relatives.”
At this point in my story, there are three things of which I am certain. One is that I am, like everyone else, terminally ignorant. Mechthild of Magdeburg, the 13th-century mystic, said that our understanding of the workings of the universe is the same as the amount of honey a honeybee can carry away on one foot from an overflowing jar. I’m convinced that I don’t know one-millionth of what there is to be known. I am fond of Rudolph Otto’s name for ultimate reality: mysterium tremendum et fascinans — The Tremendous and Fascinating Mystery. Knowing how little I know keeps driving me to deeper levels of awe and humility — and forbearance toward those who see things differently.
The second thing I know draws heavily on my 30 years of experience as a hospital chaplain. I know the difference between a big deal and a little deal. Bringing a child into the world with spina bifida is a big deal; totaling the car you love, when no one is seriously injured, is a little deal. Suffering a stroke that paralyzes half your body is a big deal; getting your basement flooded is a little deal. Being around people in extremis, especially the wee ones, helps one put the stuff of life into perspective.
The thing I believe most derives from an almost-four-decades-old relationship. What makes most sense to me of this riddle called life — more than witnessing a red sunrise or having the dream job; more than hearing Vivaldi’s “Spring” or exploring exotic climes — is making the journey with a companion whose presence doubles the joys and halves the sorrows. Finding that intimacy has been, for me, life’s summum bonum, because it liberated me from the cold prison of my aloneness. And when I leave this world into which I was thrown, I plan to go out with a “thank you” for having found the pearl of great price.
Family is defined by bonds much deeper than birth.
by Stephanie L. Disney
Looking at my daughter, the clerk behind the counter asks, “What is she?” This is not the first time I have heard this question, and the stored-up, smart aleck answers swirl through my mind. Instead, understanding that I am my daughter’s role model for handling life issues, I stifle the negativity and respond, “She’s beautiful, and smart, and well behaved too.”
The clerk says “oh” and glances at me, wondering if I just didn’t understand the question. I smile because I understood the question right away, but I am only just now beginning to understand the real answers.
I met my daughter, Rudy, while working as an audiologist at the Kentucky Commission for Children with Special Health Care Needs. She was a small, quiet, deaf, non-communicative 2-1/2-year-old. My heart recognized her immediately. I am the whitest of white women and my daughter is some indefinable combination of all that is beautiful from at least three races. Curly dark hair, petite features, freckles, a golden tan skin tone, and one blue eye and one brown. If her race had only one name it would be perfection.
Beneath the skin, we are the proverbial soul mates. We love to read, often taking pleasure in subtle humor. Tenaciously determined, and competitive, we play every game seriously. Please, don’t get in the middle of a game of checkers, or hangman, or volleyball, or … well you get the idea. I recognize my young self each time I hear Rudy say, “But that’s not fair,” and search for a more equitable solution. I simply see myself in her.
That’s why I was startled the first time a stranger inquired about my daughter’s race, and our relationship. I had forgotten that we did not look alike. The next time I was asked, I politely explained that we are mother and daughter and that Rudy’s race is unknown. The 20th time someone asked about my daughter’s race and our relationship, I explained why the questions were inappropriate. The 40th time someone asked, I pretended not hear. Now, after much time to reflect about the purpose of these questions, I have realized my greatest life lesson:
Family is defined by bonds much deeper than birth, or skin color, or genetics. Those of us lucky enough experience “found” love know that family is defined only by the heart. And this knowledge is a special gift. When your heart is open and ready to accept new relationships, you only see similarities. Sometimes your heart leads you to form a new relationship, find some new “kin.” Other times the kinship is distant, and opening your heart leads not to a lasting relationship but to a deeper understanding of the people around you. Once you understand someone, you no longer need to make judgments based on superficial information. I am learning each day to accept new and different ideas and views, and trying to remember Mother Teresa’s admonition: “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
The artist’s role is to ask questions.
by Christian H. Trabue
As an art appraiser I am often struck by the fact that “great” art is often associated with a monetary value more often than it is associated with the impact it has on the world. In its greatest form, I believe artwork has the ability to uplift the oppressed, degrade those who abuse power and to tell the truth about today’s society.
It is no secret that art has also been abused by those seeking to advance harmful agendas. In 1927, the “National Socialist Society for German Culture” was formed. This organization attempted to stop what it called the “corruption of art.” By 1933, the terms “Jewish” and “degenerate” were common adjectives to describe modern art. The Nazi’s eliminated from German museums works the party considered degenerate. They recognized the power of art and found a way to subvert it by mocking it and calling its validity into question. It is with this in mind that I believe no art is too offensive or too provocative.
When I lived in England, I went to see an exhibit by artist Damien Hirst that displayed real animals cut in half and preserved in formaldehyde. I wondered why the exhibit was so popular. The truth is, after much studying and research, I suspect the artist is more concerned with money than with making an important statement. However, I concede that there may be a message I am missing, and acknowledge that it should not be dismissed.
Consider Diego Rivera’s 1933 Rockefeller commission, once located at the RCA building in Rockefeller center. Rivera depicted a scene of Lenin leading a giant May Day demonstration of workers with red banners. When the artist refused to remove Lenin from the portrait, he was forced to stop painting and the mural was destroyed. The destruction of this mural ignited debates about intellectual freedom and the fate of capitalist versus socialist economic systems.
I can only imagine artwork evoking that type of debate today. With a war raging in Iraq, suicide bombers, an AIDS crisis and other humanitarian disasters, I believe the artist’s role is to ask questions. In January 2003, just before the war in Iraq, Colin Powell delivered a speech about why America must go to war. When he finished, he walked down the hallway of the United Nations building past a tapestry reproduction of Guernica, Picasso’s 1937 painting depicting the horrors of war. Although Guernica was hanging on the wall, however, it could not be seen because it had been covered with a blue cloth because it hung over the spot where the Security Council members stop and speak before TV cameras.
The subversion of this powerful image made me feel sick, but it proved the enduring relevance of great political art and the power and influence it has for generations.
All humanity is a single social organism.
by Timothy Hawley
Beliefs grow like fingernails. They start out small, and they can’t dig in and clutch anything. As they grow stronger, their grip improves. And when life seems like you’re trying to climb a sheer cliff with nothing to hold on with besides your fingernails, it’s good to have strong ones. But it’s a funny thing about fingernails and beliefs. You don’t will them to grow. They just do. They may grow strong and straight, or they may grow crooked and weak. But they grow as they grow. You believe what you believe because … well, just because. You can’t choose to believe something or to not believe something just because you’d like to. Your beliefs will change, but they change through experience and thought, not because you want them to change.
I can pinpoint the moment my beliefs, still scattered and weak, coalesced into a way of thinking about the world. I was a preacher’s kid, and like many preacher’s kids, I was a weird amalgam of the holy and the holy terror. When I was small, I thought I would become a clergyman. By the time I was a teenager, I had rejected that ambition. I always accepted religious beliefs about morality, but never any of the supernatural beliefs that went along with organized Christianity. Who knows why? I never believed in Santa Claus, either. Never. I was born a confirmed skeptic.
The moment that changed my somewhat mixed-up conglomeration of beliefs into a direction came when I was in college in the late 1960s. The catalyst was Dick Gregory. He came to the campus of the regional state university in Kentucky that I was attending and delivered what was, to me, a transformative lecture on the importance of activism. I don’t remember a single word he spoke that night. I only know that I left the lecture hall a changed person. Until then, my beliefs about politics, war and social justice were, as Socrates would have described them, unexamined. I left Gregory’s speech with a determination to examine those beliefs, to learn as much as I could about what was going on in the world during those turbulent times, and to get involved.
As with most young men of that era, the war in Vietnam was an absorbing concern. I had a strong belief in the fundamental wrongness of war. Indeed, my father had been a conscientious objector during World War II. But I was very confused about what my beliefs about war meant. Was I also a conscientious objector? What criteria would my beliefs about war need to meet to answer that question? I struggled with this issue for many months and ultimately decided that I was, indeed, a conscientious objector, despite the fact that I did not have any conventional religious beliefs. And after years of effort, I was ultimately granted conscientious objector status by the Selective Service System’s Presidential Appeal Board — one thing I can thank then-President Richard Nixon for, I suppose.
So what was the basis of my belief about the wrongness of war? It was there all along, but it only became clear to me as I worked through the message given by Dick Gregory. I came to a realization that war only existed because of people’s willingness to fight. Few, if any, of the soldiers who participate in wars have a desire to fight — they are only willing to fight because, in a classic vicious circle, those on the other side are willing to fight. And this willingness to fight can only exist if we believe that there is an “us” and a “them.” I believe, like John Steinbeck, that all humanity is a single social organism. There is no “us and them” — there is only us. I have a belief in the “us-ness” of humanity. And if I see it that way, then I have no choice but to be unwilling to fight in a war. I believe that the only hope for an end to war is for all of “us” — all the peoples of the world — to decide that we, as individuals, won’t participate.
My Black Mother called me to think.
by Barbara S. Carpenter
I believe I was profoundly influenced by my Black Mother.
I am a white person and a senior citizen. I met Nellie, my Black Mother, when I was three months short of being four years old. I didn’t like the idea that my mother was going to “leave” me to return to work — that’s how I felt, abandoned. I don’t remember hearing any discussion on the topic. I only recall my Mother’s leaving and Nellie’s arriving.
Nellie was a petite woman, possibly five feet four inches in height. She was always dressed nicely and was very tidy and fastidious about herself. I thought she must be far wealthier than we as there was a certain proper air about her and I reckoned that the very small gold earrings in her pierced earlobes were a clincher for her status. Our family had managed to survive the depression with a determined spirit and a sense of humor. Major material things were lost, including a house and a car. We now lived in a second floor, two-bedroom apartment.
My older sister and two brothers were already of school age. I was truly alone and on my own, or so it felt, when Nellie arrived. She was a reserved woman who meant business when she spoke. I saw her as having a stern demeanor, but she was caring. There weren’t many words exchanged between us. My usual post was to sit on a small stool by the front window and listen to the radio soap operas. I would then have lunch and go to bed for a nap. Shortly after naptime my siblings came home from school, followed shortly by my Mother. Nellie would then depart.
The next school year I started kindergarten. Each day Nellie walked me to school and was there to meet me when school was out at noon for our return trip home. She gently held my hand as we silently walked home. By now I felt more comfortable with her as our routine was firmly established. I did, however, notice one curious fact at school and I asked my mother, “Why am I the only one with a black mother?” My mother then explained that she was still my mother and that Nellie was taking care of me only while she worked during the day. I felt reassured that I wasn’t abandoned. My fears were quieted.
As children are wont to do, I began learning from the other children, picking up on their sayings and mimicking what I would hear. One afternoon after my usual nap, I was seated on the bathroom stool. While Nellie brushed my hair, I very proudly recited a rhyme I had learned: Eeny meeny, miney moe, crack a nigger on the toe. If he hollers, make him pay 50 dollars every day.
The words were meaningless to me. I was so proud of my memorization. Nellie said, “What did you say?” I naively repeated the rhyme. Again she asked the same question. By now I sensed something was wrong but I didn’t know what. I repeated the rhyme a little more slowly, thinking as I went along, indeed, wondering what I had said. As I reached the words CRACK A NIGGER, I said them and stopped. I felt embarrassed as I recognized the derogatory word nigger and that it was a hurtful word. Nellie said, as I stopped, “Don’t ever say that again.” I sat quietly, digesting what had transpired. I felt scared and badly that I had hurt her feelings.
It was that short dialogue between the two of us that began my first inklings of racism, and the fact that there were words that could hurt and cut another. My lesson was learned not by any diatribe or lecture. Nellie was wise. She made me aware of my words by calling me to think — to think of what I was saying, and how it was affecting her.
I am forever grateful for her good care of me. Her care taught me the importance of thinking and of weighing my words. Nellie was as steady and dependable as the sunrise. She continued caring for me and working with my family until I entered fourth grade. I do not know where Nellie went after leaving our family. I know that, forever, she is in my memory, and a part of my heart and being.
Compassion is the only true source of happiness.
by Gerald F. Stribling
For most of my life I have struggled with the dissonance of my spiritual yearnings rubbing raw against my natural reluctance to buy into simplistic, anthropomorphic definitions of God. So when the opportunity arose to study Buddhism during several extended stays as a volunteer in Sri Lanka, I happily found a spiritual framework for the moral and ethical forces of my life that didn’t expect me to profess my belief in things and events no one on earth can prove are true.
Fact is, I’ve always been a helper. As a teenager I volunteered in a hospital full of wounded men returning from Vietnam, and I’ve worked my whole adult life as either a teacher or a social worker. I believe that compassion is the only true source of happiness, and for me, that’s true.
My newest adventure is called Prisoner Re-entry — I help people who are coming out of prison rebuild their lives. Some of the men and women we serve did the unspeakable: they molested children.
One day in Sri Lanka, my guru and I discussed attachment and compassion. Attachment, desire and earthly pleasures are the source of the world’s misery, according to Buddhist belief, so I posed the question to my orange-robed friend: How can I live a compassionate life and not develop attachments to the people I serve? If that be true, am I condemning myself to misery because of my deep attachment to my wife of 33 years?
He knew that I knew the answer to the stupid part of that question: I’m doomed to misery anyway, to lose loved ones, and to grow old, get sick and die. Misery is ubiquitous and inevitable. But then he said this amazing thing:
“Of course you love your wife, I can tell you love her deeply,” the monk said. “You call yourself a compassionate man. But how compassionate can you be? You discover your capacity for compassion from the depth of compassion you feel toward your wife, for you’ll never care for anyone more than her.”
That’s a very liberating thing to ponder, but now I am called upon to care for people who have molested children, and I find that I do care about them, as much as I care about their victims, people I’ve known all my life who live every day with the emotional scars of molestation and rape. Buddhist belief maintains that what matters is now, and the mandate to properly re-integrate my clients into the community implies that these men and women can begin their lives anew just as all religions teach.
I cannot understand the behavior of people who are sexually attracted to children. Nor can I judge them. But by this I don’t mean that I don’t form opinions about them, or attach moral relativism to their crimes. What I mean is that I cannot bring myself to judge them. My incapacity to pass personal judgment on these men and women, no matter what they may have done, is a blessing in my line of work. I am not an enlightened soul, just a guy with a job to do.
Caregivers are naturally passionate people. But compassion, I have learned, comes best from dispassionate sources. It does matter, the evil these men and women have inflicted, it matters very much. But nothing is gained if it matters to me.
Nurses are the most amazing people.
by Sharon Hubrich
I believe, that as a nurse, I am blessed. I am blessed when I present as a mother first holds her newborn. I am blessed when able to relieve anxiety by sharing my knowledge of chemotherapy with a newly diagnosed cancer patient. I am blessed when my shift is finished, and I return to the unit to sit by the bed of a dying, elderly woman.
This is not my first career. After graduating from college and graduate school, I held positions at two prestigious universities. I had a good life. I never considered changing careers, let alone becoming a nurse. While living in Toronto, my 10-year-old daughter, Laura, became gravely ill. Our lives centered on Children’s Hospital and her health.
Something happened during that time. I came to realize that nurses were the most amazing people. They had knowledge. Knowledge they shared, to help us through challenging times. From instruction on the irrigation of Laura’s abdominal wound to how to enter the ICU at night without setting off alarms. They had humor. They played practical jokes on each other and found humor in often-humorless moments. They talked, but they also listened. They taught me to take each day as it is given, and celebrate victories, no matter how small. We celebrated the removal of indwelling tubing as if it were a 21st. birthday. Balloons, cake, singing, laughter. I was drawn to these people. I started to ask questions. Could I do this? What would it take for me to go back to school? Could I make such a change at almost 40?
I could. I would wait until Laura was well again, but my decision was made. When I shared the news of my acceptance to nursing school with my family, Laura was excited for me, but my husband saw another side of this life-changing decision: How would this affect our family? I wanted his support, but I was going forward with or without.
It was a long, hard road for everyone. I continued to work full time, care for my home and family and go to school. Clinicals were grueling. Testing was stressful. Patients and families were often very difficult. Where was the blessing?
The date of graduation was set. Living 800 miles from parents and siblings, they could not attend. My husband decided that he didn’t attend his graduations, so he would not attend mine. The night of my graduation was the same night as Laura’s long anticipated senior prom. I would be alone to celebrate my milestone. While I sat in my seat, waiting for my named to be called, I asked the stranger next to me to please applaud as I walked the stage to receive my diploma and nursing pin. I heard my name. I rose and moved forward. I crossed the stage to be greeted by the Dean and the President. I heard loud applause, whistles and cheers. I turned to look. Laura and her prom date were standing in the aisle, in full prom regalia. Their enthusiasm caused that multitude to rise to their feet and join in. I was blessed.
I became single. I moved across the country. I married again. I am a grandma. I am a nurse. I celebrate the victories as they come and I share those victories with my patients. I teach. I encourage. I nurse. I am blessed.