“The most potent seeds of cultural renaissance come from the uniquely creative ventures of authentic adults, those who have consciously discovered and committed to the one true life they can call their own, a life that emerges from the largest conversation one is capable of having with the world. All such adults are, by definition, true artists, visionaries, and leaders, whether they live and work quietly in small arenas or very publicly on grand stages.”
“Your identity is not equivalent to your biography. There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s a seamlessness in you – and where there is a confidence and a tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer, and spirituality, and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.”
Again, the beautiful John O’Donohue.
When I met Lovetta five years ago, she was 12 years old and living alone in Buduburam Refugee Camp. She had more emotional and social intelligence than anyone I’d ever known. I fought for her fiercely, convinced if the US Embassy would just give me a visa for her, the world would open…neural pathways would shift…we’d have a leap, a miracle, a deep transformation, flowering from the blueprint of who she was meant to be. Of course, I thought that would happen for her, never considering it would also happen to ME.
I think anyone who really knows us would agree it was a rough but rewarding path – and we’ve come a very long way together. Of course, SHE got to meet the Dalai Lama while I had to scrub 20 years of mold off our walls in Liberia…
“There are circumstances that must shatter you; and if you are not shattered, then you have not understood your circumstances. In such circumstances, it is a failure for your heart not to break. And it is pointless to put up a fight, for a fight will blind you to the opportunity that has been presented by your misfortune. Do you wish to persevere pridefully in the old life? Of course you do: the old life was a good life. But it is no longer available to you. It has been carried away, irreversibly. So there is only one thing to be done. Transformation must be met with transformation. Where there was the old life, let there be the new life. Do not persevere. Dignify the shock. Sink, so as to rise.”
A lot of people assume I’m going to Haiti because I’m the person they know that goes to places like that and at times like this. Not actually true.
1) I’m a wimp. Faint at the sight of blood. I don’t like planes either.
2) I’m not a skilled medical person so I generally stay the h*ll away while real trained brains and hands are needed to save lives.
3) Lord, I’m vain as heck and would hate to be seen as a bandwagonner. I tend to stay away from the beaten path.
I definitely do feel the need to go help when I can – when I feel like I can address a real, unsolved need – but ONLY when I think I can do some good with my own weird and particular set of skills or if just no one else is doing it and it needs doing.
So here’s why Haiti and why now:
Five years ago or so, I read an incredible book called MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS. Written by Tracy Kidder, it’s a fascinating read about Dr. Paul Farmer and the incredible organization he founded called PARTNERS IN HEALTH. Public health – yawn, I know. But no, this was riveting. Farmer was different from anyone I had ever really heard or read about – brilliant, sharp, not afraid to just do what’s right and common sense even though every NGO, govt body, and bit of prevailing wisdom went against him.
Someone recently put it this way “Partners in Health doesn’t say ‘what’s the best use of these limited funds to affect x number of lives’ – they say ‘what does it take to save and improve the lives of everyone we serve?’ “Everyone they serve” happens to be humanity.
PIH’s mission statement says:
“At its root, our mission is both medical and moral. It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone. When a person in Peru, or Siberia, or rural Haiti falls ill, PIH uses all of the means at our disposal to make them well…Whatever it takes. Just as we would do if a member of our own family—or we ourselves—were ill.”
In Haiti – and then in Peru, Rwanda, Mexico, Russia – the people at PIH have challenged the accepted conventional wisdom time and again. They’ve dared to ask “why?” Why are we letting the poor die when solutions exist? Why does a child have to a die of a disease that a vaccine was created for decades ago?? The easy answer, the default, is “there are just aren’t enough resources to go around.”
But Partners in Health rejects that fiercely. The knowledge is there, the resources are there. The comforting lie we tell ourselves that it can’t be helped is wrong, the basic argument faulty, not based on fact.
They believe not dying of a terrible, preventable disease is a basic human right. If you know how to cure someone, have the resources, and don’t – no matter where you or they are in the world, no matter how far from each other ‐ you’ve basically
stood by and watched them die.
It’s been estimated that the total cost of providing basic social services in the developing countries, including health, education, family planning, and clean water, would cost $30 to $40 billion per year. The world spends more than this on golf annually.
Paul Farmer has said, “Many people think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We don’t believe that. There’s a lot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It’s what separates us from roaches.”
That’s a challenge, my friends. It’s uncomfortable to think about. I know many of you will disagree with it. But it resonates with me.
As most of you know, part of my day job is producing movies. Five years ago, I tried to get the film rights to the book Mountains Beyond Mountains. They were very uninterested. They were so focused on their mission, they felt that a movie would interfere with their service to their peopl. Eventually the organization came around – and began to consider it. (I may have harassed them a little.)
Finally – LATE 2009 – After an arduous interview and vetting process – against multiple formidable contenders – Partners in Health gave me and my partner director Kief Davidson the rights to make a documentary about their work. We were set to go to Haiti in February to shoot some footage and start trying to find the story.
And then the earthquake happened and the story found itself.
This will not be a movie about an earthquake or even a relief organization. I hope – and believe – it will be about a bold and courageous group of people who have committed to keeping their eyes and hearts to the reality of what CAN be done in the world- even if it’s more comfortable to think that “really, we’re doing what we can and poor people just have to die sometimes because it’s the way it goes.”
So Kief and I – and a stalwart tight crew of Dave Chameides (camera) and Scott Hanlon (sound) – are on a plane, heading to Haiti.
I won’t be saving lives. But hopefully I’ll be able to answer some of my questions by documenting the people who do – not just in a crisis – but everyday, with the way they’ve chosen to think and act and treat every person in the world as if they’re a member of their own family. Which, in essence, we all are.
PS – This article about a family that really is living the “solidarity” way gave me hope and made me wonder what more I’m able to give: http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayoflife/07/02/hunger.house/index.html
“But there comes a time – perhaps this is one of them – when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die; when we have to pull back from the incantations, rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly, and disenthrall ourselves, bestow ourselves to silence, or a severer listening, cleansed of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static crowding the wires. We cut the wires, find ourselves in free-fall, as if our true home were the undimensional solitudes, the rift in the Great Nebula. No one who survives to speak new language has avoided this: the cutting-away of an old force that held her rooted to an old ground, the pitch of utter loneliness where she herself and all creation seem equally dispersed, weightless…”
On Lies, Secrets, and Silence