Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Happiness is a Choice… cont’d

I posted my blog on Happiness being a choice, earlier today, but all sorts of additional thoughts kept swirling through my head as the day progressed. Thoughts and questions about happiness in the far flung corners of this old world of ours. So I continue on with the theme in this second blog.

I can talk about happiness being a choice in the world as I know it, but what about in the worlds I know nothing about? What do my “family members” in war torn countries know of happiness and misery? How can I relate to them?

Quite a while ago I was listening to an interview on CBC radio after a bombing in Israel. The interviewer was talking to a woman there and he asked her how she coped with the violence in her world and how she managed to continue on with her daily activities after such an event. She quoted this verse from a Leonard Cohen song…
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the life gets in.”

And then she said, “You ring the bells that still can ring, and you go on.”

I don’t know about you, but that just stopped me right in my tracks. Whatever little crisis I might be facing in my life pales in comparison with what some of my “sisters” around the world face every day. So, whatever you are facing today, ring the bells that still can ring, and go on.

I have an old, yellowing, newspaper clipping in my journal, it contains a picture of my “sister” in Afghanistan. She is huddled down on a dusty roadside, wrapped in her burka. She has her arm outstretched and is accepting a donation from a passing car. The newspaper article explains that because of Taliban restrictions on women working outside the home at that time, widows in Afghanistan had to be beggars or prostitutes. I don’t know what this woman’s story was, but she now had to sit on this dusty road in the heat of the day and beg for money for food.

Even though I couldn’t see her face, she was etched on my heart, and I wept for this “sister” that day and I still hurt for her now. But for the grace of God, that could be me sitting there instead of her. Do I understand why she is suffering so much, and not me? No, and I don’t pretend to.

What does she know of happiness? What does she know of misery? How can I help her? All these questions go through my mind, and I wrestle with them.

More recently I was looking through the Toronto Star and saw another picture that took my breath away and tugged at my heart. Let me insert here, a portion of what I wrote in my personal journal that day...

July 5th, 8am…. I just glanced at the headlines in the Toronto Star and the pictures I saw there of the situation in Chad are heartbreaking. How can this be happening on the same planet that I live on? I sit in my lush green garden and it just doesn’t compute with the pictures of Chad on the front page of the Star this morning. How can people do this to each other? I just don’t understand.

Does that woman sitting on the donkey, with her small child on her lap, not have the same hopes and dreams I do? Dear God, my heart breaks for her. The landscape that surrounds her is parched and desolate, breathing out a spirit of hopelessness and death. The hot dry wind sucks the joy out of life like it sucks the moisture out of the air. Does this woman not feel hunger and thirst like I do? Does she not long to feel the refreshing summer rain on her face and cool breezes in her hair? Does she not want a soft dry place to sleep, clean fresh water to drink, and safety and a future for her children? Of course she does. All the things that I take such joy in seem so far away from her. She is my sister in this family of humanity, and I have so much while she has so little. What is wrong with the world?

I am sitting in my quiet, cool house on this summer morning. Enjoying the comfort of my favourite rocking chair, while I journal and get my “to do” list set for the day. I can hear birds chirping just outside the window and the cat is purring at my feet. How can I experience all this when my “sister” in Chad is sitting on her donkey in that desolate, hostile place?

I have a shopping list on the counter in the kitchen – white shoes, pink purse, black slacks. Summer things should be on sale soon, so I made a list of things I want to look for and purchase, if I see a good sale. I scanned the list this morning while I poured myself a cup of steaming coffee, adding lots of fresh cream to the mix. MMMM, that first cup of coffee is so good.

As I sit here now, my mind goes back to that shopping list and I wonder what is on my “sister’s” list in Chad this morning- water, grain, firewood....? Are we really on the same planet? God help us!

12noon…I had my coffee and cereal earlier than normal this morning, so I am really hungry right now and it is only noon. I had juice, coffee with cream, cereal full of nuts, dried fruit and grains, and I added lots of milk. I have been drinking water all morning but I am still parched for a cup of tea with my lunch. How is my “sister” doing in Chad? What did she have for breakfast? Will she get any lunch? God help her…”

I ask myself again. What do I know of her pain? Nothing! Nothing at all! She and my “sister” in Afghanistan are beyond the reach of my arm, but not beyond the reach of my compassion. I do hold them in my heart and I try to honour them and acknowledge their suffering by reaching out to women who are within the reach of my arm, to help and encourage them if I can. Are we not all family? When one hurts, do we not all hurt?

I don’t know how people can chose to be happy and find hope in spite of terrible circumstances, but they do. When I read quotes from others who have gone through dreadful times, I am amazed at the human spirit and how it rises above the horrible physical and emotional pain and finds something beautiful.

I have collected quotes for many years. Let me close this blog with a few that put these feelings into words much better than I can.

“Because in spite of everything. I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Ann Frank

“I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in love, even when I do not feel it.
I believe in God, even when He is silent.”
Lines found scrawled on a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany, after bombing during World War II destroyed the city.

“If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in suffering and in dying. But no man can tell another what this purpose is. Each must find out for himself, and must accept the responsibility that his answer prescribes.”
Viktor Frankl

“He who has a “why” to live can bear with almost any “how”.”

“The last of human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” Viktor Frankl

Happiness is a choice. It really is.

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