“The human body has limitations. The human spirit is boundless.” ~ Dean Karnazes.
When you spend your childhood in the church, there are certain hymns that take you way back. When you spend your childhood in a Jamaican church, you can add the choruses of the Ira D. Sankey clothback book to that mix. If, like me, you didn’t continue the church-going tradition into your adulthood, it can be quite a shock when you visit a church and realize you have been left behind. The modern hymns are upbeat and powerful enough, but completely unfamiliar. Unless, of course, you are attending a funeral, and then (again, especially if it is a Jamaican funeral), you get the old familiar ‘It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul)’ and you find yourself singing the alto line, just like old times.
When catastrophe occurs, especially when the source is quite literally beyond our control, it forces you to seek perspective. The residents of those beautiful islands in the Bahamas have gone through, are going through, and will continue to go through the biggest challenges of their lives thus far. Having experienced the fringes or the edges of hurricanes myself, I cannot begin to imagine how you survive sitting (clinging) through the fiercest part of a category 5 storm for 41 hours. I remember it was after Hurrican Andrew that I realized that only the human eye is amazing enough to take in 360 degrees of devastation. Seeing photos, watching scenes on TV (if we had power and could watch TV) cannot give you the full extent of the damage. It is only when you see it with your own eyes that you see the enormity, the totality of the obliteration. I know we have not begun to see even one percent of the suffering experienced by the residents of the Bahamas. I am sure we are going to be appalled and horrified by the firsthand accounts that will trickle out in the media. And yet.
And yet there are also going to be stories of hope, of strength, of superhuman effort, of heroes and heroines, of great sacrifice and generosity. For it is in tragedy that human beings have the capacity for true greatness of spirit. We have seen time and again (unfortunately) how communities can transcend divisions and divisiveness when they go through a similar tragic experience together. Too many cities have renamed themselves ‘Fill-in-the-blank Strong’ as they demonstrate that together, unified, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. The true tragedy is that it takes a tragedy to bring out that realization. And that in time, people drift back into their corners, their zones of comfort.
We know that communities and organizations near and far will dig into their pantries and their pockets to show love and generosity to those who will be trying to rebuild, as well we should. For as anyone who was glued to the Weather Channel recently knows, it could just as easily be you or me. And as we give, we are hoping that someone (specifically, the one who is control of these things) is noting what we are doing and placing a check mark against our names!
Whether the tragedy that we have to overcome is huge and part of a communal experience, or intensely private, it is often up to us to find the strength to pick ourselves up and continue. Last weekend we partied despite Dorian who threatened to knock at our door, even out-of-towners dared to travel into the war zone, enabling us to defiantly hold our annual fund-raising dinner dance. Our guest speaker was one of our own, a past student who was also one of our scholarship recipients. She embodies the best of what we can hope to support, a student who graduated from the University of the West Indies with a degree in medicine, and started her career in the field of Oncology. Unfortunately, her life took a different turn when she was diagnosed with Lupus. She shared how she had to accept that she had to take a different path from the one she had dreamed of, in order to adapt to her new reality. Her diagnosis was no different to being slapped and scoured by a Category 5 hurricane. Her dreams, her aspirations, her intentions were all swept away in the storm, and she had to regroup and start over.
There are many of us who face our own personal challenges, and the beauty of the human spirit is the ability to dig deep to find the strength, the willpower, the energy to rebuild and recreate. We often hear the stories of people who lost everything but now are successful, wealthy and on top of the world. The author Brene Brown has done much work on the resilience of the human spirit; she is fascinated by that period when you lose everything and are face down in the mud. What was that time like, and how did you manage to start the climb out, to be able to end up successful again. It is that nadir, that lowest point in our life that shows us who we are, that forces us to be strong and overcome.
This Friday morning I am reflecting on my blessings. I am hearing that old sea-faring hymn with its mournful minor chords singing of raging storms:
Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
I hope we will be able to offer some help to those who have lost everything, and that we will give with no desire for applause. I am reminded also of the beautiful passage that reads (in the King James Version which is even more pertinent): “charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up…” We need to give because we can, because we are human, because next time it could be us. But we also need to make noise in the halls of power, to ensure that everything possible is done to address climate change and the chances we are taking with the future of our children’s children.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family, and sing a Sankey for me!