The soundtrack to my teenage years in the mid-eighties was filled with The Specials Nelson Mandela protest song; in school I spoke as captain of our debating team about the evils of apartheid in South Africa, and I witnessed the strike by 12 workers at Dunnes Stores in Dublin who protested for two and a half years, for the right not to handle goods from Apartheid South Africa. The dispute started when Mary Manning, a 21-year-old cashier, courageously refused to handle fruit from apartheid-era South Africa. Mary and her colleagues became a household name in South Africa and Mandela said that their stand helped keep him going during his imprisonment. Many years later when on honeymoon to South Africa, I had the opportunity to visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his life in exile.
Nelson Mandela became for me and will remain the most iconic figure in my life time. In the eloquent words of Barack Obama he was a “man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.” The impressions made on us when we are young have such profound and lasting effects that it feels when something connected to that time is lost years later, that we also lose something of our youth. But it can also be an opportunity to reconnect with our youthful idealism. I am reminded of this again today, International Nelson Mandela Day, reading his quotes:
It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that determines the significance of the life we lead. ~ Nelson Mandela
Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.~Nelson Mandela
Our world is a poorer place for Nelson Mandela’s passing, but a far richer and better place thanks to his life – a reminder to us that we are capable of so much more in our lives and no longer settle for playing it otherwise.
Lynne Twist talks about visiting a potter in Mexico. She admired the pottery, and commented on its beauty. She noticed that the potter had many pots and asked, “How many pots have you made?” The potter was surprised by the question. “Here,” he answered, “we don’t count such things.” – The Soul of Money
The Hope of Loving
What keeps us alive, what allows us to endure?
I think it is the hope of loving,
or being loved.
I heard a fable once about the sun going on a journey
to find its source, and how the moon wept
without her lover’s
We weep when light does not reach our hearts. We wither
like fields if someone close
does not rain their
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
Naomi Shihab Nye
What is the best way to ease someone’s pain and suffering? In this beautifully animated RSA Short, Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.
After the car bomb ripped through his west Baghdad neighbourhood, Karim Wasfi set a stool among the wreckage and played his cello.
The strains of his song drew a curious crowd to the street earlier this week, just hours after the explosion had killed ten people.
Two other car bombs had struck the Iraqi capital on that Tuesday afternoon, claiming nine more lives, and leaving dozens of people injured.
“People were united against the tragedy. There was sincerity and kindness, tears and hugs,” said Mr Wasfi, describing the crowd that formed as he played. He calls the self-penned composition ‘Baghdad Mourning’.
Captured on film, Mr Wasfi’s impromptu concert has since been shared around the world. The former conductor of Iraq’s national symphony orchestra sits tall as he plays, stationed beside a burned out café he once visited to read musical scores.
The father of two says it felt like a natural gesture. “I wanted to show what beauty can be in the ugly face of car bombs, and to respect the souls of the fallen ones,” he said.
“I’m worried that people are losing hope and surrender to the situation,” said Mr Wasfi. After a decade dominated by waves of war, Iraq’s social fabric is being shredded by sectarianism. Governments, militants and street militia have repeatedly exploited the tensions to win support.
I play to show life is worth living – I can’t beat the bombs with my cello, but I can bring respect for the dead
This week’s featured Global Village storyteller is Scott J. Kolbaba, MD.
A doctor of internal medicine in Wheaton, Illinois, Dr Kolbaba is the author of Physicians Untold Stories: Miraculous experiences Doctors are hesitant to share with their patients, or ANYONE. Today we are featuring an inspirational story from the book.
Stephen J. Graham, MD
I wondered if the unusual tattoo on John Walters’s arm might be related to the sadness in his eyes. He was seeing me in the emergency department for abdominal pain. I was initially hesitant to ask him about the tattoo, but curiosity got the best of me.
“Is that a coin?” I asked, pointing to his forearm.
“Yes,” he said.
“That’s a little unusual,” I said tentatively, not wanting to offend him.
“It’s a dime,” he said. “I did it for my son, Robby.”
He paused and took a breath. I soon realized why I had struck such a deeply emotional chord.
“He was killed,” he said as he stopped again to compose himself. “It was terrible, an accident on the expressway over ten years ago. He was my…only son. He loved coins and had an incredible coin collection. We would go through the change together to find the pennies, nickels, and dimes for his collection books. My wife and I would give him the rarer coins for his birthday and Christmas. His favorite collection was dimes, and he had an unusual knack for finding them everywhere. We would go to a Cubs game, and he would find a dime under his seat or on the sidewalk outside his favorite storefront Christmas window. Whenever we did anything special together, he would find a dime. It was really uncanny.
“I know you probably won’t believe this, but after he left us, I started finding dimes too. Anytime I do something that would have been special for him, I find a dime—vacations, dinners out, sporting events. They appear on the floor, under a plate, or anywhere. I can almost count on it now, and I think it’s his way of communicating. He looks out for me, like my guardian angel. I wanted Robby to know that I knew he was there, so I put this tattoo on my arm. If you look at it, the year is Robby’s birth year, and his name is right here, R-O-B-B-Y.”
“That’s a touching story,” I said, trying not to show my skepticism, while at the same time wishing it really was true. But it was true for John, and that was the important thing.
After I finished his exam, John went for a CT scan, which revealed a minor infection.
“I have good news,” I told him after the radiologist called with the report. “You won’t need to be admitted to the hospital. It’s a simple infection. I’m going to give you some antibiotics, and you need to follow up with your regular physician in three days. Oh, thanks for sharing Robby’s story with me,” I said as I turned to walk out of his room.
“I had a feeling you could help me,” he said. “Thanks.”
John’s story resonated in my mind, but I still couldn’t get myself to accept that a loved one could communicate from the other side.
I made my way back to the doctor’s dictation area where patients have no access. As I sat down at my computer to complete his notes, something on the floor caught my eye. I reached for it. A dime!
A sudden eerie feeling came over me. Then I smiled.
“Thanks, Robby,” I said under my breath, “for looking out for your dad…and for helping me believe.”
After being awarded a degree in economics from Cornell College and serving with the Marine Corps Reserves, Scott Kolbaba completed his medical degree at the University of Illinois and graduated with honors. He interned with Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center and completed his residency at the Mayo Clinic. He is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.
Visit www.physiciansuntoldstories.com or order his new book at Physicians Untold Stories: Miraculous experiences Doctors are hesitant to share with their patients, or ANYONE on Amazon now.
Here’s a wonderful vignette from Fredrik Backman’s, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, an exquisitely moving portrait of an elderly man’s struggle to hold on to his most precious memories, and his family’s efforts to care for him—even as they must find a way to let go.
The man and his grandson Noah sit on a bench in a square that keeps getting smaller every day. The square is strange but also familiar, full of the odds and ends that have made up their lives: Grandpa’s work desk, the stuffed dragon that Grandpa once gave to Noah, the sweet-smelling hyacinths that Grandma loved to grow in her garden.
As they wait together on the bench, they tell jokes and discuss their shared love of mathematics.
“He always wants to know everything about school, but not like other adults, who only want to know if Noah is behaving. Grandpa wants to know if the school is behaving. It hardly ever is.
Our teacher made us write a story about what we want to be when we’re big, Noah tells him.
What did you write?
I wrote that I wanted to concentrate on being little first.
That’s a very good answer.
Isn’t it? I would rather be old than a grown-up. All grown-ups are angry, its just children and old people who laugh.
Did you write that?
What did your teacher say? She said I hadn’t understood the task.
And what did you say?
I said, she hadn’t understood my answer.
I love you, Grandpa manages to say with closed eyes.”