Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Threads

I am a news junkie. I am. I've admitted it before but in case you've missed it, I'm putting it out there again. Many times, I've found myself glued to one (or three) stations just trying to grasp the magnitude of an incident or event and I realize I'm hardly breathing or eating or sleeping, trying to get my head around what often turns out to be senseless. School shooting. Ebola outbreaks. Racial tensions.
Not surprisingly, this 24 hour access to news can be detrimental not only to my physical health but to my mental health.

There's a quote attributed to Mr. Rogers, of childhood television fame, in which in the dark surrounding all the bad news, his mother tells him to look for the "helpers." It's a simple truth that even in the worst scenarios, unimaginable circumstances, there are heroes. Often unnoticed, often unrecognized, even ignored, these stories are threads of light in the wet blanket of bad news that we find ourselves thrown under again and again.

I recognized those threads of light in a story a few weeks ago about Ebola survivors. I was looking at the treatment centres in Liberia and how primitive but functional they were and I was thinking that after days or weeks of fighting off one of the worst viruses imaginable, it would be so freeing to walk out of there and get home. I saw images of those who survived, gaunt and taut skinned, tired but jubilant that they were able to leave and they walked this gauntlet of  what looked like a cattle run to leave the clinic and go back to whatever life was left at home.
Pete K. Muller captures this image and it inhabits my dreams.

I was struck by this image that showed a busload of survivors returning home, mattresses stacked on top of the bus to replace their own that had had to be burned to eradicate the virus in the home they were returning to. It haunts me. Emotional. I began to see that homegoing wasn't without it's own costs. Many have lost their families. Their jobs. Their homes.

Photos from National Geographic's John Moore of Ebola Survivors in Liberia....Take a moment. Read their short stories. Feel their pain. Their exhaustion. Their triumph. Their grief.

And then, I recognized them. The threads. Amongst the stories of survivors returning home, were stories of those who stayed. Survivors of Ebola have an immunity to the virus that seems to protect them for at least a few weeks or months after they have survived it. Instead of walking the gauntlet to rebuild their own lives, there are stories of survivors who instead stay and help others fighting for their lives. Can you imagine? You've been surrounded by doctors and nurses in haz mat suits for weeks, unable to be touched or held, and in walks someone who has no protective suit on, looks you in the eye and says, "I beat this, you can too." What an incredible hope these survivors can convey just by their very presence. But imagine the strength it takes, to stay and hold hands and rock babies and comfort children as so many others die and are replaced by many more fighting the same fight. I can't imagine the strength it takes to beat Ebola. It would take even more to stay and fight alongside others when your battle is won. And yet....these are the "helpers"....the ones to look for. The ones to emulate. Though they've earned the freedom to walk away, would stay in the midst and cheer on those that are still fighting the battle.

These threads of light are everywhere. Sometimes it's hard to see light for all the darkness trying to stifle it but light will always drive out darkness, and when threads are woven together, they just get stronger and brighter. We've been given such freedom in our lives. There is nothing that says we can't celebrate it or enjoy it, but how much more will we enjoy it when we can celebrate it with those we've helped fight for their own? Look back on your own battles, where can you step back in and give hope, be light? In an age where people look for purpose or calling, paradoxically, we often look for places that are already lit when it's really stepping into the shadows that allows us to shine. 

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