By Tiffany A. Potter
Confession: I am finding it hard not to lose faith in humanity at the moment. I’m not proud of it, and I’m sure it will pass though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it will, but it’s where I’m currently at. Between the frequency of terrorist attacks, the current state of our political landscape, the dire need for the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the fall out because of it, the stories of those who poach and abuse animals, and everything in between that threaten our global community’s sense of peace, there is at least a news story or two every day that break my heart. (As I sit down to write on deadline day I am processing the latest tragedy out of Nice, France that happened last night; déjà vu from last month’s column, it seems). It’s all relentless at this point and it feels as though it’s never going to end.
A year ago I picked up a book that soon after I couldn’t put down, and now has a forever place on my desk. Warriors Don’t Cry, written by Melba Patillo-Beale, was her first-hand account of life as one of the Little Rock 9 who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. It is equal parts heartbreaking, impressive, and empowering. Her account of the reality they lived through in the powerfully racist American South and the torture they endured every single day at the hands of a community who hated them solely based on their own ignorance, had me mesmerized from page one to the end. Perhaps having lived with a disability all of my life and experiencing all of the ridicule that comes along with looking and being different, or perhaps because I’m an old soul who feels others pain so deeply at a cellular level (a blessing and a curse); that I seem to be drawn to people and stories and events in our collective conscious who have made it through the worst and still gone on to love, to forgive, to survive, and more importantly, to thrive with an open heart. After finishing the book I reached out to Ms. Patillo-Beale in the hopes of an interview but I have yet to hear back. As I mentioned in the email I sent to her, I am less interested in her re-telling of the story of that challenging year in her life; and more interested in how she didn’t completely lose faith in humanity.
There was a time that I volunteered as a companion for San Diego Hospice. I offered my time to this cause partially because I couldn’t stand the thought of people transitioning from this life by themselves, with no one at their bedside, and partially because I selfishly wanted so desperately to learn from them. I wanted to hear their stories and maybe catch a glimpse of what life looked like through their experiences. I have always known that I would be doing myself a huge disservice if I didn’t learn from those who came before me. Those who have lived realities that I may never know, those bridge builders between then and now, those with perspectives and beliefs that I may not fully understand but that I can use to be more empathetic. I have never felt like I know everything, in fact, I live in humility and awe of all that I don’t know, all of the time. I’m a self-proclaimed seeker, always searching for what I’m missing, what others know that I don’t. I pillage other people’s wisdom in hopes of it helping me make sense of this life I’ve got. And with that, in this time of my life and of our collective soul when I grapple with the heaviness of my heart for all of our suffering and unsureness, I turn to those who have come before me.
July 2, 2016 the world lost Elie Wiesel. Holocaust survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald death camps, author of 57 books of which Night is the one most people are probably familiar with, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 as well as a number more that the world bestowed upon him. While he is not perfect and his politics and beliefs are, at best, complicated, there is no denying that he suffered through the ugliest of realities. He survived during a time when, in his words, “it was human to be inhuman”. Regardless of one’s feelings about his nationalistic and ethnic loyalties it should never tarnish or invalidate his legacy. And just as Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King, Jr. were not one’s idea of perfect, they were flawed as all human beings tend to be, and love them or hate them, it does not diminish what they gave us. I have read Mr. Wiesel, studied him, and internalized his poetic quotes regarding human behavior for my own use when I need to draw on advice or strength where my own soul fails me. Out of our loss of this great survivor and sage I am most grateful that he left behind a collection of his thoughts and experiences that we may use for our own selfish reasons in time of need…like now.
I can’t help but feel as though I am not the only one who is struggling a bit with our communal divides and global heartbreak in this moment, so in honor of Mr. Wiesel (who believed it was of utmost importance to “reject despair”) who once said “If life is not an offering to the other what are we doing on this earth?” I offer this; some pearls of his wisdom derived from intense experience, to you my sweet friends. A small collection of his words that, just maybe, will bring you some comfort and hope as they have brought me in my effort to regain my composure and remember to be courageous in love and solidarity.
“You have to believe in the humanity of human beings.” (2006)
“I know and I speak from experience, that even in the midst of darkness, it is possible to create light and share warmth with one another; that even on the edge of the abyss, it is possible to dream exalted dreams of compassion; that it is possible to be free and strengthen the ideals of freedom, even within prison walls; that even in exile, friendship becomes an anchor.” (2009)
“Indifference enables everything that is bad. We must fight the indifference.” (In response to his most famous quote “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference…”)
“We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them.” (1986)
“Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.”
“In the final analysis, I still believe in man in spite of men.”
Thank you, Mr. Wiesel.
Tiffany is a disability consultant, entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, and change agent.
Find her at: www.TiffanysTake.com