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The heart of the human spirit

Taken from:
Saanich News September 21, 2005

Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual couple and Family Counsellor

The devastation and chaos wrought by Hurricane Katrina, the enormous loss of life caused by the South Asian Tsunami, the horror of 9/11, the epidemic of AIDS destroying families in Africa…. Shocks heard round the world.

These are all scenes brought into our Saanich homes. Pictures that tug at our finely-held illusion of security and control. Moments when real events rip into peoples’ lives and tear apart their very foundations.

Disasters remind us how little control we really do have. No one has figured out how to control a hurricane.

Even in the face of these images, people tend to cling to the certainty found through their magical thinking: “ Nothing to fear. Disasters really happen to some one else, somewhere else. ”

Not so.

The truth is that, in everyone’s life, things can change on the turn of a dime. The nature of life is change. It could be a world-event like an earthquake or a personal event like an illness or the sudden loss of a loved one.

We are all vulnerable, and sooner or later life knocks us sideways. No one escapes.

Every day, people in our very own families, our community, and our workplace meet profound life-altering events.

Quite suddenly we can lose: Our health, our home by fire, a job we’ve held for fifteen years. A pregnancy, a parent, a spouse. Our son is in a car accident. A fall from a ladder and we are in a wheelchair.

Just as in New Orleans, things happen suddenly in life and we are left bereft, facing an altered world, meeting our grief, and challenged to start again.

What are we to do? We can’t change a hurricane’s path. We can’t undo a fire’s destruction. We can’t take back the fall.

Where, in the midst of life’s randomness, is our source of power?

Jean Paul Sartre once wrote: “What really matters is not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us.”

Our source of power over circumstances lies in how we respond; most particularly, in how we respond to one another together. Our source of power lies in our relatedness as a community.

Events like this wake us up to one another, shake us from our insulated worlds, confront our closely-held independence.

In times of catastrophe, be it personal or global, for a brief moment, we see just how vulnerable and interdependent we really are. We become conscious of the difference we make to one another. We sense the pain and depth of loss, and we respond from our heart.

When we respond from care and concern for one another, we are moved and inspired and in touch with the realities of life. When we choose to respond, to take some action, we release a force into the world.

These are also the scenes in Hurricane Katrina’s wake. People responding. Asking “what can I do ? What can we do ?” It has been said that, thanks to the outpouring of support from the world, a greater disaster was averted in the Asian Tsunami crisis.

This is the saving grace and the opportunity, be it in the larger world or right here in our own back yard. There is power available when we face the uncertainties and risks of life together.

For in these heart-felt tragedies lie hidden one of our deepest truths: We are one human family. We are all in this together. It is through our response, our actions, large and small, that we experience the healing response of “community”.

When we respond as a community to the suffering around us we see the truth, the resilience, and heart of the human spirit.

Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist. He can be reached at the Victoria Family Institute at 721 2477 or contacted through his web site at www.paulbeckow.com

For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.

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