A few years ago I was working on a project called “People Profiles” for my job at a busy healthcare organization. The goal of the project was to create informative one-page fact sheets representing some of the ethnically diverse groups in the greater Boston area. These would then be used with healthcare providers to help them better understand how to serve patients who have differing views of health and illness.
It was an interesting and challenging project, not least because for each people profile I had the privilege of working with someone from the country represented.
China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Haiti, Puerto Rico and more were my world for a few weeks and the people who I worked with were amazing. The personal and informational things they shared were invaluable, not only to the project but to me. I learned about immigration patterns and warring groups; gender roles and views of the elders in community; herbs and teas; tiger balm and hot/cold theories;dual causality and fate. The writers worked to educate; initially me and ultimately future readers of the profiles, to help us think beyond the surface and give excellent care.
One of those I worked with was a lovely Sudanese woman named Shahira. With beautiful prose she helped to write the “people profile” on the Sudan. She helped to give personality to a place I knew only from limited interactions with people in Cairo, where Sudanese have struggled as a minority group of refugees, without a country and at the lowest levels of society. At the top of the page she posted a proverb that I will never forget.
Our wasted days are the days we never laugh
I was struck by this for a couple of reasons. One was my appreciation for laughter and humor to get me through the difficult times, what Madeleine L’engle calls the “Holy Gift of Laughter”. The other was the contrast between what I knew and read on the fact sheet, and the proverb. It made no sense. How can people laugh when they have faced war, rape, starvation, and other untold horrors? What can possibly be the foundation for the resilience of their human spirit through such times, allowing them to see this proverb as representative of their spirit? It makes my difficult times look like a hot day at Disney world when the lines are long. Uncomfortable and not pleasant, but when compared, embarrassing.
These are the times when I am utterly confident that we are created in the image of God for there is no other explanation.
On Monday, July 9th, there was cause for much laughter and celebration as South Sudan was welcomed to the world as a new country. While there are enormous challenges that I couldn’t begin to analyze, after fifty plus years of war the celebration is welcome. The Sudanese proverb above gives me insight into the perseverance of a people who will continue to move forward, despite the challenges of illiteracy and poverty, determined to move past surviving to thriving as a new country.
Today is a reminder that after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible. A proud flag flies over Juba and the map of the world has been redrawn. These symbols speak to the blood that has been spilled, the tears that have been shed, the ballots that have been cast, and the hopes that have been realized by so many millions of people. The eyes of the world are on the Republic of South Sudan. And we know that southern Sudanese have claimed their sovereignty, and shown that neither their dignity nor their dream of self-determination can be denied. – President Obama, July 9, 2011