Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Honour and Dignity

Live with courage, Act with Justice, Choose with Love

 'Speak up  for those who cannot speak for themselves, and for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly.  Defend the rights of those who are suffering and in need.'  Proverbs 31

A couple of years ago, I helped my then 19-year-old son move all of his stuff out of his first apartment and back home for a brief stay before he purchased his own place.   The 'Honkin’ He-man Truck', as I aptly call my husband’s ridiculously large Dodge Ram, was filled stem to stern with all of the typical belongings of a young man making his way in the world.  We were talking about why he was leaving the house he had shared for the past year with four other 19- and 20-year-old men.  I think it had only taken about four months for the allure of this first “home away from home” to wear off.  

I was troubled as I helped him pack.  The house had deteriorated considerably over the course of the year, each room in its own unique state of disarray and chaos.   What troubled me, on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, was the fact that most of these kids were still recuperating from last night’s party and one was obviously still high with the earthy smell of marijuana pouring out of his room.   Drugs and alcohol were definitely around in my day but the number of kids using drugs on a daily basis has skyrocketed.  It has become a favoured way of coping with the stress of the world.   My son lamented, “The world is not a great place, Mom.”  I know this to be true at 50 years of age, but this was not my reality at 19. 

The world has been pushing the envelope of decency for many years now and our kids are suffering as a result.  Their souls have been pummeled with an onslaught of all that is unwholesome and indecent.  We ushered this new boundary-free era into our homes.  It slipped in almost imperceptibly with the flat-screen TVs, laptop computers, handheld devices, and smart phones.  It crept in under the guise of progress and information technology.  It all happened so fast that my generation, the parents of these computer-era kids, had no idea how to navigate this new and dangerous territory let alone police it.

  But the state of today’s children and young adults weighs heavily on my mind.  In twenty five years of practising medicine, never have I seen so many depressed and anxious teenagers.  Never before have I written so many prescriptions for psychiatric medications for people under the age of 18 and never before have I seen the use of illicit drugs as almost commonplace among those teens who are trying to cope.  Frankly, those of us on the front lines of the medical system in this country cannot keep up.

I am not an expert but doesn't the ailing mental health of our young people indicate a much deeper and more pervasive problem?  Isn't their suffering a symptom of something sinister and dark that has permeated our society and infiltrated our communities?  Or is it just the lack of focus on those human qualities and characteristics that make us feel good about ourselves, that make our communities co-hesive and strong and allow our children to feel like they are a part of something good, something worth believing in, something bigger than themselves?

I'll take a stab at it:  how about honour and dignity, compassion and decency?

Today we buried a young Canadian.  He was standing on guard and unarmed when he was  killed.   He represented all of these characteristics.  I think that is why his death is so collectively painful; there is so little evidence that these qualities thrive anywhere in our world right now.  Losing this soldier who represented youth, vitality, honour, dignity, compassion and decency stabs us where it pains the most:  our souls.

Nathan Cirillo was a young and decent man and a loving father.

In March of 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting another young father, like Nathan.  His name was Ntate Senekale.   I sat on the porch of a foster home high up in the mountains of Lesotho.  I had traveled most of the day to get to this remote village.  The scenery was breathtaking, as usual, with fall colours settling in on mountaintops and summer crops maturing in valleys.  The rough, paved road climbed endlessly, cutting through shimmering fields and golden peaks.  We left the van at the side of the road and climbed to a cinder block bungalow, part of a cluster of buildings.  An old church sat adjacent to the lane way.  A garden was nestled to one side and beyond the compound was a beautiful field with the sun setting just above a line of trees;  a magical place. 

This is the home to three AIDS  orphans and their foster parents and one of the homes that Bracelet of Hope supports.   Lerato was 11 at the time.  Her mother was mentally ill and suffered from an untreated seizure disorder.  Hlompho, age 6, lost both of his parents to AIDS.  He was cared for by an abusive uncle and then an aging grandfather.  At four, he was still not toilet trained, a fact which prompted the local church to move him to this home.   Monthethe was also six.  Her father, Ntate Senekale, was dying of AIDS and her mother left when the illness took his sight. 

Ntate Senekale was 35 years old.  He was severely wasted and frail.  He leaned forward on a cane and stared into space through colourless eyes.  In the advanced stages of HIV, a virus infects the back of the eye, destroying the retina.  Vision deteriorates rapidly and blindness settles in within weeks.  Before the dawn of HIV medications, I would send patients like him to a specialist in Toronto who could delay the onset of blindness by repeatedly injecting the eyeball with an anti-viral medication.  Unspeakable suffering. 

Ntate Senekale’s  lived in a shack not far from this foster home.  He spent most of his time standing in this compound trying to maintain his relationship with his daughter, Monthethe. He stood as if on guard, watching over her. I sat on the porch, a little weary from the journey, and watched as the foster father, Ntate Ntabejane, approached Ntate Senekale.  He placed one hand on his shoulder, the other on his hand, a gesture of love and compassion.  The foster parents of this home loved this man.  They gently cared for him as they dedicated their lives to caring for his child.

Ntate Senekali was a young and decent man and a loving father.

Nathan Cirello had dedicated his life to the Canadian Military which meant defending both our rights as Canadians and the rights of the most desperate in the world.

Ntate  Senekale and Monthethe

Decency and compassion still exist.  I think they may exist in abundance.  They are overshadowed and hidden by all of the indecency that constantly invades our consciousness and darkens our souls.  The same indecency and darkness that fills our children with hopelessness and fear.   I am glad we all stood up and honoured our fallen soldier today.  I am glad my children had the opportunity to witness his young life and his decency.  I am glad, that for even a short period of time, his life and his decency took centre stage in our hearts, our minds and our homes.  

Markus and Nathan Cirillo
'Sheep of Your own flock.  Lambs of Your own fold'

Anne-Marie Zajdlik MD CCFP O. Ont.
Founder of Bracelet of Hope

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