Every Life Is Beautiful

I was giddy! The last movie I saw in the middle of the day, alas not a kid’s movie, had to have been Ocean’s Eleven… in Amsterdam. That was eons ago. Going yesterday left me feeling a mixture of elation and shame… kind of like Ferris Buehler must have felt on his famous day off. I was going to meet a friend to see October Baby. Thankfully and humorously my friend brought a box of Kleenex along. She knows me well.
The movie is about a 19 year old young lady who is told finally the secret behind her mysterious illnesses… the epilepsy, the asthma, the hip surgeries. She was born at 24 weeks… after a failed abortion attempt. She was a twin and her brother, whose arm had been ripped off during the abortion attempt, died after a four month struggle in the NICU. Hannah, the young lady who survives and is adopted immediately after birth, handles this news with the proper hysterics and heads off on a road trip to find out “who she is.”
Watching the movie, I felt sympathy for Hannah. Certain of her emotions resonated with me. But I felt even more sympathy for the birth mom and for the adoptive dad. John Schneider (think back to the Dukes of Hazard!) plays the dad… a surgeon whose communication skills are reduced to angry orders by his own conflicting emotions. Trapped by his own larger-than-life emotions over the history that led him and his wife to adopt Hannah and her twin brother, the trauma of losing the little boy, and the 19 ensuing years of loving and never wanting to let go of his precious gift, he can’t communicate effectively his love for his daughter. But that love is immense and it ultimately leads him to listen and respond to Hannah in a way that she can hear and accept. And the birth mother. What a secret to harbor for so long. Faced with it suddenly one day, one feels for the rip in her soul as she struggles to decide whether to accept or push aside the past. Hannah leaves her a note that reads, “I forgive you.” It is that note that allows the birth mother to face the past, share it with her husband, and begin to heal. Forgiveness is such a powerful thing.
At the end of the movie, a phrase is flashed across the screen… “every life is beautiful.” I know the purpose of that statement is to primarily remind us that even those lives not yet realized, not yet breathing outside the womb, are beautiful too. But the movie served to remind me of the great beauty of every life. From the priest in the cathedral to the police officer who arrests Hannah for breaking and entering, from the nurse who left nursing because of the guilt she felt at participating in so many abortions to the birth mother, everyone has a story often marked with the ugly and the sinful and the shameful. Everyone. But those lives are beautiful nonetheless, in spite of the ugly. It’s kind of like the message in the Disney animated favorite, Ratatouille… anyone can cook… even a rat.
I spent time with Uncle Lee and Aunt Anne this past weekend doing lots of Compassion Tea things. We spent a lot of time living out Compassion Tea’s mission… “inspiring compassion through sharing tea.” Said another way, we spent a lot of time drinking tea and telling stories. Having never been to Africa myself, I did a lot of listening, as I usually do when I get together with the Compassion Tea team. The stories they have of people in Africa are shocking, overwhelming, eye-opening, and life-changing. Like the story of Lee watching a group of children playing. One little boy wandered off suddenly, obviously disoriented and unwell. Lee asked the nurse what was going on. “Oh,” she replied, “that child is in the last stages of AIDS. He probably won’t last must longer.” Or the story of Waddington which I’ve shared before. I don’t think I realized before that he had gone 3 months before his broken leg was attended too. No wonder it was severely infected and painful. Or poor 3 year old Yohanna who may or may not still be alive after he was treated for malaria at the Tanzania Christian Clinic. We don’t know if he has succumbed to malnutrition or if his grandmother has been able to procure a source of food for him. Or the story of the woman Anne and Chris Faherty (another Compassion Tea founder) saw in the hospital in Sinazongway, Zambia. Hospital is a term Anne used loosely. You see, in Africa, most rural hospitals are staffed only Monday through Friday. The patients are left to fend for themselves over the weekend. Families provide any food they can as the hospitals don’t have cafeterias (let alone clean sheets, sterile environments, or any of the comforts of an American hospital). Anne and Chris visited such a hospital over a weekend and saw a woman there who was extremely bloated, yellow, dehydrated, and suffering greatly. The nurse they were with (from an organization not affiliated with the hospital) was able to help the woman by starting an IV of necessary fluids to help her body purge the toxins inside. Had they not come along, the woman would have died that weekend… in the hospital… untended.
Each of these lives is so beautiful and so precious. You know, here in the States, we get pretty hung up on the rights of people… a woman’s right to abortion or to subsidized contraception, a person’s right to affordable/subsidized health care. We can argue day and night, night and day about whether it is a person’s responsibility to control his or her desires, own up to his or her “mistakes” when another’s life is on the line, or whether we should expect the government to mandate and redistribute and engineer our lives for us. But as Lee said this weekend, the person with the least here in the States still has more than the people in the bush in Africa. We are still waiting for big answers to the problems in Africa, but in the meantime, there are things we can do NOW to bring compassion to those beautiful lives. That’s at the heart of the Compassion Tea mission. We drink tea so that we can support the work of those in Africa who are helping to sustain those beautiful lives. It is little, but a little compassion can go a long way.

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