Thanksgiving Carrots

Everyday Stories of Peace, entry fourteen, November 27, 2014

Our plans for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner began six months ago with a pack of seeds and a bit of dirt. As soon as last winter was safely past and the sun had sufficiently warmed the topsoil, my daughter and I went out to the vegetable patch to plant a few rows of carrots. This was actually a difficult task. Carrot seeds are almost imperceptibly small and resemble a fleck of black pepper. It takes a steady hand to sow a straight line of seeds, and coordinated fingers to thin out the seedlings once they have made it to the soil surface. We planted the seeds last May and hoped that there’d be enough sun and water to bring a few of the orange vegetables to our Thanksgiving dinner table this November.

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Carrots became a permanent dish at our family’s annual Thanksgiving table the year we helped serve dinner at a local soup kitchen near our home in Massachusetts. Once a month, a group of people through our church would take turns cooking and serving a warm home-cooked meal. That November, our family was in charge of vegetables. This meant that we had to prepare enough carrots to feed anywhere between 60 to 100 people, depending upon how many came to the soup kitchen that day.

That same year, I was helping at a nearby community farm to finish up projects before winter. One of our tasks was to go through the carrot patch with pitchforks, overturn the soil and remove any carrots which had been overlooked during the harvest. I came home with two large bags of extremely muddy roots. It took our family several days to scrub clean all the carrots, and even more time to scrape and chop them into bite-size pieces. We took shifts at the kitchen counter, the kids taking a break from homework to peel a few carrots at a time. After all that hard work making so many carrots ready for the pot, we wanted to cook them just right. I found the perfect recipe in a French cookbook. The year we served our Thanksgiving carrots, there were a lot of people who came back for seconds.

We’ve cooked and help serve many times at that soup kitchen. Once my son and his friend made and served sandwiches. In the process, they discovered that their production speed was thirty sandwiches an hour. The bigger realization for all of us, however, was a deeper feeling of gratitude. It’s like the the happy feeling you get when cooking for a large extended family.

So when our family sits down to Thanksgiving, we always look at the carrots and remember the year we were able to pick, scrub, peel, chop, cook and serve carrots at the local soup kitchen. I think that everyone in our family felt grateful that they had the opportunity to help in some small way, getting the carrots from the Earth all the way to a table where they were most needed. Our Thanksgiving carrots help us think about all the factors concerning food, from growing it to sharing it and making sure that everyone has enough to eat.

This Thanksgiving there will be carrots at our table, but not ones we have grown ourselves. A backyard bird helped herself to our seedlings. Perhaps she had a full nest to feed; a few more members of our extended family.

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Building Global Resistance to Ebola

Everyday Stories of Peace, entry thirteen, November 7, 2014

“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.” – Dr. Paul Farmer, Co-founder of Partners in Health

Everyone’s been thinking a lot about the Ebola virus outbreak these past few months. So when a friend and I decided to put together a Halloween party for our students, it seemed like a good venue for raising money to support the efforts of Partners in Health www.PIH.org, a global health care organization working to help the poorest of the poor.

We had our party earlier this evening (Halloween in Sweden is celebrated through the first week in November), and the children and parents who attended seemed to have fun. This year’s Halloween party included a “pumpkin walk,” face painting, crafts, music, and a used book sale. We also sold baked goods and sandwiches for our “fika” table. For those of you unfamiliar with “fika,” it’s one of the main national pastimes in Sweden where one takes a pause during the day to sit in friendly conversation with old or new acquaintances, often with a cup of coffee and a tasty home-baked treat.

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There are many fantastic organizations working to meet the health care needs of people across the globe, but what is especially appealing about the work of Partners in Health (PIH) is its emphasis on communities in extreme poverty, as well as its philosophy of putting health care in the center of the larger conversation about human rights. Founded by Dr. Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl over 25 years ago, PIH operates in Haiti, the United States, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, Malawi and Lesotho. PIH’s current response to the Ebola virus disease focuses, among other things, on preventative care by providing community health care workers with information and materials to educate people about how to stay healthy. You can read more about it on their website: www.pih.org/priority-programs/ebola.

Since learning about PIH when were living back in our hometown near Boston, I’ve been extremely impressed by how the sheer determination of a few people can make an impact. I’ve heard Dr. Farmer speak twice, and even saw him once in Geneva many years ago leaving a WHO meeting. I’m pretty sure it was him because, as far as I could tell, he looked extremely indignant. He’s definitely the kind of doctor you’d want on your side, looking out for you as if you were an extended family member.

If you are interested in reading more about the founding of Partners in Health, I can recommend Track Kidder’s book, Mountains beyond Mountains, “The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who would change the world,” first published in 2003. This book has been a popular read, especially for high school and college students looking for inspiration as they think about their life direction.

Another book which is extremely useful in understanding the global health care situation is Dr. Farmer’s Pathologies of Power, “Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor,” published in 2005. He talks a lot about how a “preferential option” for the poorest of the poor is a social justice issue which should be at the top of the global to-do list. He discusses health care in the context of human rights, and has an extremely impressive list of endnotes and sources. As one of those strange people who reads a book by starting with the endnotes before the first chapter, I have to say that Dr. Farmer is the “King of Endnotes.”

My favorite endnote in his book pops up when he talks about the class divisions in European sanatoriums at the “dawn of the era of antibiotics.” Here he quotes from George Orwell’s journal entries written in a sanatorium the year before he died of tuberculosis. Orwell comments on the shrill tone of indifference in the voices of people visiting the sanatorium on Easter Sunday. “It is as though I were hearing these voices for the first time. And what voices! A sort of over-fedness, a fatuous self-confidence, a constant bah-bahing of laughter [about] nothing….” (Farmer, P. Pathologies of Power. 2005. Endnote 22 from Chapter 5, pp. 300-1.) This quote from Orwell has haunted me since I found it buried in Dr. Farmer’s endnotes a few years ago. Surely we wouldn’t want the collective voice of humanity to have a shrill tone of indifference to the suffering of any of us.

Building global well-being takes all of us together to do our small part from wherever we find ourselves. Thank goodness the people at PIH are doing what they do best, as well as the other healthcare workers involved in helping people and families affected by the Ebola virus. Even more than building the global resistance to Ebola virus is the need to build global resistance to the fact that there are too many people out of the more than 7 billion of us who lack adequate food, shelter, water, health and hope.

The well-being of all of us is inter-connected. This was so eloquently said 800 years ago by the Persian poet Saadi. His well-loved poem is carved in Farsi inside the door of the United Nations building in New York. (Here’s one version – there are several different translations.)

What it is to be Human

Human beings come
From the same source.
We are one family.
If a part of a body hurts,
All parts contract in pain.

I read this quote to a group of teachers while I was in Uganda this past June, and we all cried.

Resilience

Everyday Stories of Peace
Green Scarf Stories, entry twelve, November 2, 2014

Today is the New York Marathon, the largest in the world. About 50,000 people woke early this morning, laced up their sneakers and began a 26.2 mile run through the five boroughs of New York City. More people also woke early to help the runners get organized, make their way to the starting line, serve water and gatorade along the course and help with the endless logistics involved in putting together a marathon. Numerous others will spend their day cheering from the sidelines and lending supportive energy to this massive display of human endurance.

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and achieving something you never thought you could, like running a marathon, brings a whole lot of gratitude for the things we do to help each other every day. One year ago today I was one of the runners in the New York Marathon, and my wobbly old legs did get me to the finish line in five hours and nineteen minutes. It was an awesome and humbling experience.

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The awesomeness was being part of a large number of people who came from all over the world to run the race. We ran over the Verrazano Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the United States, as well as through every single red light going up First Avenue. It was a fantastic traffic-free way to sight-see through Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. I saw New York at its best. The live bands, gospel choirs, school marching bands, DJs and people cheering along the whole race course were inspirational. You can’t beat New Yorkers for enthusiasm! It was also awesome to find out that I actually had a bit of resilience in me as I chugged along at an even pace. I’m not sure how much mileage I have left on this body, but I enjoyed the entire race, even the aches and pains.

It was the humbling-ness of this experience, however, which was even more impressionable. Every single runner had his or her personal story of why they were running. It could be to support a family member going through cancer, to raise money for a worthy organization, to support the runners injured during the Boston Marathon bombing earlier that year, or to show how New York could bounce back after Hurricane Sandy. (The previous year’s race was cancelled due to the after-effects of a hurricane). I ran in support of Team for Kids www.runwithtfk.org thanks to the donations of friends and family members. Many people might have run, I guess, to prove that real resilience is mental – to set a goal and not give in to that little voice inside which tells you to go home because nothing really matters at all.

The New York Marathon is one of the most coveted races to run, and I think it’s because of the immense support and enthusiasm from both sides of the street for the entire 26 miles. It brought me a deeper understanding of the collective desire we all have to bond together for a brilliant life journey. I’ve always loved to run. Not that I was ever the fastest, or had the best technique, but I loved the freedom of travelling on my own two legs. The marathon was something I couldn’t have done on my own. It took a lot of support from family and friends, being part of a team, and the energy from all those people cheering on the race course to get me over the finish line. Life is teamwork, and resilience is built as a team effort.

What kept me going? Of course the hug from my daughter at mile 16 was a huge boost. If you push me on this point, however, I’d tell you that a lot of my resilience comes from a deep well of faith. If I had to make a list of life’s “dos” and “don’ts,” I’d probably say that having some kind of faith, in whatever shape or form works for you, makes a difference.

NY marathon 2013