It’s not JUST about you!

graduation

“We live our lives like chips in a kaleidoscope, always parts of patterns that are larger than ourselves and somehow more than the sum of their parts.”                  -Salvador Minuchin

 

Here’s a commencement address I’d love to hear spoken gently, lovingly, and with real conviction to all graduates, at all graduations around the world:   at high schools, colleges, and graduate schools:

It’s about you, but it’s not just about you.”  I believe this message would be good for those in the audience to hear as well.

You matter.  You are special.  You are unique.  And so are the other 7.13 billion human beings you need to learn how to share this planet with.

One needs to be careful at times of great celebration not to get preachy.  Actually there’s no great time to get preachy.  But a commencement ceremony is a particularly strategic place to point out the wonderfully complex, inter-relatedness of life, and then to challenge any folks who might still be listening to try to think at least as much about others as they do about themselves.

We are, as Minuchin points out, like chips in a kaleidoscope…part of a pattern much bigger than we can even imagine.  We don’t get smaller with this realization, but our understanding of the world can get a whole lot bigger.  And this is a good start.

In truth, there is no such thing as an “independent” person, a self-made person, a lone-ranger.  You did not create yourself, you did not create the talents you’ve been blessed with, and you did not create the natural world you live in.  Yes, you have the opportunity and responsibility to develop the life and talents you were given, and embrace the world around you, but this doesn’t happen in isolation either.  You stand on the shoulders of others, who have sacrificed, struggled, and persevered in making your world better.

This is a ridiculously obvious insight, but insight has never guaranteed change.  And in a culture that is increasingly privatized, and thus increasingly splintered and alienated, it’s best not to assume about anything that’s important.

So what do we do with this insight?  We recognize the gift, we recognize the giver, and then we start saying thank you; thoughtfully, sincerely, and continuously.  Life is a gift, health is a gift, love and friendship are gifts, freedom is a gift, truth is a gift, beauty is a gift, work is a gift, play is a gift, triumphs are a gift, struggles are a gift.  And the opportunity to make a difference for the Good with all you’ve been given is perhaps the greatest gift of all.

Gratitude opens us up to all that is good, and to a deeper knowing that our world is not accidental, but Providential.  It’s about you, but it’s not just about you.  And you should be grateful for that!

Heroes You Should Know: Fe del Mundo

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Fe del Mundo suffered significant losses early in life, and they sculpted her future.  Three of her eight siblings died in infancy.  And when her older sister—who’d dreamed of one day being a doctor to the poor—died at age 11 of appendicitis, young Fe decided she would be a pediatrician.

 

A brilliant student, she earned her medical degree from the University of the Philippines in 1933.  And because of her giftedness the President of the Philippines offered her a scholarship to any medical school in the United States, to further her training.  Fe chose Harvard Medical School, and was accepted there in 1936.  When she arrived, she was surprised to be escorted to her room in the male dormitory.

 

It was then that she learned Harvard did not accept women to its medical school.  And Harvard learned that Fe was a woman.

 

However, because of her stellar record the head of the Pediatrics department decided to make an exception for del Mundo.   It would take nine additional years for the school to change its admission policies and begin accepting women.

 

After her studies at Harvard and at Boston College, where she earned a Masters in Bacteriology, Fe decided to return to the Philippines in 1941, just months before the Japanese invasion.  When the war began, she took a job with the Red Cross and worked with the children interned at the University of Santo Tomas.  In 1943 when the Japanese closed the camp, del Mundo headed up the Children’s Hospital in Manila and worked there until 1948

 

Growing tired of the governmental bureaucracy that seemed to limit the effectiveness of medical care, Fe sold her home and most of her belongings, obtained a sizeable loan, and founded her own 100 bed pediatric hospital that opened its doors in 1957.  One year later she ceded personal ownership of the hospital to a Board of Trustees.  Not having a home of her own now, del Mundo lived on the second floor of her hospital.

 

Doing pioneering work in the area of infectious diseases, and remaining active in the field of public health (she once created an incubator out of bamboo for rural clinics without electricity to use), del Mundo practiced medicine for eight decades—passing away just short of her 100th birthday.

 

Shaped by early losses, this remarkable doctor, innovator, and humanitarian turned tragedy into triumph, and in the process made the world a healthier place—in mind, body, and spirit.

 

Fe del Mundo is hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Heroes You Should Know: Aki Ra

 

 aki ra

 

Born in Siem Reap, Cambodia and orphaned as an infant when the Khmer Rouge killed both his parents, Eoun Yeak isn’t sure of his birthday…or even his birth year.  He believes it was either 1970 or 1973.

 

And when he was big enough to carry a rifle he was conscripted into the Khmer Rouge army as a child soldier.  But when the Vietnamese Army invaded Cambodia, Eoun Yeak was taken captive and eventually joined the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Armed Forces.  The young boy was so efficient planting landmines on the border of Thailand and Cambodia (as many as 5,000 a month) he was given the name ‘Aki Ra’, after the heavy-duty Japanese appliance company Akira, and the nickname stuck.

 

Having laid roughly 160,000 mines himself, and becoming an expert in the process, Aki Ra was hired by the United Nations in 1991 to disarm and remove landmines in Cambodia where Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority estimate up to 6 million had been laid in the three decades of war.

 

Eventually he established his own business of de-mining areas, and selling the mines for scrap.  Word spread about this former child soldier who was hired by villages to disarm landmines with a stick.  Aki Ra began charging a dollar for visitors to see the grenades, bombs, mines, army uniforms, and rifles he’d collected and hear him teach about safety.  He put his earnings toward the founding of the Cambodian Landmine Museum.

 

When the Cambodian government heard of the museum, they quickly moved to shut it down, and to stop Aki Ra’s “uncertified” de-mining work.  He was briefly imprisoned twice, and eventually decided to receive special training and certification through London’s International School of Security and Explosives Education so that he could continue his work.

 

In 2008, the Cambodian Landmine Museum was reopened.  It serves to tell Aki Ra’s story and educate visitors of the ongoing horrors of landmines.  But Aki Ra has also turned the museum into a home for 29 children he’s met in his de-mining work — victims of landmines, as well as polio, AIDS, and birth defects.  Some of these children are orphans, some were given up by parents who could not afford to keep them, and the proceeds from the museum go to feed, clothe, and educate them.

 

Today Aki Ra continues to lead his non-profit Cambodian Self Help Demining team, comprised of native Cambodians, and together they have cleared over 3.2 million yards of landmines in poor villages considered “low priority” by the government.  Lives have been saved and thousands of families have been able to return to farming as a result.

 

Orphaned and forced to plant landmines as a child, Aki Ra now chooses to risk his life to make his country safe again.

 

He is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Mothering Day

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“The mother’s heart is the child’s school-room.”  -Henry Ward Beecher

Mother’s Day is a holy day indeed, a blessed day, a precious day.  It is a day we should all celebrate if for no other reason…and there is not a more fundamental reason…than that our mothers chose life.  We can and should be forever grateful for this.  There is no greater gift.

 

But on Mother’s Day I believe we should also celebrate ALL women who mother, for motherhood is certainly more than a physical act.  We miss the true essence of motherhood if we reduce this sacred role to something wholly explained by obstetrics.

 

Those who mother bear hope.

Those who mother invest in the future.

Those who mother protect innocence.

Those who mother guide the vulnerable.

Those who mother teach about all that really matters.

Those who mother sacrifice for the Good.

Those who mother love and let go…and still love.

 

Happy Mother’s Day, Happy Mothering Day, to all women who carry life, birth life, and nurture life in every way.  “Thank you” is a good starting point, but not nearly enough!