What Distinguishes Humans From Barbarians?
Like the rest of the world, I’ve been watching the news since Friday in absolute horror. The universe feels upside down as we search for answers that will never come. The anguish those in Paris are experiencing is incomprehensible and leaves us doubting everything we’ve ever believed to be true about humanity. As a global society, the pain that has enveloped France is reverberating around the globe. At times like this, hope can feel like a childish and antiquated concept. What is the point of being hopeful when young lives can be squashed in a millisecond, destroying bright futures, and leaving their loved ones to live out their days in sorrow?
By no stretch of the imagination can I pretend to know what those in France are going through, nor am in a position to preach hopefulness to anyone whose world has just stopped spinning. This article is not my lame attempt to comment on something I am fortunate to know nothing about. Instead, I’d like to make a case that we, as a collective society, can’t turn our backs on hope.
Acts of barbaric violence, cruelty, and disregard for life is born from a hopelessness so vast that someone feels their own life holds no value. We’ve all felt hopeless. As I write this, I have friends battling cancer, facing divorce, struggling to raise their children, and grieving the loss of a parent. At times, it seems pain is waiting to swallow us whole at every turn. I too have felt that my life was void of value and asked myself what’s the point of carrying on. I’ve fallen so far down the rabbit hole I never thought I could claw my way out. Yet, like most, in the deep crevices of my consciousness, I always clung to the notion that things could get better.
On October 31, 2006 I had reached the six month mark of fighting for my life in the hospital. I gave birth to my daughter in April of that year, and suffered grave complications hours after she was delivered. I’d undergone 8 major surgeries, a tracheotomy, lost my colon and spleen, was bald, temporarily paralyzed, and being kept alive by TPN. I had fallen into a profound level of depression and anxiety.
As Halloween 2006 wore on, I found that I could not contain the rage pulsing through my veins. My sister Heidi called to see how I was doing and I completely lost it. “I’m so f***ing sick of being so f***ing sick!! I am missing Em’s first Halloween and I will never ever get it back! I am so f***ing pissed with being so sick! What the f*** did I do to deserve this? It has been six f***ing months! I just want to go trick-or-treating with my kids! Why can’t I just be home with my kids?” Heidi tried to calm me down, but the floodgates had opened and I could not regain composure. She eventually hung up and I warned her not to call back.
Soon after, a sweet, smiling nun entered my dreary room and asked, “How are you doing today Lisa?” I was sane enough not to swear at a nun, but I could not control my fury. I shouted through fresh, hot tears, “I am absolutely horrible! It has been SIX MONTHS, SIX MONTHS that I have been away from my kids. I will never get that time back with them! I have missed the first six months of my daughter’s life. I missed her first smile, her first laugh, the first time she ate baby food, her first time rolling over… I can’t stand this anymore. My poor, sweet son is only three. He can’t comprehend where his mommy went! I don’t understand why I can’t get better! Why can’t someone just make me better? I miss my kids, I miss my kids, I miss my kids so much my heart is broken! What did I ever do to deserve this? I can’t take it anymore! I keep trying to get better, but I just can’t!”
I was wailing with snot running down my face, as I kept trying to pull my hair out, forgetting I was bald. Realizing she was in way over her head, the well-meaning nun exited and sent in my psychologist. I went on ranting, convulsing, and swearing. My therapist looked at me and said, “Let’s just acknowledge that this is going to be a sh**ty day. You’re allowed to have a sh**ty day. So, take this day and just spend it feeling sh**ty. You are entitled. But know that next year, you are going to be out trick-or-treating with your kids. And, tomorrow, you’re going to wake up and I want you to try to decide that tomorrow will not be such a sh**ty day.” Best. Advice. Ever.
I tried to envision myself, next year on Halloween, being home with my kids and walking from house to house watching them fill their bags with candy. I spent the rest of the day crying and yelling at my poor sister, who just kept calling. “Stop f***ing calling me! I don’t want to talk to anyone! This is so f***ing unfair! Everyone else gets to be with their kids on Halloween. Why am I stuck here? I have been sick for half a year, why can’t I get better?”
Somehow, the day passed and my rage subsided. I fell into a deep state of exhaustion-induced sleep that night, and when I woke up, it wasn’t Halloween anymore. I had made it to November. A month later, I came home in a wheel chair and went through 6 more months of physical, occupational, respiratory, and speech therapy. It was an uphill battle to reclaim my life piece by piece. By the following October 31st, my husband and I took our kids trick-or-treating together.
My intention is not to end this piece with some sappy ending that discounts reality. Life is not a situational comedy from the 90s that wraps up each episode with a lesson learned and a hug from Danny Tanner. Being hopeful isn’t easy, but it’s not childish either. Sometimes, we’re in so deep, it feels like the sun will never shine again. But then, we are brave, we are loved, we are supported, and we eventually see a sliver of sunlight. It takes courage to be hopeful. Hope is what distinguishes us from the individuals who stole the lives of those who had every reason to be hopeful.