Monday, April 23, 2007

It'll Change Your Life

People (me included!) tend to throw that phrase around a lot. I just finished a book however that I think might have actually done just that. It's called Mountains Beyond Mountains and it's about Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of a social justice and international health organization called Partners in Health. It's a tough book to summarize and that actually isn't the intention of this post. This excerpt is a great introduction though and I highly suggest giving it a peek.

Briefly, the book follows Farmer around for a few years while he and his small team of scientists, doctors and philanthropists set out trying to rid Third World countries of diseases the First World has managed to eradicate.

Think about that for a minute. There are entire countries with such poor access to health care that people DIE, regularly, from diseases that you and I don't even have to think about. Early on in the book, the author makes an observation about Dr. Farmer:
Education wasn't what he wanted to perform on the world, me included. He was after transformation.
Ever since I picked up this book I feel like it has been doing just that. I simply can't continue to be the kind of person who, as Farmer puts it, "feels comfortable with the current distribution of money and medicine in the world." This is a book, and I guess more accurately a man, who doesn't simply inspire you, he reshapes the way you think.

I haven't quite figured out what exactly that is going to mean in my own life. I am pretty sure it doesn't mean I am going to sell all my possessions and move to Haiti to work in Farmer's hospital. But I'm also pretty sure it can't end in writing a check once. I underlined the heck out of the book but I was particularly struck by something Farmer said about "white liberals".
WL's think all the world's problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We don't believe that. There's alot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It's what separates us from the roaches.
He is quick to point out that WL's make up a good part of his funding stream and he is very thankful for them, but I can understand his frustration with the idea that actual change can happen without any effort or discomfort.

I spent the weekend in an expensive hotel room overlooking a fancy golf course. It was a beautiful place and I felt really lucky to be there but the whole time I couldn't get this passage out of my head:

...He's still going to make these hikes (seven hours to see two patients) he'd insist, because if you say that seven hours is too long to walk for two families of patients, you're saying that their lives matter less than some others', and the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that's wrong with the world.

It should make all of uneasy that the medicines exist to cure many infectious diseases and that the resources exist to provide clean water and suitable housing for entire villages but there are still people dying of TB and living in squalor because quite frankly, not all lives seem to have the same worth to enough of us. The things I worry about-weight,career fulfillment, boys-these are luxurious things to worry about. But I no longer feel like it's enough to just count my blessings that I drew Fate's long straw. Partners in Health believes that health is a fundamental right, not a privilege. Don't read this book unless you are prepared to figure out your responsibility is making that come true.


CoCo said...

quick correction and then i will delete my comment, but it's mtns. beyond mtns. right?

k8 said...


that was dumb of me : )

Geno said...

i just called to be the elders quorum president and that leads to frequent audiences with the Bishop to discuss what's going on with families in the ward (in singles wards, it's "self-destruction"; in family wards it's innocent kids impacted; sucks). this week he essentially told me - "the only program in the church is moving people from the "natural man" (self-absorbed, enemy to God) to "new creatures in Christ" (aka possessors of the pure love of Christ aka your pain is my mine and that's not just a cliche, it's lost sleep and lost dollars and inconveniences yet we don't view any of it that way). i agree that the hierarchy of value placed of different lives is the core issue (and it's the only reason that i support our mission in Iraq - myriad of issues aside - because what if one american life saves 10 iraqi lives, isn't that a victory?). then i look in the mirror and realize that it's so much easier said than done. i've personally got miles to go.

when our little baby coen was in the NICU three months ago, it was amazing so see our prayers go from "please bless our baby" to "please bless all the babies in the NICU" to things even more universal. but then you leave that moment and you regress back into self-absorption and lose the plot somewhat (the post-youth conference 'let's always be friends!' effect).

anyway, i'll try to stop now, but amen thrice to you. since becoming the EQ president, it's absolutely amazing to me how often i'm prompted with specific names. it's like this constant nudge from the Lord for me to go see someone (and i don't even know why). but the real why is that He loves his kids. it's what He thinks about. constantly. i feel like it's weird to say this, but our Heavenly Father is just the ultimate dad. And it all boils down to the fact that He wants his kids back. all of them. can't blame Him.

Geno said...

PS - In the spirit of "Think Global, Act Local" -- There are food banks across the country that need time and money. I've never been to the Food Bank and not felt good about at least trying to make a difference. Go to the website, pop in your zip code, and make it happen. :)

Geno said...

PSS -- Sorry! But, you've got me going on this (looking for EQ Service Projects). May 12th National Stamp Out Hunger Event. More information here -

Sounds amazing.

Kelly said...

My roommate Chrissy sees Dr. Farmer as her personal hero and role model so I've heard a lot about what he's doing. Amazing stuff.

It is very easy to write a check, but I love seeing when people actually DO something (like Christy Parry, for example). You've got me thinking about what I can do too.

k8 said...

Kelly does your rommie work with Farmer? I wish I had known about him when I lived in Boston. PIH needs volunteers that can translate French, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Russian. I would have loved to do that.

Geno, those Food Bank nights we used to do in Pierside were some of my favorite church activities ever. I think maybe i'll talk to the Bishop about getting that started again. And great post by the way, your comments were spot on.

dr_b_rock said...

I also strongly recommend Farmer's books Pathologies of Power and Infections and Inequalities! He is mad and that makes for some powerful stuff. He is my inspiration.

Rod Clifford said...

And if it does change your life will that be a bad thing? Good post, good ideas.