I was seven years old when I first had a spiritual crisis.
We were in a rickshaw, my brother and I and two of our friends, with the adults in another rickshaw nearby. Driving through the streets of Dhaka. We did this regularly back then, back when normalcy to me included heat, bougainvillea flowers everywhere, snake charmers walking around playing flutes with bags full of cobras, ornate decorations on the rickshaws; and normalcy also included the sight of impoverished people on the roadsides, emaciated women with babies on their backs asking my mother for baksheesh. Cultures came and went back then. My sense of self wasn’t defined by my culture yet, and neither was my sense of what was “normal”.
I loved Bangladesh. I loved the little children who ran up to us looking to play all the time – I loved how we could bring a football down to the field around the corner, just me, my brother, and my dad, and have a full game with about 30 kids in a matter of minutes. I loved how all the adults would turn to me asking my name, my country and whether I liked Bangladesh. I liked how I could make them happy just by saying that I did. I loved the market, where the tailor worked (he was like a magician, reproducing clothes exactly the way I imagined them) and they sold delicious ice cream. I loved listening to the chants from the mosque around the corner (except during Ramadhan, as it always woke me up in the middle of the night). I loved my school, which was an international school for missionaries – and had the most amazing swing in the front yard. The trees grew tall, wide, and full of jackfruit (which I didn’t like, but it was fun to look at and poke at) and the place was teeming with humanity.
I guess I just never thought much of the lepers.
They lived in gangs, you see. They looked after themselves, and they seemed happy enough. They could run around on what was left of their legs. There never seemed to be any female lepers – not something that occurred to me at the time, mind you (and I’d hate to think what happened to the women who contracted leprosy). The lepers never really got in our way. They did what they did and we did what we did and that was okay for everyone.
Then there was that one day when we crossed a bridge. I guess we got stuck in traffic, but before we knew it we were surrounded by lepers. They were everywhere. The memory is in equal parts blurred and vivid, if that makes sense. They stopped our rickshaw, put what was left of their arms and legs through the wheels so we couldn’t go anywhere. Apart from the driver, who was probably only about 16 himself, there were only kids in our rickshaw. So, we were stuck there. A few of them went over to my parents and informed them in no uncertain terms that we were going nowhere until they paid up. After paying a ransom worth about £5, they let us go.
I guess on some level I knew, even back then, that leprosy is a disease which is easily cured. That the medicine is cheap and pretty easy to get access to, but for the attempts of a few to turn huge profits instead of sparing the lives and limbs of those who contracted it. At any rate I knew you never seemed to see any lepers in the suburbs of Washington DC, so there must have been some reason it affected people in Bangladesh but not in the USA. And I knew it wasn’t some inferiority in the humanity of the people of Bangladesh, who were always so good and kind to me.
That’s when I looked at them, forced to besiege kids in order to get a fiver for food, and thought, you know – there really can’t be a god. If there’s a god and he loves us all, why did he leave these ones stuck like this?
It’s a question I’ve grappled with ever since. I asked my mother at the time, and she had no real answer for me. For years, despite attending a missionary school where God was drilled into our heads day in and day out, I was an atheist. It wasn’t until I started having my own experiences with guidance that I retraced those steps and realised I’d lost my faith that day on that rickshaw.
The question of suffering is not a question I’ve reached a conclusion to yet or found an answer that satisfies me. The irony is that while the existence of these seeming gangs caused me to lose faith in spirit, the very thing that kept people in equally difficult situations going was their spirits. There’s a power there that I have yet to define, and while I lost it for a while, I’m getting it back.
Still, the urgency of the situation presses on. It’s not important to define it. What’s important is to solve it.
So why do I grieve?
Fear and alienation live on our planet as cancers, starved of the oxygen of love. People lay awake every night wondering whether their loved ones are going to be alive the next morning, whether their loved ones are still alive at all – we live in a world where children are abducted, girls are raped, people are murdered, entire wars are waged for the vested interests of only a few. People are divided against each other in the name of power. Essential services are lost, ripped to pieces, for the personal profit of a few.
I don’t write this in order to kill positivity, hope, optimism or love. Quite the opposite. We cannot heal the planet unless and until we take a serious look at what exactly we are healing. And we need our pain if we want to grow. The most inspiring stories always come out of the darkest hours.
I wonder how the world would look if we all embraced the notion that we are all the same. Imagine for a minute that reincarnation exists in a manner that is not time-linear, and that every single human you ever meet is yourself in a past or future life… I’m not saying that’s true, but if it were, how would you treat the people you meet? What lessons can you learn from taking that idea on board? Can you recognise the perspectives that led people into fear, and the ones that led them away and towards love? Can you, therefore, take it upon yourself to acknowledge the love within every human, even those who seem the most inaccessible?
Love surfaces in the most unlikely conditions. This is what humanity is made of. My wish for you is that you embrace it, focus on it, and allow it to shift you and stretch you until you are the brightest light, the strongest version of yourself that you can be. Humanity needs you to be exactly that person.
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Sadie Fulton is a 23-year-old with a massive vision for the world and a million different avenues she pursues to help get it there. She grew up traveling and has developed into a full-time activist, full-time lover of humanity, part-time musician, and she is now training to be a life coach. Above all, she wants to reach people and bring on a new era of love. If you want to share with her, get her perspective on something you are going through, or anything else at all, send her an email at sadie.fulton *at* gmail.com.