Time Magazine has rightfully named all of the men and women fighting Ebola as “Person of the Year.” In every battle, those underdogs who win are often the ones who have found a way, even amid insurmountable odds, to make the fight more fair. Ebola is no different. Amid the calls for a larger Western response that funds and sends medical staff, equipment, and drugs, it’s clear that something more is needed to level the battle field. Perhaps that something is mental, rather than physical.
Historians of the Revolutionary War seem to agree that, without the Declaration of Independence, the colonials never could have won the fight. One reason given is that it defined what freedom meant: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
They wanted more than the mere absence of the British troops. They wanted what they felt was an inalienable presence of something—inherent equality and an emerging identity.
The British seemed invincible. The colonials were ill trained, ill-equipped, and outnumbered. But what they had–a palpable vision of what freedom was–made it a fairer fight. In the darkest hour of utter fatigue, disease and starvation at Valley Forge, General Washington wrote of the troops’ “incomparable patience and fidelity.” Thomas Paine, paying due honor, later described that winter “when nothing but hope and virtue could survive.”
In the same way, grand men and women are choosing to stay in the trenches fighting Ebola in places and circumstances where this disease is feared to be invincible and health is given little fighting chance. Among these, no doubt, are people like Dr. Melvin Korkor. After treating others in West Africa, he contracted Ebola. Lying in a bed in which a patient had just died, the doctor apparently set “helplessness” aside, asked for his Bible and consciously connected to what to him was a deeper meaning of freedom. This included a sense that a power stronger than disease was present and able to protect him, as he recounted in later comments, from “noisome pestilence” and “any plague [from coming] nigh thy dwelling.” (Psalm 23). He credits this sense, along with modern medical treatment, for his full recovery. His active consciousness of what essentially constituted his health made it a fairer fight.
As today’s headlines suggest, it may be a more popular tendency though, in the urgency of rampant fear, to just fight for a health that is merely the absence of disease—just try to get rid of symptoms without embracing health. “Just remove the disease and I’ll be healthy,” one might shout in desperation. “Just get rid of the British, and we’ll be free.” Even the first definition of “health” in my Webster’s dictionary reads merely “the absence of disease,” as if health were a void waiting to be filled in by a superior power of disease.
Yet, health agencies and institutions around the world – such as the World Health Organization – are increasingly saying that health is not just the absence of disease but is first “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being …”. And many of us are increasingly unwilling to abandon the tool of a more meaningful concept of health—even in emergency—that can make it a fairer fight.
In Valley-Forge-type moments of illness, it may seem difficult to turn from disease’s symptoms and turn toward—even fight for–one’s present deeper roots of health. Yet, people are doing it. Recently, I spoke with Emilio Castroman, a native Argentinian (now an American). Traveling back to Buenos Aires in the early 1990s, he found that a highly contagious epidemic had gripped the entire country. He soon began to manifest the disease himself. But his battle plan was not the usual.
“I knew that health was a quality of thought and that focusing on the symptoms was not going to help me solve the problem, but rather prolong it.” Ignoring the problem? No, Castroman explained, it was a decision to fight—to fight by focusing on what he felt was the essence of his health, not the disease. He felt convinced that “health is a natural condition of our being,” and that “health is a present condition of our being,” even when facing disease.
It was an active fight, replacing the images and fears of the disease with a confidence that his state of health really sprang from his awareness of his spiritual identity. He felt that this identity had a healthy Divine Source, and therefore was “permanent, strong, natural, steady, continuous, uncompromising, unfailing, and indestructible.”
Holding on to this sense of health, Castroman recovered quickly and completely. Springing from this experience was a great love for his Buenos Aires community, instinctively affirming that they, too, could find freedom from the epidemic. Click here to read Castroman’s full account.
At a time of great suffering and fear, as at Valley Forge, the evidence is compelling that freedom from Ebola can be a fairer fight than it perhaps seems. The “unseen troops” of patience, fidelity, hope and virtue came to aid when all seemed lost in 1777. Similarly, the conscious recognition of man’s inalienable condition of health as an active, present power–even when fear and headlines give small hope—can help bring victory today.