Mountains Beyond Mountains, the quest of Dr. Paul Farmer to cure the world has given me a deeper understanding of the following quote from the writings of Baha'u'llah:
"The whole duty of man in this Day is to attain that share of the flood of grace which God poureth forth for him. Let none, therefore, consider the largeness or smallness of the receptacle. The portion of some might lie in the palm of a man's hand, the portion of others might fill a cup, and of others even a gallon-measure." (Gleanings, p. 8)
Dr. Farmer is someone who benefits from not considering the size of his receptacle. Rather he informs his entire life with what he calls O for the P, option for the poor, disregarding all of the barriers people like me set up for ourselves either by considering that we know the size of our receptacle or making excuses for not pushing ourselves to discover the limits of our capacities. The first is the cause of complacency and the second its consequence.
Dr. Farmer is an American doctor who dedicates all of his considerable talent to providing high-quality health care to those who most need it in Haiti. His field work contributes to constant research and publishing about the connections between poverty and disease and how public health policy marginalizes the poorest groups throughout the world. These challenges to the status quo have led to significant contributions to making world-wide public health policy more comprehensive and inclusive. His home though, remains with those who work in his clinic in rural Haiti even as many policy makers clamor for him to leave the field to direct policy efforts from first world offices.
I think this account has moved me so much because I believe that I am like Dr. Farmer in that I have the drive and mission to "attain that share of the flood of grace which God poureth forth...". However, deep in the recesses of my mind, in moments of private meditation, I know that I am not using my capacities to the fullest. I usually assuage my guilt pains by believing that I have to work to support my family and so I do my best to make sure my work does not deviate too far from my life-work, my vocation. Have I created this work - vocation dualism to justify my own mediocrity? Further, I am complacent with sporadic and slow spiritual growth when I could be more disciplined with my prayers, my character and my service projects. I have even been complacent with the spiritual education of my children, which seems to come from the venomous clutches of apathy.
Looking at how focused Dr. Farmer is makes me feel like I have made an option for badminton, or for twittering instead of for education for the poor, my true life-work. My blog is such a hodgepodge of do-goodiness that it gives the impression that my life-work is being an overall good person, which does not sit well with me. It all just seems so pathetic from this perspective.
I have become increasingly intolerant of mediocrity and of the parasitic nature of the great majority of human endeavor in which people just move with the current, washing from one pointless activity to the next. Motivated by increasingly fruitless and short-term prizes like wealth, public recognition or just getting by, people lose site of what matters. However, I am just as guilty as the next guy. Reading this book has made that ever so evident and has increased my intolerance of my own mediocrity.
I am determined to focus this healthy intolerance towards productive action that will give me the sense of achievement that I find in Dr. Farmer's work. I have specific service-oriented educational projects that need to be revived and expanded. However, some questions remain:
What have I achieved and why can't I find significance in this as easily as I can in Dr. Farmer's achievements? What exactly will give me the feeling of achievement I am looking for? Is it fair compare myself with Dr. Farmer? How can I learn to focus myself and my actions as he does? Or is that amount of focus incompatible with my roles of father and husband?
Overcoming complacency seems to require being present at all times to what matters and how to achieve that, cutting out all distractions. I don't know how large my spiritual receptacle is, but I aim to fill it far more than I have up to now.