I think the world has changed after the attacks in Paris. And as a health-care practitioner with cancer patients in my practice, I take a medical view of this assault on our world and how it might be healed.
I’m also a New Yorker. My family and I lived in downtown Manhattan during September 11th and I’ll never forget the fear and confusion we felt. I relived that pain as I watched the scene in Paris unfold on my TV and my heart goes out to the people of Paris as they try to make sense of an incomprehensible situation.
I know that in my office this week I’ll be trying to help my patients address new anxieties. Some will be scared that this can happen again in New York, which let’s face it, it can. Some will be angry, some will be despairing and many will feel hopeless. I think most of us feel powerless against the kind of collective psychosis that propels a group of people to hurt other human beings with such cruel disregard.
This is a cancer in our world. I know from my clinical experience that the hardest cancers to treat are the ones that have metastasized, because the oncologist is forced to fight a battle on several fronts, thereby weakening the body in the process. This is where the world finds itself. Fighting an enemy that is scattered, incoherent and rapidly mutating. So the threat cries out for a very nuanced and holistic response.
In cancer medicine, chemotherapy and radiation are undeniably violent. They’re often painful. They have side effects. But they are also important, life-saving treatments that eradicate mutated cells and wage battle with the tumor itself. Despite the negatives, I have seen many patients recover because their oncologists waged war.
However, in my experience, the cancer patients who emerge from their battle the healthiest are often those who combine aggressive treatments with a wider, more nuanced approach. They prioritize love. They refuse to give in to fear. They support the drastic action taken by their doctors, but they also take responsibility for their own healing and set about restoring themselves. They boost their immune system. They reassess their life choices. They seek ways to find emotional peace. They renew their connection to spirit. They love all of their body (even the ailing parts). This whole-body approach actually helps the more targeted efforts succeed.
Expressions of solidarity after a horrific terrorist event are comforting, but ultimately they mean very little if we don’t change something in ourselves as a result. A cancer patient’s survival often depends on their making radical changes in their lives – not because the cancer is their fault, but because they are the only person who can truly affect the outcome. Likewise, I believe this kind of introspection and personal change is what we are being called to do in order to heal our world.
Already I’m seeing comments on my Facebook page that are filled with hate. Already I am seeing people turn on refugees without considering that the vast majority of people fleeing their countries are ordinary folk, just like us, who have had enough of living amongst the kind of hateful killers who committed these crimes in Paris. Who can blame them? I’d scoop up my family and run too.
So what will I say to my anxious New York City patients this week? I’ll say the same thing I say to my equally anxious patients with cancer. Obviously we need to fight. Clearly we’re at war. But this isn’t just a physical battle, it’s a spiritual one too. It’s about our beliefs.
People wage terror and war because of what they believe. What they believe about God, about life, about each other, and in the end about themselves. These beliefs are what create anger and pain – and that pain is what has mutated into the kind of insanity we have just seen in Paris.
Choosing love over fear may mean we need to change our own beliefs. That in turn changes the story, not just for us but for other people, too, because in the end we are all interconnected and interdependent.
I’m not unrealistic. I’d never tell a cancer patient that changing beliefs can eradicate a tumor. Nor do I think it will change the most radicalized terrorist. But changing ourselves will begin to create a healthier world where this kind of mutation is less likely happen, and that’s a great start.
Peace begins in each of our hearts. And it’s up to us.