It’s a Haitian proverb and it aptly describes the traumatic history of a country that has never really been free from the oppression of dictators, wars and poverty. Over the years Haiti has endured foreign occupation, violent attacks from its neighbors, and several rounds of civil war. The people of Haiti have been brutalized by governments and regimes that care little for the basic human rights or freedoms that we in the Americas take for granted.
Yet it also describes a mindset, a way of thinking. In the midst of this oppression, even as recently as the tragic devastation Haiti suffered in the 2010 earthquake, you will often find the people of this land singing, dancing and communing in the most simple, yet joyful ways. It’s stunning, and it’s a phenomenon that exists in areas of extreme poverty and devastation around the world. Joy. How can it survive under the pressure of these circumstances?
Here in the U.S. we can be stuck on a freeway sitting in our air-conditioned car listening to satellite radio and boiling over at the inconvenience of whatever is keeping traffic from flowing smoothly. We lose our cool in a grocery store where we have to wait too long in line, or in a retail establishment that doesn’t have the exact brand of phone or television we are looking for. We are annoyed if a package we are expecting doesn’t arrive on time, or if the garbage man doesn’t drive by and swoop up our trash. Despite our modern life with all its conveniences, we seem incapable at times of just reaching out and connecting with others, finding our joy there, when things aren’t going our way. I will go so far as to assert that in our culture, we are not bred or raised to even look for joy in our lives.
In other parts of the world, this very connection is what sustains people. They find reminders in each other, that in spite of some of the most inconceivable living conditions on earth, they have one another, community, family, and therefore reasons to be joyful.
Beyond the mountains there are more mountains. It isn’t just an acknowledgment that there will always be challenges in our lives. It’s a way of saying that maybe we need to redefine what our idea of a problem is. I am reminded of an old sober AA member in L.A. who used to say, “Ok, here’s all these things that you want that you don’t have–but do you have to miserable until you get them?” Until we can settle into this moment and appreciate it as if we have invited it, we will be unable to tell a different story about the mountains…that they are for climbing, exploring, conquering.
When we can finally approach them with this attitude, that there will always be problems, that there really aren’t that many big deals, we will find ourselves empowered rather than daunted by our problems.