Many years ago, when I was in my final year of High School, we had a supplementary text book titled ‘All Men Are Brothers’ authored by Charlie May Simon. It is a moving account of the life of Dr Albert Schweitzer, the Frenchman from Alsace who, at the age of 30 years, while holding doctorate degrees in theology and philosophy, took up the study of medicine to fulfil  his dream of serving the people in the remotest corners of Africa.

So at the age of 37, after completing his basic degree in medicine, he gave up his teaching job at the University of Strasbourg as well as the post of pastor at the Church of St. Nicolas, and moved to Paris to specialize in tropical medicine. Finally in 1913 at the age of 40, Dr Schweitzer and his wife embarked upon their journey to Africa.

While he was in the thick of his work in the jungles, war broke out in Europe, and Dr Schweitzer and his wife were taken as Prisoners of War and were sent to Bordeaux en route to the Pyrenees near the Spanish border.

At Bordeaux they were lodged in temporary barracks for three weeks. Towards the end of this stay, two gendarmes came at midnight one day to take them away to the Pyrenees, a day ahead of when the doctor thought that they would have to leave. As a result he and his wife were left with hardly any time to pack their belongings.

Even so the couple tried its level best to collect all items and stuff them into trunks in the feeble light of a lantern. The impatient gendarmes were furious at the time being the couple was taking to get ready, and threatened to take them away without their baggage unless they moved faster.  It was then that Dr Schweitzer made a secret vow to himself as he went on with his packing. To quote from the book: “If ever I’ve been impatient with others, from this night on, no matter what cause I might have, I shall never lose my patience again”.

These lines from the book had struck a chord in my teenage mind, and resonate with me even today.  Just by recalling these words of Dr Schweitzer when someone has been unkind to us is bound to bring relief from the mental agony that we experience, and I can personally vouch for its efficacy, though I admit having failed to apply this ‘therapy’ on myself at times. Instead of generating anger towards someone whose behaviour and conduct may have hurt us, the blow loses much of its impact the moment we draw a personal lesson from it.

Moreover, if we are able to combine this attitude (i.e. of transforming the unpleasant experiences in life into personal lessons) along with forgiveness towards the ones who may have been unkind to us, the emotional relief that we experience would be further magnified. With consistent practice of this approach, the healing within would be triggered as soon as the blow hits us, and instantly change our perspective towards the episode and the individual(s) responsible for it. Rather than result in loss of our peace of mind, every such experience would give us the satisfaction of having crossed one more hurdle on the road towards our personal growth and development.

For me there have been several other takeaways from the life of Dr Schweitzer which I have not shared here in order to contain this post to a reasonable limit. I have no doubt that by following the example of this Nobel Laureate, and with the blessings of our gurus, we would be able to convert  every potentially negative experience into something positive, and thereby retain our composure at all times.                                                                                                                                                                                  

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Subrata Lahiri

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