Recently, I asked two co-workers a question: Do you believe that global prejudice and animosity can be eliminated by a spiritual evolution? Their emphatic response surprised me: No. They explained that war, hatred, poverty and greed are too firmly entrenched in the human psyche to be expunged by any method. The world has always been a hellhole and always will be.
I had hoped for a glimmer of optimism. After all, they are both survivors. “John,” a Vietnam War vet, was awarded the Purple Heart for taking shrapnel in the leg. “Kenny” escaped the Viet Cong with his family during the fall of Saigon. They have seen pain and suffering but lived through it. Isn’t that cause for some belief in the tenacity of the human spirit?
Call it wild-eyed optimism or even stupidity, but it’s no accident that I believe that humans inevitably will take the quantum leap into accepting, even loving, one another. But, then again, I believe in the presence of miracles in everyday life. The concept hasn’t come easily. Like so many people, I believed I was defined by what society would consider limitations. I’m black, female, overweight, divorced, a single parent and a former recipient of county assistance programs. I remember thinking, “I am at the bottom. I am everything that this country despises.”
I wish I could say I pulled myself together by getting a job and going to Weight Watchers and 24 Hour Fitness before becoming the great American success story. But my evolution has been slow and convoluted, as spiritual journeys often are. It began with me declaring my belief in the Bahai faith in 1986, attending several 12-step programs, returning to college and finishing my degree in English, taking meditation classes, publishing and learning to be as present as possible in my life. I’ve lost over 100 pounds. But I am still overweight, so the journey continues.
My co-workers are unaware of the part they play in my life. John is my view into my past. Whenever I need a gratitude pick-me-up, I peer over my cubicle wall at John. Kenny, despite his cynical outlook on the future, is joy-filled and compassionate. His jokes lighten our tense work environment.
Kenny is also my guardian angel. He accepts goodies that I miraculously manage to bypass. In the past, I never refused free food. I realize this does not constitute the walk-on-water definition of a miracle and therefore is not proof of a God who changes the hearts and souls of humans. Yet, the moment I handed Kenny the large-sized Snickers bar our company gave employees as a reward for hard work, I knew it was a miracle. After all, I was there to witness how I ate myself into a hellish state of despair two years after gastric bypass surgery. Surrounded by little mountains of miniature Snickers wrappers, I wondered how I’d done it again. If anyone had been present during that dark time, he might have appreciated the wonder of me turning down that Snickers.
I believe that if this disordered girl can pull herself out of the morass, so can mankind. It’s tossing the pebble into the river and causing a ripple effect. I’m the pebble; change begins with me and radiates outward. Just imagine what could happen if we all became pebbles. If the fat girl can do this, believe me, anyone can.
Angela Shortt is a writer who pays the bills by working for a pharmaceutical-benefits management company. She’s also working on a book about life before and after gastric bypass surgery and the effects that a compulsive overeating disorder can have on the outcome.