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Reflection on the Readings

The Flight and the Power of Knowing

The purpose of this reflection is to describe the most crucial points of the chapter and to compare the storyteller’s vision to my vision regarding the issues raised. This chapter strikes at two widespread beliefs at the same time: at first, that human life is an ultimate value, secondly, that the plot is becoming more emotionally engaging and complicated by the end of the story.

The legislation and daily life announce that human life is a value that must be protected; however, the discussed story, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (2012), demonstrates the opposite. The story shares a little girl’s experience of survival at war. She begins by recalling that people who tried to escape killed their children, but, happily, her parents did not. The teacher’s feedback is indifferent and inattentive to the girl’s needs: it is not an interesting life to try to survive in childish age during the war. Such a beginning turns a reader from, to some extents, objective witness to emotionally engaged person, who has feelings, dignity and values. In the story, there are no mentions of human rights, democratic values, humanism and other important things we are constantly repeating today. The described are only a group of people, who are trying to save their lives. However, as stated below, it is not possible to ignore one’s physiological needs for too long. 

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The scariest and the cruelest point of the story was the infant’s starvation because of an absence of his mother’s breast milk (Fadiman, 2012, p. 155). If the entire story is analyzed not based on its meanings expressed in the words but based on symbols and metaphors, all of the family members may be compared to qualities of this character. The infant is the most unprotected and fragile being, which has recently been born and has nothing to do to provide own survival. The most fragile character of the story dies, which tells about helplessness and unfairness of human existence. Moreover, the most terrifying part of this cruelty is that the mother, who has to satisfy the baby’s needs, cannot do anything to save her child: she is also starving and watching her baby dying in her arms. The only thing she can still do for her baby is to hold him tighter so that her little son can feel her smell, her heartbeat and the warmth of her body while dying. Though at this scene the story is starting, it is the strongest emotional challenge for the reader to try to forget the view of a helpless baby, dying in his helpless mother’s arms. There is nothing I can do but value my life and my loved’ lives more. Experiencing cruelty may make people crueller or kinder and more merciful, and I am not planning to choose the first alternative. 

The True Melting Pot

Speaking about the changing world of the current times, much is usually said about multiculturalism, including both positive and negative features of it. Instead of trying to weigh both pros and cons, I was offered to look at the issue of multiculturalism, particularly, within the problem of immigration, from the immigrant’s point of view. I must confess I am shocked even at understanding the main difficulties the immigrants face when crossing the U.S. border. This story is very useful for everyone, who has ever heard about the contemporary immigration in Europe, Ukraine, and the Middle East: it teaches to have empathy and to help, not to count economic benefits and losses as people usually do.

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Though cultural relativism is a commonly known concept, very few people understand how it is manifested in daily lives of the individuals and what kind of difficulties it creates. The Lees’ family has passed through hell trying to escape from Laos and come to the U.S, nevertheless, getting on a plane has not ended their difficulties. They have recognized a feeling of disorientation that makes them feel insecure even when they finally have an opportunity to feel this way. We can hardly imagine how adult people use refrigerator the first time in their lives, as refrigerator seems to be something that has always existed. The Western people use gadgets and sophisticated software, whereas people on the other part of the world do not know what electricity is. These cultural differences compose the reality of multiculturalism challenges but are rarely mentioned during political debates, and this story teaches us to keep in mind the issue of electricity and refrigerator as it is experienced by emigrants while the rest of humanity decides how many benefits and loses their existence will bring to civilized countries. 

To satisfy safety needs, people must know who they are, where they are now, what will happen to them in future, and what they can do about it. In Lia’s family case, only two of the four components were known. When Foua was asked about the most difficult moments of her life, surprisingly, despite losing three children in three years and experiencing a constant danger, the most scarring moment to her was the illness of Lia. Foua said that it was easier to deal with the events when one knew what is going on, but Lia’s illness was the opposite: “Violence, starvation, destitution, exile, ad death were, however horrific, within the sphere of known…What had happened to Lia was outside that sphere”(Fadiman, 2012, p. 171). Nobody knew what was happening to Lia, who were in the coma and seemed to struggle. The absence of confidence in her recovery was making Foua suffer the most; that is why people should value knowledge and information more. Perhaps, knowing that Lia would definitely die seemed to be easier than not knowing anything. 

Lia’s Arrival to the U.S.

Despite paying much for education and access to intellectual property, I am sure that we do not know the true value of awareness and knowledge. In addition, even in the severest times of obscurity, we do not recognize how strong we are and that love can save those we love and ourselves. This story has taught me a lot and I want to share this lesson about the good and the evil. 

Foua faced that her favorite child was balancing between life and death, realizing that the rest of the world was indifferent to the child’s destiny. As the Lee’s did not know what was happening to their daughter, they blamed her bad condition on the medicines. They did not know how their daughter must have been treated at home, even if Lia’s mother confirmed that she understood the instructions and was going to follow them strictly. They wished all the best to their daughter and wanted her to get better, but they did not know how to make it possible.

It makes questing about not only the importance of knowledge but also about the importance of trying to understand and hear other people. I think that absolute understanding between people is impossible, and when communicating to one another, people need to extend the limits of understanding as much as possible to communicate ethically. Communication as a flight from our stupidity, limits and helplessness, may save a life, as one may see from this story. Understanding is essential not only in extreme cases like this but also in our daily lives. It also makes believe that sometimes people do bad things not because they are evil, but because they do not understand what to do. As moral decision-making requires a conscious choice between good and evil, in this story, there are no conscious moral choices. However, the most important thing is that we are responsible for our action both when we understand them and when we do not: the cost of an error may be too high. 

However, it is not worth judging the Lees for being unaware of medicine and its usefulness. They were illiterate, lived far from civilized cities and had paid the lives of their three children – a high price – for having the opportunity to live in a better and safer place. To some extent, ignorance and resistance to advice are annoying and leading to the tragic outcome, but still, it makes rather emotional than intellectual focus in this story. Whether Lia’s parents have acted due their religious beliefs and prejudice or not, they have already done their best to save their children’s lives when people with similar religious beliefs did not want to do it. Kindness and attention towards Lia demonstrate responsibility, love and patients of each of the family members, and improve caring about Lia day by day.

Lia and Hostility between the Cultures

The Lees have passed a great way before they managed to come to the U.S. and to feel much safer than before. Nevertheless, they were still afraid the Americans might take Lia away from them. Despite the positive experience of communication with some of Americans, the Lees were still hostile towards them. In this part, I will try to reflect on the issue of hostility instead of providing a defined answer to the question about its origin. 

I recognize that a disabled person may be perceived as a burden by his/her family, but I will not tolerate such an attitude as I did before. Difficulties are the challenges for our humanity and mercy, therefore, each of us should self-improve by accepting his/her destiny and reducing an emotional resistance to the things that cannot be changed. Merced, the Lees’ came to, was a poor region where people of different nationalities lived. Nevertheless, this family managed to save its traditions and evade becoming a fully transformed by their surrounding due to the state’s involvement. 

The Lees were living in the atmosphere of fear, danger, helplessness and tragedy before they moved to the U.S. Their lives have considerably improved, but still, they could not trust to their American surrounding with several exceptions. Peggy, Foua’s American daughter died, making Foua feel alone and unprotected again, though the clinic’s staff treated Lia and Foua well. All of the children, except for Lia, have adapted to the American lifestyle and became athletic bilingual young people, who lived in both Laos and American culture at the same time. Nevertheless, their parents could not adapt to changes and blamed Americans on inappropriate attitude towards the disabled children.

Lia’s parents are illiterate and do not understand what happened to their daughter; thus, they keep blaming high American doctors for giving their child the wrong medicine. Furthermore, they blame the U.S. for not having an opportunity to go to the Laos forests to take the herbs that can help Lia feel better. In my opinion, the anger of Lia’s parents is rooted in fear, feeling of helplessness, disorientation, and mistrust: like they are alone in the Great Ocean. Negative experiences in their lives overweight positive experiences they have had in the U.S., making them feel offended instead of being grateful. I think that we should accept their right to refuse to be grateful and respectful, as nobody knows what they feel. Such a family views American culture as cruel, lacking spirituality and indifferent to people in need, which is definitely true, to some extent. The chapter “The Life of the Soul” ends up with the phrase “love cannot be taught, it can only be granted” (Fadiman, 2012, p. 265), which provides an explanation for the Lees’ behavior compared to the Americans’ behavior regarding children in vegetative condition. 

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The Sacrifice and the Healing

The health care providers agree that treatment and care should be combined with healing that requires not only physiological recovery but also emotional and spiritual contact between the patient and the healer. A number of studies confirm an improvement of patients’ outcomes when their nurses practice meditations or even some religious rituals. It is worth discussing their intentions when practicing rituals, and the way it helps nurses instead of helping patients. 

Lia survived and became a perfect comatose patient – very healthy and static being. However, her parents did not think so even if it was usual for the American families to institutionalize disabled people not to bear responsibility for daily care. In this reflection, I would like to investigate what made the Lees care about their helpless child more than about healthy children. 

Lia was looking good all the time, as her mother surrounded her 24 hours making sure that the police does not take her favorite child from her. According to the anthropologist George Scott, in Laos, the disabled children are more adored and surrounded by attention than the healthy ones. Such a custom is rooted in religious beliefs of Laos people, who believed that “deformity was the consequences of the past transgressions on the part of the parents and thus must be borne with equanimity and treated with kindness as means of expiation” (Fadiman, 2012, p. 215). 

The Lees’ do not know about healing-oriented medicine and its advantages, however, they recognize that spirituality is a significant aspect of their life; therefore, to adjust Lia’s health one needs to communicate with the spirits. Physical life is not the only sphere of human existence, as physical troubles may be caused by deeper mystical and spiritual reasons. To call a person that can help them handle a spiritual aspect after a physical part of the struggle against Lia’s diseases is totally lost, is the only way to make her feel better. Those, who trust medicine more than magic, would perceive such a ritual as a game, however, during this game, all the relatives gathered to help a little girl feel better. This may be called a ritual of understanding, empathy, love, affection, and sense of belonging to one group, which resulted in a feeling of own power to take control in the world of spirit, at least, partly. 

The family made so many efforts to improve Lia’s condition but the story was not finished by her recovery or its absence. Instead, the act of love practiced by all of the ritual’s witnesses was the most important factor in this scene. To love and to be loved is more important than to talk – this is the lesson that I have learned from this story and will try to keep in mind for the rest of my life.

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