Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Living with a Devastating Diagnosis

Adversity comes in many forms, sickness being one of the most common, and a diagnosis of Hansen's disease being perhaps the most devastating. The Peace Weekly, in a front page feature, tells the story of Mr. Ha, who at the age of 20 received the devastating diagnosis. The story chronicles his battle to make life meaningful, and how his encounter with Jesus helped him to overcome the agony and pain of the disease.

"Because of Jesus I  gained courage and confidence," he explained. "Seeing his arms and legs nailed to the cross, seeing his suffering, enabled me to accept my own pain and to overcome the fear that I faced because of what Jesus had gone through."

Ha (Moses) is 65 years old and has lost both his arms and legs to the disease and has been fitted with artificial limbs. He likes to recite a poem he is fond of:  "Many are the seasons with  pain that I have seen/ my heart with quiet ardor  has given birth to a flower/ The journey of the heart has given me unlimited contents to  my story/ the contents seem to be graspable, but they are not/ they go around in empty space and have disappeared/ At least once in a lifetime one receives an opportunity for change/  My life is like the wretched weeds that have been trampled/but new sprouts have broken forth from the  earth! (From "My Way")

He first noticed the onset of the disease while in elementary school. Fishing one day with friends, he fell into one of the gullies between the paddy fields and felt his arms go numb. His hands began to curl and shake. He sought the advice of the best Oriental medical doctors, but he continued to get worse. Some who knew him in the village suspected it might be leprosy and reported it to the public health center, and at the age of 20 he was diagnosed with Hansen's disease.

The family was isolated from the village community, and Mr. Ha went to the Catholic  hospital in Taegu for skin diseases, where he was treated by the religious sisters working in the hospital. In 1978, he moved to a village for those with the disease and during that time  was baptized, but he continued to feel unwanted and isolated because of the discrimination.  On one occasion, when he went to buy some food, the owner of the shop hastily closed the front door and refused to sell him anything. He began to hate seeing himself in the mirror and to avoid coming close to people when walking on the sidewalk. The hatred, he said, was so intense he tried to kill himself a number of times.

However, he continued to go to Mass and say the rosary, and gradually his feeling of self-hatred receded and he began to accept himself, understanding  the feelings of those who would point their fingers at him. Thinking of Jesus on the cross enabled him to accept all that was happening. His eyes were able to see not his own troubles but those of others. He also became  the errand and odd-job  man in the Sacred Heart Community. When he left the community, after more than 30 years, he cried uncontrollably, waving farewell to those he had known for over 30 years.

Moses was not able to get rid of his physical handicaps and he still felt the stinging silent rebuke he continued to receive, but  something happened inside of him that enabled him to live with his difficulties."To live with Jesus makes me rich," he said. "When a stranger shuns me, I'm not scared by the meeting."

The article ends with the words of Moses: "In life all of us, sooner or later, have to face sickness or disabilities of one kind or another, and even though we now might not be suffering such problems, wouldn't it be helpful to interact with those who now have such problems with warmth in our eyes, giving them courage and strength to carry on, rather than a cold unfeeling gaze?"

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