Grounded

I am so grateful for those of you who read these posts, and for those who take the time to comment either via the “comment” function below or by writing me personally.   Based on some of the responses I have received some of you may not realize that, while occasionally some news event prompts me to write a reaction that I send out right away, most posts are written well in advance of the time they appear.

My writing comes in fits and starts.    Sometimes, when the moon is just right and the stars are aligned, the words come through me like a cool breeze and with just a touch of editing they are ready to go.   But frankly, that almost never happens.   Most often, the post starts with an idea, a title perhaps, or an observation, and then I struggle to write something coherent about it.   And struggle and struggle.

All of the posts you have read since August (except this one) were written in August while my wife and I were up in Point Arena, where we have been fortunate enough to escape the Southern California heat for the last few years.   I was able to finish about 6 to 8 posts there, sometimes writing only three lines a day, and due to the wonders of the internet I was able to schedule those posts to appear at the rate of once every two weeks through November.

While I try to write in ways that have some significance, I fear that much of what I say are platitudes.  In the face of real pain, real suffering, words have little meaning.  Real suffering has a life of its own, and each of us responds in our ways to the various acts of kindness we hopefully receive.

The last post, for example, was written on the topic of dealing with crosswinds, and refers to a crosswind landing I was particularly happy to make in Nevada.   Within that post there are all the intended inferences to life’s crosswinds, but I can tell you very clearly that flying is not life and life is not flying.   Life’s crosswinds don’t always end up well.

I say all this because I have been royally grounded.  Not due to the kind of weather you encounter when you step out the front door, but the kind of inclement weather that resides within us, and can release itself into the most terrifying kind of thunderstorm.

Here is what I wrote yesterday, on the day the crosswind post came out: I am writing this in a place I would rather have never gotten to see in my life, on the infusion unit at City of Hope, where I am receiving my first infusion of chemotherapy that will hopefully begin to shrink the cancer that is growing rapidly on the base of my tongue and in my trigeminal nerve.

It has been a few weeks since I received the diagnosis, confirmed by biopsies and every kind of scan imaginable.  It probably started months, even years earlier, and was not symptomatic so I had no idea it was there.   In retrospect, there were minor signs, but they were minor, and I have had many regular physicals that couldn’t catch it.

Staying in the flying metaphor, I have performed all my scheduled maintenances, done all my pre-flights, but even still, things can go terribly wrong.

Although I know that flying can and even has been terrifying at times, and even though that terror stems from what appears to be imminent death, there is nothing in the flying world that I have encountered that comes close to the abject terror I have felt once I learned of my cancer diagnosis.

To some degree, terror is terror, and in the panic of terror our frame of reference narrows, our thoughts become unreasonable and constricted, our hearts race uncontrollably, and our minds wander to the worst case scenarios.

My tumor is large, and I try to judge by looking into the physicians’ eyes how hopeful or hopeless the situation is.   The best doctors seem to have the best poker faces: they typically repeat, “I don’t know,” when it comes to any statement about the future.  Occasionally they leak something that is not encouraging, but I have little choice to go with the program.   I have trust and faith in my doctors, and I have an extraordinary family and friends surrounding me, researching for me, sticking close by my side.

One thing that is clear is that I may never fly again; if I do, I will be one fortunate bastard.  I have looked back a bit at some of my earlier posts, and I realize at once how silly some of them are, how trivial, but also forgive myself because my intent is also to entertain.  Occasionally I take something away, like the post I wrote about flying through the crash.   There is so much more to say here, but I am well over my self-imposed limit of 700 words.  One thing I feel strongly about is this:  I am deeply grateful for those of you who take the time to read these posts.  I know most of you have better things to do with your time, and it is an odd way to feel connected to someone.   But without you, this practice of writing would be merely a therapeutic exercise, rather than one of connection.   And I do believe, to some extent, there is healing in that.

Grushenka Turns Final

GrushenkaI lost my beloved German shepherd Grushenka a couple of weeks ago, the family having made the decision to end what increasingly seemed like a hopeless string of hospital visits, unwelcomed medications and transfusions.   She was only seven or eight years old, much too brief a lifetime; at least too soon to say goodbye to that extraordinary, powerful spirit of hers.   We were all so blessed with her presence, and now, out of that sadness arises gratitude for all the joy and complexity she brought to those around her.

Certainly, none of us get out of this life alive, and I’m sure most of my readers have had many losses in their lives.     Nearly all pilots have known fellow pilots, as well as friends and family, who have “gone west.”    Death seems to come in waves, and I’m all too rapidly approaching the age my parents reached when their friends and family members seemed to die off one after another.    I talked to my father about how hard it must have been for him, outliving so many of them.  He was a very sensitive and emotional man, but after a while he became inured to it.   I remember when he heard the news about one of his friend’s passing, he just mildly shrugged, said a brief “hmm,” and went about his business.   At some point, I suppose, it all becomes too much.

There is no way to truly understand death, at least not scientifically.   Science can explain certain aspects of it, but science is ill-equipped to handle the big questions, especially those having to do with consciousness, and what happened before and what happens afterward.  All we really have to understand death are narratives and metaphors.

Sometimes I think about life as if it were the rectangular pattern around an airport.   Grushenka was a rescue dog, so I have no idea how she entered the pattern.  She had a rough upwind leg, struggling with two TPLO (knee joint) implants, but she recovered well, and eventually had a smooth downwind leg, carefree with the wind at her back.

Turning base, she somehow developed an autoimmune disorder, and her red blood cells were constantly being attacked.  For a while, there was some hope, with steroids and transfusions, and she was fighting the crosswinds well.  But eventually, turning final, the headwinds were too much for her, and she seemed to be giving up the fight.   Her landing was forced, as a pilot might say, but the euthanasia, surrounded by her doting family on the spot where she stood guard over the house, made it a good one.  Sadly, this was the one she couldn’t walk away from.

 

 

Flying with Understanding

Bald-eagle-wallpaper2In Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a rather silly story made into a really silly movie, Richard Bach wrote these words, which I find enchanting:

Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you.   All they show is limitations.  Look with your understanding.  Find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.

As a child, my self-esteem, on a scale from one to ten, was well below zero.   My mother, catching me during a moment of extreme self-doubt, told me that I was capable of doing anything in life that I wanted.  Challenging her optimism, I told her snootily that I could never fly.   Undaunted, she lovingly crouched down, put her arms on my shoulders, looked me directly in the eyes, and said, “Ira, if you wanted to badly enough, you could fly.”

At first, in my confusion, I began to trust my mother less.   But there was a part of me that wanted to believe in her magical thinking.   So over the years her words, and the conviction with which they were spoken, echoed.  Eventually, I began to understand.

I knew that as a mere mortal I could never actually fly, but perhaps I could accomplish things that logic and reason (“eyes,” in Bach’s metaphor) couldn’t, if I could somehow learn how to look with my understanding.  Perhaps I could learn to not be deceived by the facts in front of me, by the obstacles that life creates, but instead to believe in my ability to understand that which transcends facts, just as my mother leapt over reality with her conviction and belief in me.

You may know the Hasidic story about the origins of the philtrum, that little indentation above the mouth and below the nose.  According to the story, when we are conceived we are given all the knowledge in the universe.   Then, at birth, God touches us right below our nose and we forget everything.  We then spend the rest of our lives trying to remember what we already know.

What we already know is our understanding, which is more than the sum of our knowledge.   It is the way we imbue knowledge with meaning and connection that transforms it into understanding.

Understanding cannot be found simply by reference to our bodily sensations, or our “feelings.”  In instrument flying we learn that our eyes and the rest of our body can deceive us.   Our brain misinterprets the signals it receives through our senses.  We must, instead, fly with all of our understanding, and have faith that even if our bodies deceive us into thinking we are flying straight and level, we choose instead to believe what our instruments tell us.  And if our instruments give us conflicting messages, we must bring our entire understanding to the cockpit—the sum of our knowledge that transcends its parts and becomes a meaningful whole.

Our eyes do deceive us.  They show us the covers of books, but not what is inside of them.  They show us facts, and facts limit us.   They bind us to the ground; they show us what is, but never what can be.  They are the stories the news media, scientists, and our best friends tell us.  When we believe them, we deceive ourselves.     It is only through looking with our understanding that we can truly see, and it is only then that we can really fly.

In the Java Sea

As I write this, there is a gentle rain falling outside the window of the Ojai Coffee Roasting Co., and halfway around the world bodies are being plucked out of the Java Sea.   It is too soon to know, but the odds are that those on the doomed Air Asia flight experienced the violent throes of a thunderstorm, with up and downdrafts moving as fast as 100 miles an hour.

Somehow, the violence of mother nature was more than the pilots or their steed could handle. Pilots are taught to avoid thunderstorms, but they often don’t. There were, in fact, at least six jets in the same vicinity as the Air Asia flight that made it home intact.   Undoubtedly, pilots who fly along routes such as the one over the Java Sea fly among storms often, and each time they get through safely reinforces their belief that they can do it again.

I had a client once who was a rock musician, and although his father was an aviation engineer, and the client himself had an encyclopedic knowledge of nearly every human-made object that traversed the sky, he never flew on them himself.  When I asked him why, he just looked at me and said, “I’m a rock musician.”  I understood that he felt jinxed, and preferred not to die the way so many musicians have died. We could, just as my client did, decide to stay closer to the ground, spending our time reading and writing in coffee shops or imagining that somehow we are safer in cars than in airplanes.

We could, but we probably won’t. We know that the chances of being injured or killed in an airplane are still relatively minuscule, that getting out of the house at all is dangerous, and that staying cocooned and perhaps watching TV will assure that our adventures will all be vicarious.

The traditional Irish blessing begins with “May the road rise up to greet you, may the wind always be at your back…”  Pilots have their version, which is simply a wish for “clear skies and tailwinds.”

The unfortunate Air Asia flight had neither, and we all grieve the loss of fellow travelers whose lives were untimely taken from those who loved them.  And, as the Irish blessing concludes, “…And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

Istanbul and the Armenian Genocide

imagesAlthough the Armenian genocide at the hand of Ottoman Turks occurred almost exactly 100 years ago, I have avoided coming to Turkey partly because of feelings similar to those I had when first traveling through Germany in 1975.  Back then, as I felt the gentle swaying of the train and watched the beautiful German landscape slip past me, I couldn’t help but imagine myself being shipped off to a camp to be gassed, my lifeless body then piled in a mound with so many others who shared my fate.  Even though that occurred 30 years after the holocaust ended, as a 21-year-old I couldn’t help but feel the fear that echoed inside me through the generations.  Now, in Turkey, remembering stories of the murder of more than a million Armenians as the world looked away, I know the feelings that I share with my Armenian comrades are irrational; it is not as though the Turks living here today had anything to do with the behavior of their progenitors nearly a century ago.

In the book of Exodus we are told that the sins of the fathers will be visited on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.  Somewhat mysteriously, future generations bear the weight of their ancestors’ sins.   But that is certainly not to say they are responsible for their sins, as Ezekial clarified:  The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son.  The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

For many, apologizing for the behavior of ancestors seems altogether silly.  But for others, it is an essential part of a healing process.  In spite of the flak he received for it, when Bill Clinton apologized for American slavery, some healing occurred.   When Tony Blair apologized for the Irish famine, when the Pope repented for the behavior of the Catholic Church during the holocaust, when the Japanese prime minister apologized for the Second World War, some healing occurred.

Years ago, when teaching a family therapy course at Antioch, I discussed the Armenian genocide in class.   Afterward, a student came up to me and mentioned to me that she was Turkish.   In fact, her father was a Turkish ambassador.  She told me that I should be aware that there is also a Turkish side to the story.  Ever since, I have honestly struggled to learn the Turkish side of the story, just as I have struggled to understand the roots of the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust.  There may be explanations, but I really don’t know that there ever can be an “other side” to genocide.

Healing occurs because genuine apologies make the world a safer place.  Safety comes when we know ourselves and take responsibility for the harm that we are capable of perpetrating.  Or, in the words of the great philosopher Charles Shulz, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Now, sitting on the terrace of my hotel room, overlooking the Bosporus on a warm, sunny spring morning in Istanbul, I think about the kindness, generosity, and sweetness of the four new Turkish friends who chose to spend their hard-earned day off with us yesterday.  One of them proclaimed in a discussion about the enmity that resulted after 9/11 and the subsequent backlash that “terrorism has no religion.”

In six days from now elections will be held that will likely keep Turkey’s president in power.   It is unlikely that this government will reverse its policy of selective memory and move toward truth or reconciliation.  That is sad, but eternal optimist that I am, I can only hope that over time governments will come to better represent the kindness and compassion of the people they govern.

 –written in April 2014 while in Istanbul on my way to Armenia

 

 

 

If You Can’t Get to Heaven: Leo Sandron and Ward 407

images-2The food that was served to the staff in the cafeteria at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk was just as bad as the food served to the patients.   That’s why many staff members walked across the street to the cafeteria at the modern headquarters of Bechtel, where we could sit and dine among the white shirts and ties of the engineers who were designing nuclear reactors and cities in Saudi Arabia.

I was sitting at a table with my supervisor, Leo Sandron, when a loud, corpulent psychiatrist walked over to us.   After Leo introduced me as his psychology intern, the psychiatrist remarked, “Oh, so you’re on ward 407.   You know what they say?  If you can’t get to heaven, go to 407!”

Attempting to enter the modern era, a few years earlier the hospital started calling the wards “units,” in order to sound less like what they were, psychiatric wards for the patients no one else wanted or could handle.   The hospital in Norwalk, still functioning to this day, was the dumping ground for patients who were involuntarily committed throughout Southern California.

I was lucky to have been assigned to unit 407, because it was the only enlightened unit in the hospital.  That was due primarily to one remarkable individual, my supervisor, “Dr, Leo.”   Leo was one of  a dying breed; a humanistic psychologist in a hospital that was one of the most inhumane places I had ever seen.   His unit had the reputation of being the only one on the hospital from which patients were ever discharged.  That’s because it was arguably the only unit in the hospital where the patients weren’t trapped in a medical nightmare.

Leo had a “secret sauce,” a therapeutic ingredient that no one else in the hospital had.   That sauce was work.   On his off hours he would go to businesses in the area and convince the owners to hire his patients.   He would then give his patients “passes” to go to work in the community for part of their day.   At work, patients who had been hospitalized in some cases for decades would shed their engrained identities as patients and gain dignity for a few hours a day at a job “on the outside.”  On the inside Leo had a motto that he would recite to patients whenever he saw evidence to the contrary: “There are three things you aren’t allowed to do here: you can’t be sick, crazy or lazy.”

Leo had the glass windows removed that separated the nursing station from the day room, so the nurses and psychiatric technicians couldn’t hide and separate themselves from the patients.   No other unit did that, mostly out of fear for the staff’s safety.  He would smile broadly when he saw you and rub your shoulders; he believed in touching both staff and patients, and we loved it!   He held psychodrama groups daily, with the staff members participating alongside the patients, and although he was a rather funny looking, overweight fellow himself, he led daily exercise groups as well.  He not only gave me permission to run poetry writing groups with the patients, but he connected me with the foremost poetry therapy proponent in LA, who at the time was teaching at LA City College.   And he scolded me for submitting a patient to psychological testing, because he believed that testing should only be done therapeutically and the projective tests I was giving only led to patient regression.

When I worked with Leo it was close to the end of his career, and he appeared to be fighting off his own depression.   When I talked to him about it, it was clear that he was struggling with the medicalization of the hospital (and his beloved wife Frances’ declining health).   The new medical director put psychiatrists in charge of each unit, when previously the staff member who earned the most respect, regardless of their position, had led each unit.   And a renewed push was placed on medication as the only legitimate treatment method; the humanistic changes that Leo made on his unit were being pushed to the side.

Leo has long left us, and while I am not a big believer in heaven or hell being anywhere other than on earth, if there is a heaven outside of 407, Leo is there rubbing everyone’s shoulders.

 

 

And Who Dies?

images-1More than 150,000 people will die today, according to the CIA (and who better to get our statistics about death from?). I think about dying almost as much as that other thing men think about practically all the time. And frankly, I don’t really understand people who don’t.

In “A Year to Live,” Stephen Levine gives an account of how he lived a year of his life as if it were the last: “One of the first beliefs we come across is that the only reason we imagine we will die is because we are convinced we were born. But we cannot trust hearsay! We must find out for ourselves. Were we born? Or was that just the vessel in which our timelessness momentarily resides. What indeed was born? And who dies?”

What was born? Who dies? Jeez Louise. The conclusion, I suppose, is to question whether that bag of bones we call our selves has anything to do with the essence of who we really are. We are, Levine suggests, timeless.

This is a compelling thought, because I have wrestled with the notion of time almost as much as I have wondered what my life would have been like if I wasn’t born with this terrible nose. Time, I have suspected, is the construct that grants our non-corporeal souls the illusion of mortality. Yup, I really meant to say mortality, because that is the illusion at least as much as immortality is. (I am not a big fan of Newtonian time, which suggests that there really is such a thing. I am closer to Kant, and think that time is primarily that thing that humans create to aid their quest for survival. Sequencing events allows us to predict more accurately, and the more accurate our predictions, the more likely our arrow will end up in the bison.)

As I age, I cling more to life than I did when I was younger and had more of it left. That thing I cling to, of course, is my corporeal life, because as much as I might believe in an afterlife, I don’t know whether it is going to look more like Tahiti or Detroit. And that clinging is certainly a bad thing, because sooner or later I am going to have to let it go, and I am so ill-prepared.

There was a very brief reality TV series back in 2006, an American adaptation of a British series called “The Monastery,” in which a group of 5 men from LA was sent to live in a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico. In one episode, the men were taken to visit the hermit, which was a very honored role within the monastery. One of the LA businessmen asked the hermit what he did all day, and the hermit said incredulously, “preparing to die.” The businessmen looked at each other, puzzled, and one of them finally said to the hermit something to the effect of, “Doesn’t that seem like a waste of time?”

To that, the hermit responded crisply, “I can think of nothing in life more important to do.” The LA businessmen chuckled uncomfortably. Maybe they had more important things to do.

Lacking Perspicacity

In the mid-70’s, a blind, retired neurosurgeon came to my office in Westwood with a profound dilemma. He had been happily married all his adult life, and just before his wife died about 7 years earlier, she made him promise never to kill himself. She knew their love was the thing that sustained him, and knew he would want to end his life when she was gone. He reluctantly agreed to the promise, but now, seven years later, unable to do surgery or even to teach, his depression was intolerable and he no longer wanted to live. He was caught between his promise to his wife and his passionate desire to die in order to escape a life that became meaningless, lonely, bitter, and exquisitely painful.

I did what a novice therapist might do in such a circumstance, which was to offer some words of encouragement, explore other possible ways to find meaning in his life, but was mostly flummoxed. I talked to my supervisor, who wondered along with me why this wealthy, highly successful neurosurgeon would seek therapy in the first place from a young inexperienced man in his twenties, but offered little else that I could grasp. I did in fact discuss this very thing with the patient, but he didn’t reveal how he got my name or why he chose to see me. I offered him the opportunity to see someone else, but he declined.

At the end of the second or third session, which was to be our last, the patient dismissed me, telling me I did not help him at all, and that I lacked perspicacity. I didn’t know what that meant, although after I looked it up that night I never forgot the meaning. Of course, in retrospect, he was absolutely correct.

Over the years I have thought about that man often, wondering if he went home and injected himself with the combination of drugs to which he had easy access and that would end his suffering. But mostly I think of things I would have said and done differently, and wish, as I have about so many other things, that I could do that one over with the knowledge I have now.

I can never know that if I were to face that blind neurosurgeon for the first time now, with the nearly 40 years and many thousands of hours of experience as a therapist behind me, I could say the right words and offer the right guidance that would effectively ease his suffering. I know that I would approach it differently, but that is all I know.

What I lacked the perspicacity to know in my mid twenties as I sat across from that blind neurosurgeon was that I too I am that blind neurosurgeon, and most likely so are you. Those of us who love deeply also suffer deeply. Those of us who pledge ourselves to a path will meet crises along that path that will feel too big to bear, and those of us who insist on having hearts will have them broken. The suffering that allowing ourselves to feel alive inevitably brings with it is not the thing to be feared; it is life itself.

Yesterday, on my sixtieth birthday, my daughter asked me what the positive aspects of turning 60 were. I was ashamed that I couldn’t think of any, and in her characteristic way, she offered, “Well, at least you’re not 70.”

In the moment, I lacked the perspicacity to tell her that it was being there, with her and the rest of my extraordinary family that was most valuable about turning 60. Maybe, if I make it to 70, I will gain the perspicacity to treasure each moment as if it were the last. Maybe not.

Air Hollywood: Flying the Friendly Skies

brace positionThe tagline for this blog begins with the words “aviation” and “autism,” and to say the least it is difficult to find ways of integrating the two topics.   A company called “Air Hollywood” has now made it easy.

Air Hollywood is not an airline per se; it is, as their name might suggest, kind of a fictitious, Hollywood airline.   Their business focuses on providing sets for the entertainment industry, including interiors of any kind of airplane you can imagine, cockpits, terminals, gates, etc., as well as stock footage and almost anything imaginable that is needed for movies and is aviation-related.   You have seen their work in films such as “Flight,” “Wolf of Wall Street,” and “Kill Bill” as well as hundreds of others.

Recently, Air Hollywood took on a new project.   They have decided to offer classes on preparing children and adults for the entire commercial-aviation related gamut of challenges that face them.    Over-stimulation at check-in areas, fluorescent lights, airport waiting areas and queues, boarding airplanes, and sitting in a confined airplane, all can pose challenges to those with autism.  They call their program “Open Sky for Autism,” and it is being offered for free.  It promises to help acclimate those with autism by using supervised repetition during simulations of airport arrival, ticketing, check-in, baggage check, TSA screening, boarding, in-flight simulation, and deboarding.   They even do one better than the “real” airlines, and offer complimentary lunch and refreshments!   Their opening event is scheduled for April 5th.  Here’s the link:  http://airhollywood.com/opensky/

If you have been following either this or my last blog for a while, you know that I am more than intrigued by people who do good things when they don’t have to.    I don’t know the folks at Air Hollywood, but I do know that for whatever their reasons they have decided to do something good for a chunk of humanity that needs it, something that is frankly difficult to do and outside what a typical therapeutic agency or clinic has the means to do.

Every religious tradition with which I am familiar preaches charity.   Growing up, I learned that the yields on the corners of each of your agricultural fields should be left for the hungry and poor.   I applaud any company that uses its resources to do good.

 

 

Sleeping in Security, Waking in Happiness

images-2 With apologies to Coleridge, behavior analysts are capable of “all things great and small.”  You might recall the story of Skinner covertly conditioning a hand waving response in a Freudian nonbeliever at a meeting in the psychology department at Harvard.  In case you haven’t heard it, Skinner was attending a faculty meeting when a guest psychoanalyst was criticizing behaviorism. Skinner wrote a note to the colleague sitting next to him, saying something like, “watch while I condition a hand-waving response.”  Each time the analyst gesticulated with his hand, Skinner smiled at him.  Sure enough, after a while, the analyst was waving his hands wildly.

If behavior analysts have the skills to covertly condition a hand waving response, teach a child with autism to talk, teach me how to tie my shoes (I need a refresher on this one), and keep people awake at nuclear power plants, then certainly we have the skillset to contribute to making the world a kinder, more peaceful place.

Behavior analysts, and psychologists in general, have often tried to extend their reach and apply their knowledge not only to the lives of one human at a time but to humanity as a whole.

Montrose Wolf, one of the pioneers and creators of the term “applied behavior analysis,” moved to Kansas primarily because it was there that he was given the opportunity to create solutions for problems of segregation and poverty.  Skinner, whose shoulders Wolf and other behavior analysts stood on, wrote “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” (and perhaps “Walden Two”) in order to address societal ills, and psychologists from nearly all disciplines have typically expanded their focus from the individual to society at large, often toward the waning years of their careers.

Not long ago, a conference entitled “Behavior Change for a Sustainable World” took place in Ohio; behavior analysts from around the world met to discuss how they could use their skills and knowledge to combat climate change and other threats to a sustainable world.

Most behavior analysts I know are overwhelmed with the challenges of helping even just a handful of children, as the rest of us are often bogged down daily with the tasks of caring for our families and ourselves.   So it is only for the purpose of inspiration that I present to you these thoughts:

22 years ago, while under house arrest, Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize, a prize she could not claim until just a year and a half ago.  When she finally appeared before the peace prize committee, she gave one of her typically extraordinary speeches.  (You can read it in its entirety here.)

When referring to the international plight of refugees, Suu Kyi said the following:

“Ultimately our aim should be to create a world free from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless, a world in which each and every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabitants will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace.  Every thought, every word, and every action that adds to the positive and the wholesome is a contribution to peace… Each and every one of us is capable of making such a contribution.  Let us join our hands to try to create a peaceful world where we can sleep in security and wake in happiness.

Aung San Suu Kyi