As my joyful five-year-old self sat on my grandpa’s lap at the airport in Saigon, I bragged to the family that I will soon get to ride in a Jeep. We didn’t have Jeeps in the village – they only appeared in television. Everyone smiled yet teared up at the same time – those older and wiser knew that my parents and I were about to be the first in the family’s lineage to emigrate from our peaceful village into the unknown, unfamiliar, and uncharted.
After spending weeks in a nearby refugee camp and many miles of air travel, we arrived in Denver, Colorado. I didn’t get to ride in a Jeep. We needed food and jackets to stay warm in the winter, so the $100 my parents brought over didn’t last long. We were blessed with temporary shelter in the basement of my father’s former war buddy.
A light on a candle, no matter how small, shines bright even in the darkest of rooms. From my perspective, this is the simplest illustration of our human spirit – our spirit brings a level of clarity to the unknown, calm to anxieties, joy to depression, and comfort to injured souls. Preoccupied with the idea of riding a cool Jeep, I had no idea that upon our arrival we also brought my father’s trauma after multiple years of military re-education prison camp and my mother’s worries as she figured out how to have a healthy pregnancy with limited resources. We also brought our collective feelings of helplessness – not knowing the primary language while acclimating to a new culture, and loneliness while dearly missing family back home.
The light in our lives, especially at this pivotal phase, was prayer. We prayed at least twice a day, upon waking up and before going to bed. Each prayer had two key components – gratitude for what we had and hope for the future. Through prayer our spirits gifted the following:
- Faith – complete trust and confidence in a higher purpose, and to us, trust that God will fully provide regardless of our circumstances.
- Peace – being at ease with our reality and focusing on what we were blessed with.
- Love – the kind of love that makes one choose the highest good for the other, at all times. The selfless, unconditional, agape kind of love.
- Wisdom – having experienced living with the bare minimum regarding worldly resources, we gained the wisdom to discern what truly matters in life.
- Self-control – we developed a disciplined lifestyle and focused on gaining opportunities for employment and education, living well below financial means when it came to “wants,” while reserving funds for important matters like education and necessities.
- Patience – the ability to appreciate the current state and accept that the “American dream” needs considerable time and energy to build.
- Joy – we were overjoyed for the opportunity and privilege to have a new home in the United States, and the blessing to have this new experience together as a family. We had our health, intellect, family, values, and spirit.
These gifts of the spirit provided an aura of abundance in the midst of limitations. There is growing evidence of the benefits of mindfulness, prayer, and meditation. Many reputable organizations, including the American Psychological Association and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) Foundation, affirm that mindfulness, prayer, and meditation, when practiced regularly, helps the practitioner have increased ability to focus, calmer emotions, and increased resiliency, among other benefits. For my family, regular prayer helped remind us of our purpose, and gave us the daily confidence to seek new opportunities, build our network, and take calculated risks to actualize our American dream.
World Human Spirit Day was started in 2003 by Michael Levy to encourage people to live peacefully, creatively, and purposefully. February 17th is a day to celebrate hope, provide awareness, and empower the magical and spiritual part of us that often becomes forgotten amidst a busy life. Inspired by Arthur Fletcher’s quote, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” I would go on to say: “The spirit is a terrible thing to neglect.” I encourage each person to give time, attention, and nourishment to your spirit on World Human Spirit Day and every other day of your lives. Your spirit is the light on the candle that guides your way in a dark space, the lighthouse among a storm that guides you home, and the guardian of your power and purpose, especially when you’ve forgotten your worth.