THIS I BELIEVE (12.04.2006)
What is left a person like me, when I had come to rejoin my family in America, I remained without the right to utilize my extensive education to work and support my family for years? I lived through this situation, hour by hour, until last September (2006). I survived only because I had already survived apartheid. I believe I did not give in to insanity because I decided to uphold the struggles of Gandhi, Mandela and M.L. King. I wish that my teacher’s degree from South Africa, my dedication to the message of Gandhi, King and Christ, a Ph.D from Johns Hopkins University, were enough to permit me to work and live in dignity here. But attorneys and the legal system disqualified me on technical grounds. This prevented me from working and providing for my wife and two teenage daughters, when my wife was herself battling breast cancer? I believe in prayer, but my prayers had to be built on other than religious foundations. These are ethical foundations, informed not only by the best traditions such as those of the Quakers, but also that of Felix Adler, founder of Ethical Culture in the USA. September 11 made all my other efforts fruitless.
I believe that the core experiences of my youth saved me from desperate acts. With six degrees, unable to return to my previous job as a foreign diplomat, unable to work in the USA, even becoming the subject of deportation for a time, neither my education nor my previous achievements counted for anything. I believe I survived because I had lived in a resource-poor and rights-poor environment under apartheid. I believe I had to allow myself to be humiliated, to have every mask and professional identity torn from me, to declare to friends and neighbors that I was a non-resident alien, and I expected nothing, had no inalienable rights. In this defenseless position, shorn even of my role as husband, father and university graduate, I became open to a Source of Ultimate Salvation, one that is deep inside all of us.
I believe when one has nothing, when one expects nothing, when one is treated as nothing, one slowly discovers one’s real value. When all the layers of my identity were torn away, the real me, naked and beautiful, stood small, upright and strong. I survived by keeping my mind engaged, writing and publishing books and through participating in Baltimore Ethical Society and poetry forums. I believe that poetry — both Biblical and more mundane — saved me from my unexpected and singular hostage experience that ended in September 2006. I will always honor the month of September, also the month of my birth.
signed; Neil Deo
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.