Life is Beautiful

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By Mike Odetalla

A couple of days ago, I woke in the middle of the night to terrible pains in my upper stomach. I had forgotten to take my daily dose of my medicine and now I had to pay the price. The pains are such that it actually hurts more when I lay down. The only way to find relief is to stand up and walk. The pains usually go through a stage and last anywhere from 2 to 3 hours and always occurs in the middle of the night.

So there I was pacing back and forth in the family room at 3 o’clock in the morning. I went downstairs because I didn’t want to awaken my wife and children who were sound asleep. While I continued to pace back and forth, trying to seek comfort from the pain, I turned on the television set. As I flipped through the endless channels and their irritable infomercials, I stumbled across a late showing of one of my favorite films, Life Is Beautiful. I had seen this very powerful and moving film, which garnered a few Academy Awards, more than once. I happened to switch on the show at the point in the film where the man and his son are being transported to the concentration camp. Then and there, I stopped my pacing and started to watch the movie (while standing), as sitting aggravated my pains.

The movie ended at around 4:30 a.m. and there I was, still standing and watching. I was so engrossed in the movie and its emotional message of life, I had not noticed that my pains had ceased. I was teary eyed, as usual, by the time the boy was reunited with his mother in the climatic ending to the movie. The message and story of this magnificently portrayed human drama never loses its power no matter how many times I see it. The story of a man trying to carry on for the sake of his son in the midst of the most horrible of conditions imaginable resonates deeply with me, as a Palestinian, and more importantly, as a human being.

The reason that I connect with this film is not because the victims are Jews, BUT because they are human beings. The very act of a parent trying to shield and spare his child from certain harm and man’s inhumanity, is a universal message that transcends all ethnic and religious lines whether the setting is in the concentration camps of the Nazis, or the impoverished land of Gaza. There is sanctity to life in all of its forms. No label must be allowed to dull our senses and make the destruction of life somehow right and permissible. For far too long we have lived with the labels that paint conflicts as US verses THEM. We attach labels to human beings to sap their very humanity from them and to facilitate their oppression, abuse, and death. The child becomes something less when he is perceived as having the opportunity to grow up and become one of THEM. His death is somehow dismissed as having attained the act of legitimacy. He was not a child, but a future one of THEM. The death of innocents is spun in so many ways, that after a while, we all become criminals. There are no innocents if one is to believe the spin of both sides. The value of human life is cheapened. What makes one life more valuable than the next? Don’t we all have dreams and aspirations for our people and children? The dreams that I have for my childrens' future is not one of pain and suffering. I dream of a peaceful life and future for my children to realize their full potential as human beings. I did not have children to see them suffer or to inflict suffering on others.

The value and importance of human life should be not measured by race and/or religion. The humble peasant who it trying to seek out a living in the wastelands of Afghanistan is just as important as the man who sits in an air conditioned office whose hands are rarely dirty. They both are working for basically the same thing. That is, they are trying, to the best of their abilities and resources, to provide for their families. They both harbor dreams and ambitions that differ only in their scope and chances of attaininment.

In the end, we must realize that each and every life is a sacred and precious thing. Whether one resides in gleaming towers that reach for the heavens or in the teeming poverty of a refugee camp, Life is indeed BEAUTIFUL.

Mike Odetalla, a Palestinian/American businessman and a father of 3, was born in 1960 in the Palestinian village of Beit Hanina, a suburb of Jerusalem. He lived through the 1967 War and moved to the US in 1969. Although he has lived in the US since then, he has made numerous trips to his homeland where he still has many family members as well as his family’s lands and orchards. Visit his website at www.hanini.org

©Mike Odetalla 2003. All Rights Reserved.