Pico Iyer delivers keynote speech for Heroes of Hospice winners.
Essayist and author Pico Iyer has long shared the ideology that humans have the innate ability to build resilience through pain and loss.
In 2020, people all across the world have experienced loss. Whether it be the loss of their normal routine, the loss of steady work or the loss of loved ones, the novel coronavirus has changed the way of life for everybody.
And while many negatives have come from COVID-19, Mr. Iyer shared one bright spot Thursday.
“I think one of the curious blessings of this virus season is that it’s really shone a spotlight on those people who devote or even give up their lives to serving others,” Mr. Iyer said.
Mr. Iyer was the keynote speaker during the Hospice of Santa Barbara (HSB) 8th Annual Heroes of Hospice (HOH), an online event which honored local community heroes.
The four award winners honored by HSB were Steve Ortiz, President & CEO of United Way of Santa Barbara County with the Philanthropy Award, Liliana Encinas and Jose Fierros with the Partnership Award, Zoomers to Boomers and Danny Goldberg with the Volunteer Award and Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons with the Medical Award.
“For me, hospice is always a constellation of heroes, but it’s doubly meaningful for me to be joining you on this evening where you’re acknowledging heroes among the heroes. I’ve been truly uplifted and humbled by what we’ve heard of the four people and groups being recognized,” Mr. Iyer said.
All four award winners also said a few words of appreciation during a short video.
Dr. Fitzgibbons, an infectious disease expert at Cottage health, received the award for her efforts as a member of the COVID Incident Command Center, working with physicians and administrative leadership to ensure that systems are as good as they can be, especially during this pandemic.
“I am flattered and overwhelmed to receive this award from Hospice of Santa Barbara this year,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
“Our health care workers are very precious resources and the health of health care workers is simply, critically important to the health of our patients.”
Mr. Ortiz received the award after United Way of SBC partnered with multiple entities to set up the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort to assist individuals and families financially impacted by COVID-19.
“We’re very proud to be at the forefront of support for thousands of individuals who have received individual assistance grants. These dollars go directly to help those most in need,” Mr. Ortiz said.
“I am proud to be receiving this award from Hospice of Santa Barbara. It’s really a team effort and I accept this award on their behalf.”
Ms. Encinas and Mr. Fierro received the award due to their collaboration in making sure critical COVID-19 messages reach the many people in the Spanish-speaking community here in Santa Barbara.
“For our English speaking community, there’s multiple platforms of information. With our Spanish speaking community, not all of those avenues or the information in those platforms are available in Spanish language,” Ms. Encinas said.
“When we needed to bring information COVID-19-related to the Spanish speaking community, we put on the show to bring culturally relevant messaging to the community.”
Finally, Daniel, a 17-year old San Marcos student founded Zoomers to Boomers, comprised of a team of young volunteers from Gen Z who deliver groceries to their neighbors who are elderly or immunocompromised across Santa Barbara, the U.S. and even the world.
“Community is something, personally, really important to me, so I think now is a really good time, especially for young people, to help your neighbors, help people around you,” Daniel said.
“There are so many of my neighbors who are either older or have some immunocompromised condition — so I realized I should be the one going out and getting those groceries for them. This is definitely very fulfilling work to do.”
Mr. Iyer focused his speech a lot on the responses people have during times of distress.
At the start, he noted how particularly tough these last seven months have been, both physically and mentally.
“I know this whole last seven months has been unimaginably difficult for everybody across the globe, but I’m guessing it’s been especially hard for people working in the hospice community,” Mr. Iyer shared.
“I’ve never seen grief and fear and uncertainty at the levels we’ve seen it this past eight or nine months. … These past two seasons, I’ve been asking myself, who is caring for the caregivers?”
During his talk, Mr. Iyer focused on one of the hardest events of his own life, as well as many others, the Painted Cave Fire of 1990, in which he lost countless things.
“I was literally sitting in the fire, looking up and watching the flames systematically making their way through our living room. Reducing every last thing in my bedroom to ash, wiping out my next eight years of writing, which are all in handwritten notes,” he shared.
“I bought a toothbrush and literally that toothbrush was the only thing I had in the world.”
A few months later, a “surprise” came his way when the insurance company called to offer to replace all the possessions.
“I saw, I didn’t need 90% of the books, clothes, furniture I’d accumulated. I could really live much more likely underground. Then I thought, I don’t really have a physical home anymore in Santa Barbara so maybe I should spend more time in the home of my heart, Japan,” Mr. Iyer shared.
“The fire was a devastating event, but in many ways it opened doors and windows in my life that otherwise might have been closed forever, and it really allowed me to live closer to the way I always wanted.”
He also spoke about the many conversations he has had with the Dalai Lama over the last 46 years.
“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from him is that suffering is not the same thing as unhappiness,” Mr. Iyer said.
“He believes suffering is the first fact we face. Nearly all of us, if we are lucky, will know old age and sickness.
“But unhappiness is just the position we choose, or cannot choose to be.”
Lastly, another idea he spoke on is the importance of not being fixated on every bit of news. The coronavirus changes everyday and obsessing over it will not help.
“During a global health crisis like this, it’s really important to be informed so we know how to protect other people and ourselves. I’m convinced we can get that information in less than three minutes every day,” he said.
“As soon as I look down at the news, I feel powerless, I feel hopeless, so it’s a choice that I can make and all of us can make. I think every hour of the day, we can choose to concentrate on what we have, which will make us feel grateful, or on what we don’t have, which will make us feel frustrated.
“The best cure for anxiety is looking after others.”