Sometimes the cure lies within ourselves

June 20, 2008
ThoughtForTheDay 20200515 RabbiLordSacks mp3 image 1
Broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, 20th June 2008

What an extraordinary story that was yesterday, about how scientists in Seattle seem to have cured a patient suffering from severe melanoma, by the cloning some of his own immune cells and putting them back. The result was that in essence his own body was able to defeat the cancer that had until then been threatening his life.

It was a miracle of science, but a reminder also of the astonishing powers of recovery nature contains, if only we knew where to look for them and how to harness them.

And it's not only the human body.  Do you remember the great hurricane that hit southeast England in 1987, blowing down 15 millions trees and devastating whole regions? 10 years later somebody made a documentary and discovered that not only had the replanted areas recovered, but so too had those left untended.

And not only nature recovers. So too does language. Linguists made a fascinating discovery when they studied pidgin English, originally used by slaves. Pidgin – me tarzan you jane – has words but no grammar.  What the linguists discovered is that the children of pidgin speakers had created their own new language, called a creole, which is pidgin plus grammar.  Their parents had been robbed of a language, but they, without even knowing what they were doing, had simply invented one.

Somehow there are within us and within nature astonishing powers to heal what's been harmed, and they're embedded within life itself. Perhaps that's an obvious scientific fact: nature favours species able to recover. But it's not just a scientific fact. For me it's also confirmation of the hope I find in God the creator, who endowed life itself with endless creativity and self renewal.

Some time ago, I had to have a medical checkup.  The doctor put me on a treadmill.  What are you measuring I asked him.  How fast I can go or how long?  Neither, he replied.  What I want to see is, when you get off the machine, how long it takes your pulse to return to normal.  That's when I realised that health isn't never being ill; it's the ability to recover.

Hope, like faith, is often a self fulfilling prophecy. It's the hope of a cure that leads doctors to search for it; hope of peace that makes politicians strive for it. Pessimism offers only the empty consolation of being right. Yesterday's story of success in Seattle tells us that sometimes the cure lies within ourselves, if only we know where to look.