Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Long Defeat

On the drive back from my friend's house, I listened to Tracy Kidder's biography of Paul Farmer, "Mountains Beyond Mountains."  Farmer is an extraordinary human.  Yogi Berra might say he's half anthropologist, half doctor and the other half pure saint.  Farmer has been at the forefront of public medicine and infectious disease for three decades, fighting poverty, tuberculosis, and AIDS in Haiti, Peru, Russia and as an international health care leader focused on bringing modern medicine to the places that need it most.

Farmer is a Harvard professor, recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant and a man with bottomless passion for humanity who logs millions of miles and spends most of his time in the world's poorest and least comfortable places.  His biography is gripping and inspiring but what struck me most was when he talked about fighting the "long defeat" ... the endless battle against poverty, disease, ignorance, corruption and indifference to the poor.
“I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I’m not going to stop because we keep losing. Now I actually think sometimes we may win. I don’t dislike victory. . . . You know, people from our background — like you, like most PIH-ers, like me — we’re used to being on a victory team, and actually what we’re really trying to do in PIH is to make common cause with the losers. Those are two very different things. We want to be on the winning team, but at the risk of turning our backs on the losers, no, it’s not worth it. So you fight the long defeat.”
It makes me wonder what I'm passionate enough about to fight the long defeat.

His organization is Partners in Health and you can find more information here

Stand With Haiti


  1. Oh Joyce -- thank you for this link and this post! Wonderful!

  2. I loved the book. I did a post about Farmer after the Haiti earthquake and ran his badge on my posts for several months. I'm going to start adding it again because people are beginning to forget about Haiti, and we can't forget. (See my posts of Jan 18, 2010, and also March 16. For the latter I posted David Chameides' short. He worked with Farmer on a documentary about PIH.

    Farmer may be one of the few people alive that I would put in a Hero category.

  3. Maureen ... I agree ... he is a true hero and it's a good idea about the badge ... I'm going to do likewise.

    You're always thirteen-and-half steps ahead and I'm happy to follow in your wake.