Audrius Simiatis

Audrius Simaitis

Will of God in action

I was born on 3 June 1965 in Lithuania into a non-practising Catholic family. My father regarded himself as an atheist so, against the wishes of my pious grandmother, my brother and I were not baptised at birth, which caused my grandmother a lot of distress. After repeated requests over several years, my father’s heart softened, and he gave in to my grandmother and we were both baptised. I was then fourteen years old.

I graduated from secondary school in 1983. I then studied Medicine and became a cardiologist, after completing the advanced training programme in 1994. Most of my studies took place during the Soviet era, so during medical school I had Soviet Army training, which led to my becoming a Junior Lieutenant of Medical Forces in the Soviet Army.

I later married a young woman called Rasa, and we had two sons: Aistis, who is now twenty- seven, and Joris, who is seventeen. I became a Bahá’í in 1990, at a time when Bahá’í pioneers were at last given the opportunity to take Bahá’u’lláh’s message to the Soviet countries. I then started my never ending spiritual journey, with a Pilgrimage in 2002 and four other subsequent visits to the Holy Land.

How to learn English

It was the dying days of the Soviet empire, and both the tight control of borders and the restrictions of people were easing off. The winds of freedom and independence were felt in all corners, and people were rushing to make use of the opportunities about to open up for them: a wide choice of newspapers; public discourse regarding themes that used to be taboo and access to books that were previously forbidden. There was a great surge in the number of people attending English classes, driven by a desire to learn about a world that looked so attractive beyond the Iron Curtain. I was no exception. However I was uninterested in courses being given by local teachers as I felt their English was not up to the level I wished to achieve.

‘English teacher from Guernsey is recruiting students to English classes’                 

I could not believe my eyes when I saw this little advertisement in one of our new newspapers, but I didn’t expect to gain a place on the course. I dialed the number and the lady who responded took my name and details and then simply gave me the date of my first lesson. Helen Smith, a lady from Guernsey in the Channel Islands, had a very pleasant smile and was very attentive to every student. She presented her lessons in an energetic and participatory way. For me group discussion in those days was an unusual way of teaching, but I very willingly attended every lesson. We had never been taught in this way, and each time I felt uncomfortable, never really wanting to join in with the group discussion. However, I very much enjoyed the rest of the lesson time so I had no choice but to somehow find a way of adjusting to the discussions. At one point the subject of reincarnation emerged, being quite a popular concept in those days. Helen was listening to how the discussion was developing in our group and could not resist from contributing herself. “This is not according to my religion” she said in an elegant, firm way and with a cheeky little smile. “What is your religion?” I asked. She replied, “The Bahá’í Faith”.

I had never heard of this religion so, a few days later, I was sitting with Helen in her little room and drinking English tea, at what later turned out to be Helen’s weekly fireside. I also invited my friend Aidas to these firesides. I liked reading philosophical books, and I liked psychological literature as I was very interested in discovering how human beings think, act and are motivated. Reading Bahá’í booklets and literature was something new and different for me.

I was not contemplating joining the Bahá’í Faith; it was simply not in my mind as an option. I was not accustomed to joining any organisation voluntarily. In my early school days we suddenly realised we were part of an organisation called ‘Kids of October’ which referred to Lenin’s revolution in October 1917. Later on at school we filled in forms and realised we were part of the junior communist movement, which we had never taken seriously – it simply was not part of our lives.

After a few weeks of attending firesides, Helen mentioned that her friend Joanna from Sweden was visiting, and Aidas and I were invited to meet her. We met Joanna a couple of times, and Helen arranged a fireside at her hostel room a few days before her departure. The only entrance to Helen’s room was through a tiny lobby where two people would find themselves standing shoulder to shoulder, and this is what happened to Aidas and myself. As I took my shoes off, ready to enter the doorway, Helen suddenly asked me “Would you mind if we regarded you as Bahá’ís?” I had no objection to Helen regarding me as a Bahá’í so I said, “No, I don’t mind”, and Aidas gave the same answer. Joanna jumped up from the sofa and, together with Helen, started to hug, embrace and congratulate us! It was only then that I realised I had joined another organisation. When I had said, “Yes” I had meant, yes, you can regard me as a Bahá’í if you wish, but I never ever thought of saying yes to joining the Bahá’í Faith!

Several times later, and on many occasions, I was going to say no to Helen, and to let her know that I had never meant to say yes! However, the powerful hand of God was gently guiding me through the jungles of self-understanding.Through the depths of the Bahá’í writings and the irresistible beauty of Bahá’u’lláh’s language I was learning to cherish and experience feelings that for me were new and immeasurably special and important. I did not need any more psychology or philosophical books; I was simply drinking deep from the chalice of the crystal waters of wisdom.

Remember My days during Thy days … or unpredictable Huqúq

It was the early hours of the morning. Deep night shadows were still embracing every bush and tree and every blade of grass. It was impossible to see even the little track through which I would be able to find a way for my lovely dog. However, I knew that our three year old golden retriever Sparky would easily sniff his way out. It was three hours before the break of dawn, and it was a very special day: the 12th November, the Birthday of Bahá’u’lláh.

Even if the early morning sun had been shedding light, I would not have been able to have seen the pathway, because I could not stop crying. I was crying not because I was sad or distressed; my tears were simply those of immense joy and deep thankfulness; tears of awe, of ecstasy, of understanding, of absolute nothingness before the Will of God, and complete unworthiness in the face of the mighty power and immeasurable grace of Bahá’u’lláh. That same morning, again and again in trying to understand glimpses of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, I realised how mighty is the law of Huqúqu’lláh, which alone can change the whole world.

From the moment I learned of the law of Huqúq I desired to make every attempt to fulfil the Will of God. The requirement of the Law of Huqúq in Eastern European countries however was the cause of an immense moral dilemma.

The cultural tradition regarding the relationship of doctors and patients in Lithuania has an interesting aspect, deeply rooted in the consciousness of most of its people. The State pays doctors their salaries, which are often below the average salary of the country, so the patients simply ‘pay the difference’ (illegal payments) between the market rate and the rate the State pays the doctors. Most people accept the situation and simply do not question the social impact of these practices, and their effect on the moral values and economy of the country. Being a Bahá’í and a doctor, and having a desire to fulfil the Will of God and to offer Huqúq in its purest form thus posed for me a very serious moral dilemma. For many years I had been thinking and meditating, asking Bahá’u’lláh to give me guidance and assistance to find the answer. In one of my meditations after praying, I said to Bahá’u’lláh: “I am ready to go to the West if this is an answer to my question.”

At that time we were living in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, when the aim of the Three Year Plan was to establish the National Spiritual Assembly. The opportunities and circumstances changed when I was offered a cardiologist position in Klaipeda (Western Lithuania), our goal city, in which we were required to establish a Local Spiritual Assembly, which was certainly a movement toward the West – Klaipeda lying west of Vilnius!

We moved to Klaipeda where we enjoyed a wonderful period for my family, my professional and Bahá’í life. The Local Spiritual Assembly was established in 1997 and the National Spiritual Assembly of Lithuania in 1999. Together, with other members of the community, we had the great privilege of contributing significantly to the numerous Bahá’í publications in the Lithuanian language.

However, my Huqúqu’lláh dilemma was still very much on my mind. Initially I decided logically not to take any out-of-pocket payments from patients, but my resolve to live according to that personal decision only lasted one week. My first patient was a lovely 80-year-old gentleman who, with a heart full of love and a trembling hand extended to me a crumpled banknote worth twenty litas. He said “Doctor, I am so thankful to you.” All my recent determination melted away like snow, as I realised immediately that not to accept the twenty litas from this man would be offensive, so reluctantly I accepted the money.

My dilemma had re-emerged and was a major headache. The number of people wanting personal patient status was growing and growing. To tackle the problem I decided to become involved in private practice, which did not work out, partly because people wanted to keep to the old habits. Only a fraction of them would appear at my private practice; most would still come to the State hospital with the intention of making cash-in-hand payments.

The problem had been discussed numerous times in the media and governmental circles but with no positive results. Finally the government decided to legalise small payments to doctors, to be regarded as small tokens of appreciation. Although it gave some relief, it did not resolve the moral dilemma for me as, in the deepest recesses of my heart, I knew that it was not a solution. I was left with a firm desire to find the answer to what was a challenging question.

Through efforts to improve the professional environment in my hospital I also realised that the whole system in itself had become a significant barrier to my continued personal and professional development. The system was trying to suppress every individual initiative because any independent-thinking individual with a sincere desire to carry out proceedings honourably, according to the law, was perceived by those in positions of power as a threat.

After many years of contemplation and thought I concluded that the solution to my problem would require a very difficult and painful decision, especially while acknowledging the smallness of our Bahá’í community and its need of every single active Bahá’í. I would have to emigrate.

Finally in the summer of 2004 after two years of trying to leave the country, I was able to board a plane to Sydney, hardly a movement towards the west, but a move to a western type of civilisation.

After three days in the Australian hospital and my initial experience of cultural and professional shock – being detached from my homeland and family (my wife Rasa and sons had not come) – I bought a ticket to return home. On the day before my flight I packed and unpacked three times, and three times I drove to the hospital to meet the Medical Director to inform him that I had made a mistake. I wanted to provide treatment for the people of my own country and to be back home in our newly acquired and cherished house with my wife and sons. Each time, I was unable to find the Medical Director – he simply was not in his office. As I attempted to pack for the fourth time, my bleep sounded and I was requested to be at the hospital as soon as possible. On my arrival the eyes of all the junior doctors were on me, as were those of patients and family members. Only then did I realise that the junior doctors and patients in Australia urgently needed my guidance and support.

I returned to my rented home in the vicinity of the hospital, looked at my luggage and asked myself an honest question: did I really want to go back? Did I really want to be embroiled in that moral dilemma again? Or did I want to learn something new and have new experiences and gain new knowledge? I did not know the answers but I realised one thing: I did not want to return home while there was a sniff of a new and interesting life, although still full of difficult decisions, uncertainties, and challenges. I unpacked my luggage and phoned to cancel my flight. The airline person on the line reminded me: “You do realise this is a non-refundable flight?” “Yes” I said, “I do”.

Two weeks later I was credited with my first salary, and what a sweet moment that was in my life. I will never ever forget the feeling of seeing the figure of 2,000 Australian dollars on my card. It was not about the amount, but the fact that it was one hundred percent legal and above board. At that moment I knew I could never return to the old system, the never-ending vicious circle. Only now do I know that it was the mighty protecting Hand of Providence from Bahá’u’lláh’s immeasurable ocean of mercy that was protecting me and preventing the Medical Director in Port Macquarie from being faced with my wish to terminate my contract.

One year later, in 2005, that same Hand caused me to move my family to the United Kingdom. That same inner voice (though I did not realise it at the time) prompted me to start writing many articles in the Lithuanian press about the enormous shortages and the lack of training of junior doctors in the Lithuanian health care system. The same Hand caused UK-based Lithuanian junior doctors and me to meet. We discussed actions to block the plans of the Health Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Lithuania to introduce a ‘unique’ system for junior doctors to pay the government for giving them jobs. In all countries junior doctors are regarded as invaluable contributors to the care and treatment of patients, but the Health Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Lithuania had plans to go in completely the opposite direction. I was the only doctor in the whole country to raise his voice, and state that this is wrong and will do a lot of harm. At the same time I had an article published in the main daily newspaper of Lithuania – Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuanian Morning).

It was clear that my actions so far were not enough to stop some of the government’s quite well-advanced plans. What to do next? I recalled a peculiarity of the Soviet-type mentality – the so-called ‘right of telephone call’ often used by high profile Soviet officials to solve problems. An email to the secretary of the Chairman of the Health Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Lithuania produced a promising result. I was given the mobile number of the Chairman and we agreed a time to have a telephone conversation.

The Chairman was clearly excited to hear that a Lithuanian doctor working in the United Kingdom was requesting a telephone conversation with him. Such a reaction is part of the Soviet mentality as well, because the Soviets used to divide people into ‘us’ and ‘them’. By ‘them’ is usually meant foreigners (capitalists) who were both feared and respected. The conversation was not very encouraging, as I was given a long story of how the Parliament and the Chairman, in particular, were caring for the doctors, and how good the new reform would be. Then I humbly shared my views, explaining that in most countries junior doctors are paid quite good salaries, and I did not know any country in the world with the kind of reform the Committee was planning to introduce in Lithuania.

These thoughts did not go down very well, and I was given a lesson in patriotism. The Chairman explained that conditions for doctors in Lithuania were improving rapidly. I should return as soon as possible to join the new emerging paradise. My answer was short. “Mr Chairman, for you to become a patriot is much easier. You have to stop current reform…” Beep beep beep. The Chairman had abruptly cut-off our heated exchange.

I organised the writing of an open letter from UK-based Lithuanian doctors to the President, Prime Minister, Parliament and Health Care Ministry in which we publicly expressed our concerns. One week later the Health Affairs Committee of the Parliament stopped the deliberations of the ‘new postgraduate reform’. The junior doctors were continuing their efforts to create a new law, and a Parliamentary Inquiry was launched on the basis of my article published in Lietuvos Rytas.

In 2007 the Inquiry concluded that all concerns and criticisms expressed in the article were absolutely valid and the relevant institutions were asked to take corrective action. In the Spring of 2007 Parliament approved a law of postgraduate training which forms a positive basis for the future. Junior doctors are now receiving quite reasonable salaries and are full members of the teams caring for patients. It was a heart-warming victory and a bright light in the search for truth and values and in an attempt to uphold spiritual principles – a pearl, a gift from God, which I am going to cherish all my life.

Victory is followed by crisis and crisis is followed by victory. Now it was the turn for crisis.

I realised that Lithuania, despite being a candidate for the EU for many years and already a Member State of the European Union, was not a member of UEMS – the European Association of Medical Specialists. It was disappointing, but I thought, it is also an opportunity. What if we unify all existing medical societies into one body which could then apply to UEMS for membership? The UEMS was already in the process of negotiating with the Lithuanian Doctors Association (LDA), but they regarded the LDA as a Trade Union with old stereotypical ideas and the UEMS would prefer a new specialists’ organisation.

We made a serious attempt to form a new medical organisation. Seventy specialist professors were present at the first meeting. However, I was already under attack from the LDA, saying I was dividing the country, causing disunity and creating confusion, and after a disreputable article in the LDA journal ‘Gydytoju Zinios. I decided to cut all ties with Lithuania.

I retreated to the beautiful county of Cornwall here in England where I enjoyed the friendship and courtesy of local Bahá’ís, as well as the respect the English people have for doctors. Physically I was feeling better than ever. Our children were very successful at school and university, and life was flowing in the right direction. Yet something else indefinable was bothering me.

My father had passed away in 2002. He had participated in the partisan resistance movement against the Russian occupation in 1948, and was consequently exiled to Siberia. Dad was freed in 1956. His life in Siberia, which included being kept in a single prison cell and given only bread and water for nearly two years, was a constant balance between life and death, but he survived while many others did not.

In the summer of 2008 we were visiting my parents-in-law in a small remote village in Lithuania One day my father-in-law showed us a recent publication about Lithuanians in Soviet working and concentration camps. In one of the photos I suddenly recognised my father. My father had been suffering for the future of the country, and continued to do so until his sudden and unexpected death. Now I found myself wondering ‘What am I doing for my country?’

It was Christmas time when we next visited Lithuania, and out of the blue I decided it was time we returned to our own country, much to my wife’s surprise.

Being quite well known throughout the country as a Cardiologist I had no doubt my being re-employed in the Klaipeda Seamen’s Hospital would be a formality. In my meeting with the hospital’s CEO I asserted that I intended to live according to the principles and the virtues in which I believed. It was a great shock to him. The then verdict of the CEO was as simple as it could be: No!

Another crisis. However this time I knew that the only value of the knowledge and experience I had gained overseas would be to apply it in my own country.

The future of my nation was my concern, and love of one’s country is a part of the love of the world. Since then I had such guidance from Bahá’u’lláh, such mighty help from Abdu’l-Bahá, and such gentle assistance from the spirit of Shoghi Effendi that I knew whatever happened I should not stop my attempts at change.

I was inspired to the point that I created the plan of health care reform for Lithuania, a desire that had been awaited by Lithuanians and the medical community for nearly twenty years. The Lithuanian Foreign Minister agreed to be patron of my pilot project towards reform.

Presentations were made to ministers, advisers, and a major university hospital. The Junior Doctors Association invited me to give a presentation at the end of February 2009 where more than one hundred participants were present, including the Deans of postgraduate studies from the universities of Kent, Sussex and Surrey, who also gave presentations. The Lithuanian institutions remained silent. No answer. Another crisis?

At that time I was not able to see a constructive way forward, but with dedicated others, I agreed to devise a new plan and meet in another six months. It was the end of February. However something was not quite right; something was lacking in the grand plan.

Inspired by a book about the Soviet-type mentality I decided, before anything else, to write an article about the phenomenon of this mentality in the medical field, but again I was aware that something was missing, and the deadline of six months was approaching like a fast train in the darkness

Searching my memory I recalled a crucial conversation with a journalist, my friend Genovaite. A year before she suggested I contribute regular medical articles to Klaipeda’s local daily ’Vakaru Ekspresas’. I reminded her of the offer she had made to me and said I thought I was ready to write! I was ready to fulfil my promise of a new plan in six months.

The Holy Day of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh, the 12th November, was approaching. On that day I did not stop writing for fourteen hours, during which I was able to produce a document called ‘A Reform Based on Values: The constitution of Lithuanian Health Care Reform’. Two days later it was accepted and published in ‘Vakaru Ekspresas’. Since then I have published more than twenty articles in four different national or regional newspapers and on their major Internet sites.

At the end of November, at a press conference, I expressed my concerns about whether Lithuanian ministry reform was conforming to the European Council principles, signed up to by all member states in 2006, and which stated that the health care systems in each EU country should be based on common values, four being fundamental: equity, solidarity, access to high quality care, and universality. I was invited to broadcast on the radio my document ‘A Reform Based on Values: The Constitution of Lithuanian Health Care Reform.’ It was broadcast three times.

A few weeks later, after also participating in a TV debate with the Lithuanian Health Care Minister, I was invited to join a Reform Committee. I courteously accepted the offer.

Between November and December 2009 I made twelve other presentations to hospitals, organisations of repatriated Lithuanians, the Junior Doctors Association, Klaipeda’s University, and patients’ organisations.

Retrospect

In the early hours of the dawn on 12th November I was walking our dog Sparky, the best friend in the world, who was sniffing his way out of the deep darkness and guiding me through the narrow pathway. It was just a short break in the marathon of fourteen hours of writing. I was not even caring about how much was left to write, and I was not thinking about whether the people were going to accept this wonderful gift. I had a feeling of utter nothingness before the might and the power of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh … my tears were just running, unstoppable, down my face… I always knew and I always thought Bahá’u’lláh was very gracious, but I would never ever have imagined He could be so gracious.

Baha’u’llah was exiled from his home in Tehran and He never ever had a chance to return. If He was never ever able to return home, how could I dare to think about coming home? He was in chains and He was in exile and He was longing to see the green meadows of his homeland and He was never given a chance…

On that early morning of 12th November 2009 I was thinking about the Law of Huqúqu’lláh. I realised that through my pure desire to adhere to the Law of Huqúq, Bahá’u’lláh completely changed my life and the life of my family; we even changed countries.

With the junior doctors we were able to alter the laws with regard to their training, giving them a chance for the future – and through Bahá’u’lláh’s Law of Huququ’llah arose a precious gift – the document ‘A Reform Based on Values’

On that morning of 12th November, the day of the anniversary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah, through tears and awe I was able to utter only a few words: ‘Remember My days during thy days’…

___________________

Audrius Simaitis

Cornwall, June 2013

SimaitisAudriusPHOTO-1

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