I’m Not Sad for the People, I’m Sad for the World

As I looked out over a sea of trash speckled with people, I could feel my heart crack. But my heart is not cracking for the people. Now some people may be shocked by this. Saying, “How can your heart not be breaking for these people digging through a dump just to make a living?” But it’s the truth. My heart isn’t breaking for the people. 

A family came into Dr. Lauri’s office the other day. A mother, a little boy, a little girl with the messiest but cutest hair, and the smiliest little nugget of a baby. I don’t really recall what exactly the family was in for. We saw a ton of kids that day that were sick because of a lack of clean water. That’s it, just lack of clean water. My whole life I’ve taken something seemingly so simple for granted. I grew up at the tippy top of the Rocky Mountains. In an itty bitty town set at 10,000 feet. I had never experienced unclean water a day in my life. The water that ran from my tap was crystal clear, crisp, and clean. The idea that I needed to filter, boil, or clean my water had never crossed my mind. Yet there I sat. For the eighth or ninth time that day talking to yet another mother who told us they couldn’t afford any kind of mechanism to give her family clean water. 

What can you do in that situation? Even the best doctors in the world (and trust me when I say I was with the best doctors in the world) can’t do anything about that. 

Coming into this experience, you know you’re going to be challenged like you’ve never been challenged before. You know that you’re going to see someone who you can’t do enough to help. You know you’re going to see kids who need clean water that you can’t get for them. You know that you’re going to visit an old women in her home who you can give medicine and give your best to, but who still might need you the next day and you won’t be there. You know that you’re heart is going to break. 

But, you don’t know what that is going to feel like yet. You don’t know that you’re going to leave behind a nurse that it’s so ready and excited to keep running a clinic. You don’t know that the people you will meet are going to be the happiest that you’ve ever met. 

How can that be? How are people who can’t even afford clean water so happy and full of life? 

When we went to visit the preschool next to the dump (literally next to), the family with the little boy, the girl with messy hair, and the smiley baby boy, lived there under a big tarp, surrounded by trash, with a dirt floor where the baby can’t even be set down to work on strengthening his muscles. Yet when we walked past they were all still so happy and excited. They didn’t think twice about the dirt floor or the tarp. They were just pure joy.  

As we walked down the steps from the school and looked out over the dump I stood there, my heart shattered. Dr. Stephanie said something to me that resonated in my soul. She said, “I’m not sad for the people. They are making a living and they are doing what they need to. I’m sad for the world that caused them to end up here.” And she was absolutely right. I’m not sad for the sick and marginalized people in Cobán. They are happy. Truly happy. I’m sad for the world.

Lorenzo Patti


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