I wasn’t going to write a blog post this year. I love to write; it is my truest and most vulnerable form of self-expression. This was my fourth trip to Guatemala, but this year, words didn’t feel like enough to encapsulate the experiences, the feelings, the moments that happen in just one week spent in the most authentic place on earth. But as I ease back into “normal” life, I find myself struggling more than I ever have. This life in the states no longer feels like what I want my “normal” to be. So it’s time to write. It’s time for you to understand why I don’t want to let go and why I shouldn’t.
I’ve had several moments in my life that have earned permanent residence in my brain: the look on my husband’s face when I walked down the aisle, the enormous sense of accomplishment upon being handed my college diploma, the glistening of my own tear as it landed on my oldest nephew’s cheek when I held him for the first time. On Wednesday of last week, I had another one of those moments. Ithan was 18 months old and the picture of health. He was calm and cooperative as I measured his vital signs; he wore a small black face mask over his mouth and nose for most of his exam, but his eyes did all of the talking. I had just laid him down on the table to measure his length, and it was then that he showed his first sign of fear. His giant, round eyes welled up with tears and he looked at me in disbelief that I had the audacity to make him go through something so traumatizing. I measured him, then picked him up, fully expecting his tears to turn into sobs. Instead, he rested his chin on my chest and curled his lips around my collarbone. His left hand fell against my back and his right hand latched onto my scrub top. We held each other for five minutes. I can’t remember who else was in the triage area or what the weather was doing or what the sounds were. It was just us. Mary, one of our translators, explained to Ithan’s grandmother that I work in pediatrics, and I needed to get my “baby fill” and snuggles for the week. That is what I told Mary to say, but that wasn’t really it. I needed that moment, that reminder, that oftentimes the deepest form of connection exists in a stranger. And once you feel that, you don’t want to give it up.
I said to our team this year that it is pretty extraordinary to think that certain events had to occur in each of our lives for us to end up together this past week. But it is no accident. We were all together because we have chosen to live intentionally. There’s something to be said about waking up with gratitude and having the choice to create memories each day — to CHOOSE to fight for justice, to CHOOSE to think deeper, to CHOOSE to love your neighbor. There were so many instances this week where I saw team members and patients fighting to hold on to moments. Some of them were happy encounters, like mine with Ithan, but most patients were fighting to avoid facing reality — the reality that if her daughter tested positive for covid, the mother could not earn the $3 a day to support her family and pay her debt, or the reality of a teenager girl being told for the first time that she could not have children. Those people were fighting to hold on to a life that was no longer going to exist because of the moment that was coming…the moment that was going to change everything.
The moments I have shared with you from my life are the joyful ones, but I think that we must also deliberately choose to hold on to the hard ones, because it is these moments that propel us to create a better world. It is those challenging times that ultimately brought our team together last week, not by chance, but by an overwhelming drive to be men and women who walk with others. Each of us has refused to be ignorant or blind to the injustices that exist and that is what has encouraged us to keep coming back to this country and to create a new “normal” upon returning to our everyday lives and jobs. I won’t let go of Ithan in my mind. I won’t let go of the picture of the mother refusing covid testing because of what it would mean for her family. These are the things that motivate me and that are shaping the nurse practitioner that I will be. So I choose to hold on. I will use those moments, and the several others from the week, to remind myself and others that “normal” life is what we make it. What we do everyday with what we have is what matters. And I intend for my everyday to look a lot like a hug from a tiny, brown-eyed stranger.