This was a tough week. It began with the funeral of a man just a year older than I am, and ended with a mountain of parents and children with serious illnesses, hoping for help from the Family Aid program. It was sad, and it was a little overwhelming. I tried to think of something a bit happier to write about, but without Jess and Ronnie here to help me, I failed. The only positive thing that I can offer is admiration for the incredible strength of the people I get to work with, so here’s a hats off to some of the people that have taught me something recently.
There’s Lucas, who passed away at just 24 after fighting stomach cancer for over a year. He only had pain medicine on a handful of occasions, but he never, ever complained, and rarely even admitted that he was in pain. He remained positive, hopeful, and faithful until the end, and he only expressed sadness or regret about the hardship that his illness had caused his family. The entire world has something to learn from Lucas.
There’s Dilson, a 13 year old boy who has suffered from chronic kidney failure for nearly three years. He insisted on going to school this year. Doctors warned him against it, and it may have cost him dearly–he is now very sick with pneumonia–but he was determined to get back a piece of normal life, even if he still had to travel to the capital for 30 hour dialysis sessions every Friday. His smile and enthusiasm after his first day back in the classroom are things I won’t forget–he reminded me we’re lucky, even on normal days.
Celestina’s spine is bent nearly double, and it costs her an enormous amount of pain and effort to walk. Every day, she walks from her small home in San Jorge up a long, steep hill, to get a hot meal from Mayan Families’ Elderly Feeding program. She picks up lunch for herself and her husband, who is blind and mostly bedridden, and brings it back down the hill to eat. This Wednesday, Celestina climbed the hill in the morning to go to a medical clinic arranged by Mayan Families, hoping to have a doctor look at her back. The lines were so long that she was still waiting when the doctors took a break for lunch, and Celestina went over to the Elderly Care kitchen to pick up the meal for herself and her husband. Knowing she’d have to climb the hill again to see the doctors in the afternoon, I offered to run the lunch down to her husband, so she wouldn’t have to walk all the way down just to come back up. She said no–she didn’t want him to eat alone.
A lot of this week was heartbreaking–a lot of this job is heartbreaking–but it’s still a privilege to be here, for many reasons, but especially for the chance to know people who so perfectly embody courage, selflessness, determination, and love.
(And that, to answer a question that I’ve been asked more than once, is why I don’t just crawl in bed and hide.)