I have moments... moments when I am ready to leave this place, to move on, to live a normal life. I have moments when I just can't do it anymore, to be so far from family, to miss out on my friends' changing lives, to say goodbye to one more person on the ship. I have moments when all I want to do is hide, and be and forget why I am here. I have moments when I question if I am needed, or if things wouldn't run just as well without my presence.
And then I step back onto the wards, and my heart is at peace. I am where I am supposed to be and there are no questions. I cannot describe to you the rightness of those moments. The happy greeting of the dayworkers who greet me like I am their long-lost best friend EVERY SINGLE DAY that I see them. The nurses who somehow always seem to be in the mood to work, who complain when they don't get to spend their workday on the ward. The patients... with their thankfulness, their smiles... and most of all, their hope. How can I look in their eyes and ever imagine that I am in the wrong place? I greet them, and even making the effort to say hello in their own language is enough to make them glow with excitement and happily greet me back. And when I don't have the words or the language, reaching out with a handshake or hug or even a hand on their shoulder... speaks volumes.
The small children that I've never met before who let me pick them up and happily cuddle in. The older children who grab a stool and settle themselves beside me at my desk, eager to learn, to glean, to be near. The adults who figure out that I speak french and won't let me work because they just want to visit with me, tell me about themselves, learn about me. The community that develops on the wards... it drips of expectation and acceptance.
I think what touches me most is watching the untouchables change. They come in with their problems, the growths, the tumours, the leaking, the deformities, the smells... these are why they come, what they think they are here to fix. The true challenge is to stop the lies that run through their heads, the untruths they have heard as long as they can remember... that is what we work the hardest to treat. They are told: you are worthless, you are cursed, you are a burden, you are evil, you cannot come near me, you cannot go to school, you should not be seen, you cannot be helped, you are not lovable. And so, even before they step onto the ward, our true work begins.
We begin by inviting them to be seen, we look them in the eye, we offer them hope. On the wards, a smile, a touch, a kind word, a game... all the beginning of breaking down the walls around their hearts. Our secret challenge: can I get this one to smile at me or laugh? Can I make her understand that she is WORTH my time, that she is lovable? Can I make him see that I recognize the human behind the hurt?
Little by little, action by action, as we pour out love and acceptance, change happens. To see the melancholy child break out with giggles... priceless. To find the quirky smile hidden beneath the sadness of a woman who has known rejection for more years than I have been alive... melts my heart. To see the dignity return to the man who has used scarves and towels to hide behind... beautiful.
I can't describe how it changes you, to pour out love to such a measure and yet feel that the love that comes back to you is beyond measuring. When you see the beauty behind the deformity and help someone to realize their true worth... that is why we are here... that is the healing we are aiming for. And if we happen to make some physical changes happen as well, then praise the Lord, for HE is good!