There are days like that…
Days when you go to your favorite spot to write and get settled into the chair that by now holds your unwritten name in bold, invisible letters. Your chair.
But as you settle into that lovely white noise room of thought, as your fingers begin to stretch and find their familiar place on the keyboard, the brewing of something else begins. The empty chair next to you calls to someone, once a stranger, to come and plant himself by the window. You greet each other, your fingers still hovering over the keys, trying not to lose the sentence that was abruptly interrupted halfway through.
There is a deep sigh coming from the man and you know immediately that the sentence is going to have to wait. You close the lid of your computer and pray a quick prayer of preparation for this moment, having no idea what it might hold, but sure that it will be interesting if nothing else.
From the looks of it, Ben is about 75 years old. His face is scruffy and worn and there is something behind his eyes that tells you he is a character. A man with many stories to tell. Every crease on his weathered face says that he has seen the world and gathered wisdom as a result.
He is holding a book called Hooch and tells you that he is learning how to make his own hard cider. That he has an apple supply, the necessary equipment and a barn and all he lacks is the know-how. You tell him he is 3/4 of the way there and wish him well in his endeavor.
You are just about to go back to typing when you notice that beer isn’t really what he wants to talk about. There is something on his mind that he is wrestling with. Your remind yourself that THIS is exactly why you make yourself sit in this chair and not on your own couch every day. Human connection.
Turns out, Ben is an Orthodox Jew and a retired pediatrician. He goes to Honduras annually to take medicine and train midwives. The care there, he tells you, is beneath basic and so he teaches them about boiling water and sterilizing instruments. How to clear the mucus from a newborn’s mouth and nose. Washing their hands to prevent the spread of infection. Properly tying off the umbilical cord. He says that those first five minutes after birth are extremely critical and sometimes a matter of life and death. He would never say this in so many words, but you know it by the stories – that he has saved many lives over the course of the past 13 years during these trips to Honduras.
He speaks of his faith and says that in the Orthodox church there is a saying – “Save one and you save the world”. You understand immediately that this has been Ben’s life – to give necessary care to children here and abroad and to treat each one as if saving them was saving the world. And suddenly this old, eclectic, scruffy character has the face of an angel.
But, there is something in his eyes that says he is tired. And he ends up telling you it’s true. He is mustering up for one last trip to Honduras, but doesn’t want to go any more. The poverty overwhelms him. The preparation exhausts him. The conditions are horrendous. He wants to be done.
You would think that maybe by age 75 or so, guilt would no longer plague you. But you hear in Ben’s voice that his sense of obligation and the dire need itself have not yet released him from their grip. He has done so much (your words, not his) but he will never feel like it is enough. But, oh, he is so very, very tired.
You see a tear in his eye and feel the lump in his throat as he struggles to say out loud, “I just can’t do it any more,” as if the words cut him as they leave his mouth. Your hand finds its way over to his to tell him it’s okay to take all that love, all that care and use it right here in different ways. That by touching one life, he can still change the world.
And then you tell him that he has done that even today, by touching your world. His stories triggered inspiration. His honesty sparked sweet communication and fresh understanding. His vulnerability in bringing you into his processing evoked gratitude. After today, you would always be a little different, a little richer, because of him.
There are days like that…
Days when Ben waves goodbye and you realize that somehow the two of you were left with a smile that wasn’t there when you first sat down.
You open your computer again. But for the life of you, you have no idea where that interrupted sentence was going…
Aren’t you glad there are days like that? 🙂