“Above all, our very nature requires us to be interested in others. When there is something beautiful within us we desire to communicate it with others. When we see others who are worse off than we are, we desire to help them with something of ours. This need is so original, so natural, that it is within us before we are conscious of it.” This observation by Monsignor Luigi Giussani on the nature of charitable work makes so much sense to me now, at the end of our time here in Chiapas.
Since it is impossible to neatly summarize my experience of these last ten days, I will share instead a detail of the work that has struck me. Working as an interpreter, there always comes a time during each consult when the patient and the interpreter wait for the doctor to return from the pharmacy with the necessary medicines. I have to admit, this is one of the most challenging parts of the clinic for me. While the rest of the day is often a blur and the actual consult requires a great deal of concentration, these moments with the patient are a time to stand still. First, we exchange shy smiles, then there is an awkward silence, and finally, slowly, the conversation starts. I have come to understand that the tension present right then is definitive. It is the battle between that within us which keeps us selfish and inward-looking and that part of us that “requires us to be interested in others.” There are times when I am painfully overwhelmed by the difference between what is “normal” for me and what is “normal” for the person sitting across from me. Then there are other times—grace-filled times—when I understand that an 80-year-old man sitting across from me, who has cataracts and lives in a remote village in Chiapas has the exact same fundamental needs I do and desires happiness as much as I do. In other words, we are more similar than circumstance and appearance would fool us into believing. It takes a simple and courageous heart to leap across the “us and them” divide, but ultimately, I have learned, taking that leap corresponds to me so much more than standing safely still.
It has been an honor to serve alongside this fine and dedicated group of doctors, pharmacists, one very sweet nurse, and, of course, my mother, whose passion for this mission is so evident. May we all continue to strive to see and serve with the gaze of Christ as we head home.