“I appreciate the fact that you are here with us. That you remember us.”
- Community leader in Playa Azul, Chiapas, Mexico
As I flew home from a 12-day medical mission with Minnesota Doctors for People to the State of Chiapas in southern Mexico, I was taking notes in my journal on what I’d learned, people and things I wanted to remember and aspirations for how I wanted to be and act after the trip. I filled pages, but was not really satisfied with what I was writing.
The morning after my Monday evening return from Mexico, I was taking my son Max to school. In the car, he was watching the video I took of the closing comments of one community leader in Playa Azul where we had held two days of clinic. When I heard the leader on the video say again: “I appreciate the fact that you are here with us. That you remember us;” I suddenly realized the purpose of our mission for me: memory.
The purpose is to remember people and circumstances and what we shared together, to form a memory and to not forget. First, there is the basic human need to want to be remembered and not forgotten. Also, we are to be reminded of the fact that everything – everything – including the most dire living circumstance or the most comfortable hotel bed, the malnourished patient and the delicious meal, the patient whose illness will soon claim her life and the young girl whose life will be saved because of medical treatment, sobs from depression and raucous laughter – everything is to be taken seriously and given meaning in the context of the most cherished memory which is the memory of the knowledge, the certain feeling that God’s gaze is on me. Without that memory, suffering is a tragedy, poverty is intolerable, illness is totally incurable, and death is final and unredeemable.
I understand why I wanted to consciously remember faces, to remember what people said. I wanted to remember their hugs before leaving clinic or their relief at learning a diagnosis. It was important to me to not forget their stories of walking to the clinic, of coffee harvests lost to a coffee tree plague, of not having money to go to a follow-up appointment or buy medicine. To remember their casual and sincere references to God’s presence in their life: “I can’t see well when I try to read the holy Word of God;” or “I want to thank the Blessed Virgin and thank God for your help;” or all of the phrases that translate to some variation on “God willing…”
Our task is to not forget. The Italian priest Father Luigi Giussani said: “Memory is the spiritual organ that sees in things their real nature. Memory is an event that happens now.”
The November 2017 Chiapas trip is not a time-bound event that began on November 2 and ended on November 13. The memory of the people, of the experience, is there for us if we insist on not losing any piece of it. But it is not enough to simply remember specific, stand-out emotional moments. Rather, I need to step back and look at the full impact of the experience. I need to remember how I was first given the opportunity to participate. I need to remember those at home who made it possible to take the trip. Th experience also includes the way I felt sharing my gratitude with the rest of the team in the van at the end of a day of clinic and my eager anticipation to hear the reflections of others on the day.
This is the memory that allows me to see clearly the work of Providence in my life, which is the real nature of things. To see the involvement of Christ offering to me people and circumstances for my good. It is this memory that allows me to return to my work in a comfortable office in a prosperous suburb with a new perspective of humility and gratitude. It allows me to live with my family with a renewed appreciation.
The memory of the tenth medical mission of Minnesota Doctors for People in November 2017 is available now, to be recalled with gratitude and to allow me to see my present reality for the gift it is and allows me to live these circumstances with an intensity and awareness which is enhanced by the experience of the medical mission.
Remembering in this way, I can assure the community leader in Playa Azul that I do, in fact, remember them.