Friday, September 27, 2013

16 October 1998, Colorado

An intense day. A long, long day. We worked on or learned about: masks, listening, talking to parents, using translators, exercises, medical lectures, meals, grasping it all. There was no time to think of the stock market or the Christian Coalition, mortgage payments, or dentist schedules. The only thought of home and Connecticut is Trev. I am missing him and hoping he is okay.

I train to be a parent educator on an Operation Smile mission to any one of a number of third world countries. It is a new, tentative, and experimental position within their surgical teams. My head is spinning with fresh information. My thoughts whirl. I worry about my confidence. Is there enough self-assurance within me to stand on my own, to function productively as part of a team under difficult conditions? The doctor who spoke to us this evening was a reality check. Hope isn't always the outcome of cleft lip and palate surgery in primitive environs – hope for a normal life. Sometimes the best they can expect is a small improvement in function. Sometimes not even that.

Still, in off times, I grapple with the “reason” question, specifically the religious explanation. My answers to “why” involve chance, Fate-with-a-capital-F, mistakes, and the random nature of, well, Nature. I would never engage in a speculative conversation with a frightened parent over their god’s involvement in their child’s congenital condition. Listen, yes. Comfort, reassure, and listen, always. Hypothesize on faith and punishment, never. There is a contingent present in our gathering holding fast to their religious dictum. I envy the comfort they derive from it.

Heather, our soft-spoken artist, was so good today, taking a tied-up bunch of weeds and grasses, asking us to close our eyes as she rattled them over us. To me she offered a moment of grace - of composure and peace to clear our minds before we set to work on our mask-making project. There are rumbles afoot concerning her lack of traditional spirituality. I silently cheer for her.

Out the window here it is pure beauty. Across a rolling field of dried grass a hillside rises, covered with upright pines. Beyond this is a larger hill, then a wedge of monolithic rock jamming up out of the ground, the colored layers of it thick like a cake and topped with a roof of stalwart pines. In the distance is what I think of when I think of the West, a vast mountain range sugared with snow. Right now all is cloaked in darkness. As I write this I see only a foot or two out into this dark night, not a wink of light close or far, only the looming pine tree growing close to the cabin window. Our indoor light is reflected in the puff balls of snow building on all of its horizontal surfaces.

I am a quiet mover in this bunch of people. I’m not an interrupter or an answerer. I burst out with a comment or question only a few times. I function on a lesser scale than in my home domain. At the table there, in the kitchen, in the smaller exercises we engage in with groups of two or three, I am better, more confident of my words. I spoke to the entire group this morning about my personal icon or symbol – the representative token of ourselves and our lives we were asked to bring. There was a waver in my voice but I think I got my meaning across. I brought along a cast of Trevor’s pudgy fingers, taken by his surgical team’s orthodontist. He wanted to show four-year-old Trev how he was going to make a mold of his mouth so they could wire his jaws together during a surgery. The day was my birthday and, after carefully examining it, Trev offered it to me as an impromptu gift. Now, years later, it is my treasure.

Would I be strong on a mission? Would I be helpful, a useful team member? Would I contribute? I don’t know the answer. I doubt myself. Is my voice loud enough? Can I think on my feet? Do I have stamina and the ability to bend according to whatever situation arises? I am a fighter. I know this and feel this but can I revisit the horrors? Can I help parents facing those scary times with their children?


I must get myself to bed, to sleep in a roomful of snoring women. I need to tiptoe in and climb up to the top bunk. I am waiting to be exhausted and guaranteed sleep. People are drifting off. The noise level subsides in this central meeting room. The fire in the massive fieldstone fireplace dwindles. Shadows flicker across the deer and antelope antlers decorating the walls of the lodge. I need a shower. I need sleep.  

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