I had a glorious, profound experience this past weekend. I flew to Oregon to surprise my amazing mama for Mother’s Day. Since my visit was unexpected, she was already on schedule to volunteer at Occupy Medical in the center of downtown Eugene. We decided that I would come with her and volunteer my acupuncture services.
This is a fantastic setup to provide free medical care and a myriad of services to the underserved population in Eugene. They have doctors, nurses, fresh food, an herbalist, and even a person to cut your hair! It was a gorgeous warm day and I had a nice little line-up of people to treat.
I have never worked with underserved populations. Underserved by my definition are people who don’t get enough. They don’t get enough food, they don’t get enough medical treatment, they don’t get enough comfort, warmth, nurturing, empathy or love.
My second patient of the day was a transsexual prostitute who was afraid to be homeless on the street because of her sexual identity. She told me a lot of stories, most of which left me slightly stunned and sad. I usually feel like I have some things to say when I’m working with patients. Some pretty reasonable, helpful, relatable things to say.
I like to have a golden nugget here and there that someone can take away and feel uplifted by. It might be ego-y but I feel good making other people feel good. So when this fellow human says to me, I sell myself for money when I’m depressed, I’m stumped.
I felt kind of like a jerk. I don’t have a pretty bow to put on this one. I can’t say, “Yeah, we’ve all been there” and have a laugh because we haven’t. I had nothing. Nothing. I started and stopped. Silence. Awkward? A teeny bit. But then we just looked at each other.
Okay, I thought. Let’s just be here. Because THIS is what is happening right now. This is her reality. I didn’t need to make it better or make it different. My reality and her reality were crossing over and we were just being humans together. So we just sat for a minute or two looking into each other’s eyes. I’m saying I hear you, I understand you, that sucks and I love you in my mind. I hope she felt that. I think she did.
I treated a young woman who was kicking a speed addiction and was grieving three babies gone on Mother’s Day. I treated a woman with a painful bunion who was craving more connection with her family of origin. I treated a very sweet man who wanted to propose to me with a ring made of a pinecone and string. All were in heavy transition with very loose foundations, all were very anxious, all really, really needed to tell their stories.
The Dalai Lama had just been in Eugene the day before and everyone was quoting him. It was a bit surreal. The major theme of his talk seemed to be around compassion, nurturing and the responsibility and power of the feminine. We were putting these teachings into direct action on this day.
My mother is a registered nurse so she was camped out on the bus checking vital signs and taking care of wounds. I’m in my own little section of an outdoor tent with just a few battered folding chairs and a metal table that we pulled off her deck and covered with a pretty cloth to use for a workspace. There was no glamour. No flannel sheets, no table warmer, no aromatherapy, no music.
It was still perfect and functional. When you strip away all the bells and whistles, there is just the work. You just give everything you have to give. Nothing else is necessary.
Mother Theresa said that the problem of the world was that we have forgotten that we belong to each other. We are humans. We are all doing this together. It makes no difference if I live in a 2 million dollar apartment on Park Avenue or I sleep on cement steps with my dog to protect me.
We will all take hits in this life. You will never know by looking at someone what kind of trauma they have had to endure. It does not matter. We all deserve to give and receive each other’s kindness and utter humanity.
It’s easy to see other humans as annoying, frustrating obstacles. They are in your way. They aren’t giving you what you want. They are frustrating, shady, slow, entitled, etc.
It’s a choice to remember that we are all made of the same stuff. We all need warmth and touch and sweetness. Be in it together-even with “strangers.”
Connect and serve.