Why am I Here?: A Personal Prologue

I cannot look at the sad TV ads

I cannot look at the sad TV ads
That show the shivering dogs in mournful
Kennels, or the grandmothers unable
To come in from the cold. I cannot look
At the appeals for money that grab
At my tears and tear at my heart. I turn
The channel, away from cleft lips, palates,
Away from gnarled limbs, misshapen burn scars.

Those ads so crafted to appeal to my
Pity, to make me feel sorry for those
Unfortunate souls due to poverty,
Genetics, accidents, or evil deeds.
Too many diseases to comprehend.
I cannot contain the pain, suffering,
Sorrow-- I cannot give money, I care
From a different place, I ask what to DO!

SPECIFICALLY, what can I do, with my
Life, with my talents, with my gifts, with my
Whole being-- throughout my entire career.
My mission in life has always been to
Figure out, at every juncture in life
Where I can personally contribute
The greatest good where the need is greatest,
Within-- and often beyond-- the bounds of
My abilities, not out of pity
But as a way of being, to uplift,
To look at life through the eyes of those who
Struggle for their own human dignity.
Not to rescue, nor save, but to empower!
Everywhere I have worked for fifty years
And counting, as long as health permits!

But those ads...on this mission, I hate to 
Admit, I felt trepidation, not caused
By some flaw in my inner being, but
From those ads that I cannot bear to view.
I was afraid the realities would
Pull at me and incapacitate me.

False fears. Once here, my true being kicked in!

2020.02.27 Fast forward, screening day.

My role was to escort patients from the long lines to the meeting with the doctors making the final determination. They had met with the surgeons, they had taken their vital signs, now did it all add up to a go for surgery, or not?

I was one of the gatekeepers in their harrowing family journey to get to this point, eyes filled with hope that this next door would open them to the opportunity for a medical miracle.

I did not see a long line of victims. I saw empowered people taking action for what we take for granted, seeking medical care to improve their lives, seeking services they cannot afford directly or through insurance or governmental programs– yes, seeking a medical miracle.

I did not see victims. I saw resilience in action, survivors within their own world in the normalcy they have come to know, taking action beyond existential acceptance, hoping to achieve a new normal, mostly to gain a modicum of improvement to gain access to greater well-being in their lives.

I was not feeling sorry for them; I was feeling ennobled by their perseverance, their patience, their fortitude, as I stood there in my naturally cheerful and colorful presence– I can’t help myself– I smile, I wave, I meet eyes, I gesture to let them know their progress as they advance through the long line. They smile back, they laugh, we break the ice, calm the waters.

I know as a parent, what it is to feel the urgency, the responsibility to get the help my child needs and deserves, how important it is to discover whether the doctors can take my child’s case and if not, explain to me respectfully why not.

I did not see victims. I saw feistiness and smiles overriding despair. We processed 139 cases that first day, accepting about 125. Some were too young yet, some had some underlying health situations making surgery a high risk at this time, some required surgeries that this team was not equipped for at this time. There will be some add-ons and some no-shows. By the end of the two weeks, the team of 3 surgeons will have completed over 100 operations. A medical miracle of skill and stamina!

–And we are all part of it!

Published by

Dr. Shope, the Wandering Scholar

Mime Artist, Author, Educator. Dr. Shope worked as a Science Educator at JPL for 15 years, earned an Ed.D. at USC, and is currently president & CEO of the World Space Foundation.