The folded sheet of paper was titled “Teresa’s Jumbled Thoughts.” During one of our final group breakfasts at the guest house in Bhopal, I had asked Teresa Von Hagel, RN, to share her impressions from the week. The following evening she handed me the paper, apologizing for her writing, even though it was beautiful, because it came from her heart. She shared a quote that’s displayed prominently in her home:
“The purpose of life is to find your gift and give it away.”
That quote captures the spirit of the work performed by Medical Missions Foundation volunteers at the Sewa Sadan Eye Hospital. Three surgical teams performed an impressive 130 operations over the course of four and a half days, typically starting at 8:00 a.m., frequently finishing around 11:00 p.m., with some groups laboring until midnight.
As a non-medical person, I watched the doctor and nurses, and I felt a little self-conscious. Being a writer on a medical trip is like being a poet with a Marine unit: Nice to have around, but hardly essential for the battle. Shockingly, the surgical teams never once yelled, “Get me a writer—we have a dangling participle here!” But watching these extraordinary people in action has been a gift. And that’s been my job: To watch, and to listen, and to share what I’ve seen. I donned scrubs to observe two surgeries—a TURP and a gallbladder removal—and I was impressed by the calm professionalism of the teams (and no, I wasn’t squeamish as surgeons poked people’s insides—and other places that shouldn’t be poked—but I’ll stick with my day job, thank you very much).
The little moments stand out most to me. Watching Teresa gently rub a nervous patient’s back as he shuffled toward the operating table. Seeing mission coordinator Abigail Hayo make a two-year-old boy laugh a day after surgery. Meeting a happy man and his wife who came to the guesthouse to offer gifts in gratitude for her successful surgery. Hearing about the local nursing students, so eager to learn, and how they inspired the nurses with their energy.
There were hundreds of small moments and small gestures. And that’s something I’ve learned in my travels here in India and abroad. There is power in small gestures and small acts of kindness—and small gestures, taken together, become large gestures.
“Every year, I leave a piece of my heart in India,” wrote Teresa, who was working in Bhopal for the third time. “India, spiritually and emotionally, empowers me. Participating in experiences that unite people of different cultures, faiths, and beliefs is one of the purposes of my life.” That purpose was shared by everyone this week, Indians and Americans alike, and I’ve been blessed to watch as they give away their gifts.