It was Tuesday, right in the middle of it all. When we were still screening patients and when surgeries were going strong. Turnover was rapid. There wasn’t much time to put on a lab coat, change shoes, find Bobbi or Erica, and get outside. In order to reach the exam rooms we had to squeeze past a table of nursing student and several benches of waiting patients.
Each time I walked by that morning a boy who looked about seven years old stuck his hand out to shake mine. Every time. Waiting with his arm out. He’d smile when I said good morning and played along.
These days are made up of countless small interactions. From sitting at breakfast, barely conscious, sipping strong coffee at the long table in the cool morning and talking with whoever arrives next, to the people in the OR or at tea. The patients, translators and volunteers. The local students and staff.
Learning about each other and sharing ideas is in large part what makes these missions important and successful. Finding common ground, focusing on similarities, collaborating and problem solving together. It’s a glimpse of the way life could be. Working together for the common good where everyone wins, rather than focusing on the short term and trying to get an advantage.
Like the openness of Bethany. I can’t recall the number of times I heard her say, “So what’s your background” or a similar inviting question to someone. And it worked every time. Or Ty’s curiosity about all things Ugandan. Or Brandon Johnson’s warm hugs for the translators and Churchill staff. Or Barbara McGrath’s persistent inventiveness as she worked out another complex scarred and contracted hand. Or Carla, Catherine and Amy at the Gulu Village and the burn unit. Or Maddie cheerfully giving tours of the NICU. Or Candace and Kay keeping track of all the post-op patients. Every single team member gave everything they had in each interaction.
And that little boy. This time I was standing in that hallway outside. The one with the colorful and photogenic laundry hanging to dry on one side and the ramp down to the ground floor on the other.
I was taking a break. Finding three minutes to feel the sun on my face, something that is surprisingly difficult to do during the busy week. I was startled when someone touched me. I looked around and then down and there he was. His hand was on mine and he was looking up at me, his expression calm and expectant. I smiled and patted his hand and then we simply stood there. My eyes were closed, face towards the sun.
After perhaps two minutes I glanced down and he was still there, feet up on the concrete railing, watching the people coming and going on the level below.
“The sun feels nice, huh?”
He looked up at me, not understanding but listening.
“Well, thanks for keeping me company but I’ve gotta get back to work. See you around.”
He hopped off the railing and watched me go as I headed back for the next surgery. I’m not sure whether I saw him after that. He was an angel. One of many that week.
And truly we all can be angels for each other.
One moment at a time.