Silent Gifts

“Everybody’s forgotten about us down here,” the chunky young man said to me, his brown eyes sad. “I didn’t want to hurt my back working in the coal mines and wind up disabled with no insurance.” We sat in the dental triage tent at a Remote Area Medical mission in Wise, Virginia, one of the poorest parts of our state. For three days, more than 1700 volunteers gathered from all over to donate free medical, dental, and vision skills to thousands of uninsured men, women, and children.

For most of my time there, which started at 5:30 am on Friday and ended about noon on Sunday, I was a “runner,” charged with the compassionate handover of each patient from their current station to their next. My cherished friend John and I were taking dental triage patients to hygiene, fillings, or extraction stations, then passing them on to the next person for their care.

It was the brief walk I took with each patient that I remember most. I would ask their name and give them mine, shake their hand, and look into each pair of eyes. Most smiled as I said I was here for the first time, then asked if this was their first time. Some were returnees who come annually for this, the only possibility for their care; others were first-timers, like John and me.

“I’ve been blown away with what I’m seeing happen here,” I’d say, my heart filled with emotion. Most responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes, it’s wonderful what people are doing for us here,” then look at me and say, “Thank you.”

Tears well as I remember saying softly, “Please know it’s an honor for me to be here.”

John and I didn’t know what to expect when we decided we would go. We just wanted to go. Now, in hindsight, we are still awed by certain memories, like the young, very pregnant mother of four, there to get her decayed-to-the-gumline teeth removed. She’d traveled here, then made an unexpected visit to the hospital when she thought her water had broken. Fortunately it hadn’t for, if she’d been admitted to the hospital, she would have needed to wait until next year for her much-needed care.

I remember so many faces and stories. Nor will I soon forget hearing RAMs founder, Stan Brock, tell us us the night before the event opened that he hoped one day the people in our country would not need these services so he could take RAM to more third-world countries.

It will take time for me to emotionally process what happened last weekend. Yet what was so unexpected and welcomed, was the deepest sense of us all being one large group of humanity—those who gave and those who received—and how we each gave overt as well as silent, unspoken gifts to each other.

There was also the humbling reminder that how, in the flash of a moment in time or fate, we could all so easily change places.

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About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me to a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I found so many opportunities to grow: 10 year facilitator for an online writing circle of women writers across the country; thirteen year editor of the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal; a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site; program chair for two Stories from the Heart national conferences in Austin, T. Presently I'm teaching Women's Life-Writing and Older Women's Legacy workshops in my part of the world in Central Virginia and facilitating the ongoing Circle of Memories Writing Circle (formerly an OWL workshop that continued on) at the Crozet Public Library. I am blessed with three wonderful children, a son and two daughters; a small, huge-hearted family; dear friends; my beagle Addie and cat Button. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. All these years later, I'm scheduled to publish my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life, in 2018.
This entry was posted in Compassion, Gifts, Gratitude, Health, Kindness, Poverty. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Silent Gifts

  1. An amazing & touching story, Mary Jo. So descriptive and evocative I could imagine being there too.

    Like

  2. Carol says:

    Mary Jo, a very touching story. It is incredible that in our rich country this service is needed, but thank goodness for generous, aware, and caring souls who volunteer to provide it. Thank you for this story. I think your swan song is wonderful and terrific,a terribly needed service. I am appalled at the number of dentists who will not see children on medicaid or only so many per month. the stories of children suffering and even dying from tooth infections is appalling, especially since we are aware of the health risks associated with poor dental care. Keep us up to date on your progress, maybe you can start a national movement.

    Like

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