About four years ago, I sat in a hospital in the Dominican Republic while a serene nun quietly delivered the news that my friend’s only son had died. For the last three weeks his parents, residents of a slum over an hour away, had sat vigil at the hospital. That is to say, his mother didn’t leave her boy’s side, while his father slept on a bench outside at night – only one person was permitted in the hospital room at a time. Their son had leukemia - a form of it that comes with a good prognosis here in the United States. But without access to proper care or lifesaving bone marrow transplants, my friend’s son was swallowed up by the gap that persists between rich and poor. I watched as the doctors hurriedly explained that their son had died from caca en el sangre (“poop in his blood”). The nuns sent them away with a small, ceramic angel to take his place.
I spent the next few weeks in a haze of self-indulgent bitterness; homesick and self-loathing and fed-up with the state of the world. I didn’t believe in angels, let alone ceramic ones. What else was there to do but sulk?
But as I stewed, my friends began to make the end of their son’s story the beginning of a new one. They volunteered to become Community Health Workers with the organization that had attempted to treat their son. They studied how to take blood pressure and read A1C levels. They spent Saturdays taking neighbors to doctors’ appointments on their motorcycle, foregoing the chance to make some much-needed cash on charging for trips. They spent hours sorting medications for field clinics and began leading community health groups. They did it all between crying jags and long silent spells. They did it in spite of a grief I cannot even fathom.
In two weeks, my friends are expecting the completely unexpected – the birth of a baby boy whom I’ll be lucky enough to call my godson. They are overjoyed and so am I. I don’t know what will happen in my godson’s story or how long it will last. But I write this in hopes of one day sharing with him how his story began; with two parents who quietly and unassumingly possess the strength to overcome their own struggles to do good in this world. And with a godmother who is so incredibly grateful to have learned from them. And with all of us ready to welcome him.
In a world that so often fails the individuals who are brought into it, I want him to know that he is loved, that he is important, and that no matter what, he has someone rooting for him. And when he struggles, I want him to know that like his parents, he can be so much stronger, smarter, kinder, and more courageous than he ever imagined.
Please consider checking out Health Horizons International in the Dominican Republic (hhidr dot org). My friend now works for them full-time and continues to do an amazing job of helping the organization grow. Your support can help make the community that my godson will grow up in a safer, healthier, more equitable place.
Finally, in two weeks, I turn 29 (yikes!). Please e-mail me with suggestions of places to go, experiences to have, or things to do before I am 30. And if you’re ever in Denver, Colorado and want to grab a beer – shoot me an e-mail!