by Addie Peyronnin
"For L is Love. God in every language." (Jubilate Agno (1759-1763, "B Fragment"), Christopher Smart)
My first clue should have been, if I'd noticed it, the behavior of my seatmate on the flight to San Pedro Sula. But when she offered me her open bag of potato chips--seemingly without a thought of my airport-dirtied hands, the unknown level of my wellness or sickness, or whether I might be a hesitant germaphobe (can you see the direction in which my American thoughts ran?)--my only reaction was, "Me? A stranger? Do you mean it?" She didn't speak English, and I don't speak Spanish, but we had at least one thing in common: we both love chips.
As one of the few participants in this mission trip with neither medical experience nor Spanish, I am a member of our (self-)vaunted pharmaceutical team--The Farmacia--which office is perched at the stage end of our Community Center clinic. From my vantage point on this stage, during lulls in pill-counting, I am so lucky to be able to look out over all the activity happening just slightly below me. I can see the check-in/triage desk, the medical consultations in the middle of the room, and (most importantly for this blog entry) the two waiting areas: one where our patients wait to see a doctor, and the other where they wait to receive medications and procedural counseling.
Nothing about this trip has surprised or taught me more than than the total togetherness I see among the people I see waiting. Whole families come together--several generations--to see us. They sit, together, in our waiting area, along with other large families, single people, old people, children; friends, neighbors, family, strangers. Volunteers from the local Episcopal parish mop the floors under our feet, talk to our waiting patients, and assist with moving our waiting patients from zone to zone. The fact of the scene from the Farmacia Stage is: people, lots of them, all together, no one a stranger from another. I've been amazed by the ability and patience that these patients have to wait, together, talking, not talking, holding babies, watching babies, letting crying babies just be, watching doctors, watching procedures. Boundaries are few: one of the most wonderful things I've seen from my stage is children watching their parents as they talk with doctors, listening and focusing on the conversation, laughing with their brothers and sisters at funny or embarrassing parts. Children wander in and out of other families' consultations--so do neighborhood dogs, for that matter, every once in awhile--and adults sitting next to one another in the waiting area listen just as much to their neighbors' pill instructions as they do to their own. Babies are not shushed in parents' embarrassment (why be embarrassed? they're babies!), children entertain themselves happily playing with latex glove balloons or clapping games, and bodies are just bodies, worth talking about and caring for.
In my Center City Philadelphia life, I become too used to the privilege (is it always, I wonder while I'm here in Honduras?) of my privacy. At home, I complain about my small apartment and my inability to host parties--here, I think, how lucky I am to have 650 square feet ALL to myself, or to share with whomever I want to invite over to share them! At home, I go to work, where I sit quietly in an office; then I might go quietly to a loud exercise class, where I am one among many; and no matter what I do in the evenings I always return quietly to a nice, quiet home, with a nice, quiet, happy dog, and a nice, quiet show on Netflix to entertain me. But here, I think: how lucky I am to have my family and family of friends, and why can't we be together all the time, talking, not talking, holding babies, watching babies, sharing space?
I may be making our time here seem idyllic and rosy relationship-ed, and it is that, sometimes, especially if Larger Life Lessons are seeking out one lowly pill-counter. I realize how fortunate I am in my independence, financial and spatial, and I will be so thankful for it when I return home on Saturday. In the meantime, I have learned so much about togetherness. Togetherness is one of the many things I love about my life at Saint Mark's, and it is a thing I've learned from my life at Saint Mark's, but its magnification here gives me much to bring back to my life of friendships and blessings in Philadelphia.