The truck pulls in to the check point, honking its horns and causing the guards to raise their guns. All I hear is lots of screaming in Creole, and pointing to a spot, just near the dock of the cider block building that is home of the operating room, one of the few on the island. I run to the truck and in the back is a man, small in stature and unconscious, bleeding from the nose and mangled. He is severely injured, scrapes and cuts all over his lifeless body. One of the locals says he was hit by a truck up the mountain. I am an American. We are in Haiti. He is about to die. The normal protocol is to get a cervical collar and stabilize the neck before we place him on a spine board. There is no collar, and there is no time. The three Americans in the back of the small pick up look at each other and determine that we simply have to move this man, collar or not, protocol be damned, for he needs to be in the O.R. stat, and we need to get him there. We secure him to the board, lift him over the side of the vehicle to a group that then takes him to the building and straight to surgery. I finally stop, catch my breath, and begin to realize my heart is beating out of my chest and my hands begin to shake slightly. This is adrenaline. This is life in a third world country.
This is what I am thankful for.
The wooden floor is cold to my bare buttocks. Old houses in January tend to be that way, especially when the temperature is in the 30’s. The steam is coming out of the bathroom, yet I choose to stay seated, naked on the floor just outside. You know how long it takes a forty gallon hot water tank to lose all its water? About 30 minutes. That’s how long I sit outside the bathroom, staring at the wall in front of me, thinking about my friend, the one I had just found out died, the one I had just texted 2 days prior on my way back from the place where I placed a dying man on a board. The man lived. My friend didn’t. All I can think about is life and death, a stranger is alive and my friend isn’t. I was there to help save one, but wasn’t there to help save the other. I made a choice, to go one place and not the other. I did not anticipate the problems, but the problems came, without my permission. The steam died down, and I slowly get up, walk into the shower, and baptize myself in the cold water that remains. The water should feel like knives piercing my skin, but I am not sure I feel anything at this point. My mind is a thousand miles away in Canada, where my friend lays dead, after being found lying lifeless in the cold snow, at the bottom of a mountain. We had good memories and great talks, and even though he is gone in body, I still am able to talk with him, when he shines his smile on me in the middle of the night and offers his ear for my worries.
This is what I am grateful for.
Gratitude is easy for me. I know it isn’t for some, and I know it is easy to think about the bad things that come in a good life. But they are there, bad things, or in my opinion, set backs. I have them, more than I really care to admit, but they are there, the ghosts of habits that I thought I buried, come back to life in the blink of an eye. Hurt people hurt people, but sometimes good people hurt people because they just care so damn much, like a small child that squeezes a new puppy too hard, we just want to love things. We just want to be loved back. Sometimes feelings get in the way of logic, and sometimes, even the best of intentions can be marred by opposing opinion. Arguments are just good old fashioned emotions coming out to surface, bottled up, waiting for the lid to finally pop up. Lord knows I have been on the receiving end of such verbal spars, and maybe a few physical ones too, but you have to know when it is truly personal, and when you just happen to be the lucky one that stands in front of a friend that just needs to vent. People hurt, and the bandages we offer can often times be mistaken as another blow. My hand of help can look like a fist of pain if I don’t know the past of that person for whom I reach out to. But all I can do is offer it up, I can’t be mad if they don’t take it.
I am a handful. I am emotional, I am illogically realistic and optimistically skeptical. I say the damnedest things, and sometimes I talk before I think. I blame my mom’s Italian heritage for these marvelous traits. But my heart is there, my intentions are good, and my soul..well, let’s just say it likes to dance. I am a good person that sometimes makes bad decisions. I am a man that is curious about life, and that path least taken sometimes leads me astray, and that often leads to good stories. You need to have good judgement in this life to survive, unfortunately, good judgment can only come from the occasional bad decision. Learned lessons. Hands burnt on hot surfaces, and hearts broke on bad expectations. But I am still here. And I am willing to help. I have seen the best of man and and seen the worst of him too. I know what evils lurk in the darkness of the corners of the earth, and I have seen them destroyed by the kindness of strangers. The world is not a bad place, but sometimes it is a hard to place to live in. Sometimes we feel lost, and lonely, and misunderstood. But don’t we all at some point of our lives, and that is what will always unite us, the feeling of awkwardness that we can share, that sense of unlovability we all have. The stories of sadness and the stories of happiness are there to be told, and at the end of those stories, well, we just need a good old fashion hug.
Sometimes people want love so badly that they are willing to be miserable for it. They focus on the what and completely forgo the process of making sure of the who. At the end of the day, it is the people we choose to have in our lives that define us, not the stuff. On the business card of life, we shouldn’t worry about the BS, the MS, or even the CEO, but rather your card should simply state your name and the loving words “gives great hugs and will mow your yard”.
I have been to places where there is no hope, where the dirt on the floor of a home is the only constant. I have been yelled at in different languages and cursed with the few words I knew. Guns have been pointed and hustles attempted. And I love these people so much. I come from privilege, even though when you are eight years old, standing in a the back of a truck in a parking lot waiting for commodity cheese and powdered milk, you don’t realize how good you got it. That the love at home is more than what some have in their lives. And the love I got is the love I shall give, for I have plenty from all the crazy people I call mi familia. All that I have I shall pay forward, because you cannot build a bridge without wood, and the wood I have is made from the trees of love my family planted, centuries before me, and have grown tall, generation after generation.
This is what I am humbled for.
I have loved, and I have been loved. I have broken a few hearts, and had mine broken in return. We were young and dumb, we are old and broken. But we are all humans, doing our best, and sometimes people are there to see us and our cracks and our faults. But like my house, I am still standing after all these years, and I offer comfort. I can give you shelter from the storm and offer you a beer as we watch the rain fall. My house is small, but cozy, my heart is brave but tired, yet I offer them to you and all, just bring your stories and listen to mine. There is no sin against friendship that cannot be fixed with just a little time and honesty, no hole that can’t be filled with team work and vulnerability. We are all just dust in the wind, and that dust gets in our eyes and causes tears. Just hand someone a tissue, say you’re sorry, and forgive one another.
This is what I am thankful for.