One year ago we decided to make a job change. I started commuting into the city with one purpose. “Help the least of these.”
An inner city community free clinic has an intensely diverse population. The United States is a beautiful mixing pot of cultures. And on any given week, I will come in contact with people from twenty or more of these cultures. I could travel the world working in clinics. Or I could drive less than an hour away and have the world come to me.
In one year, I have seen…..
The tired mama with her first child, not sure she’s breastfeeding correctly. You bet I looked her in the eyes and said that she can do it, that it’s hard, and that if she wants to keep going, I will cheer her on and help her in any way I can.
The mom, talking through an interpreter, telling me her tiny daughter is scared of people. Her 8 year girl, raped a year ago, surgically repaired. The interpreter softly relaying my questions and mom’s answers. And that tiny little girl with tears whispered to me in English, “why did this happen to me?” You bet I left that room and bawled my eyes out.
The one month old baby tremoring from drug withdrawl. You bet my eyes teared as the foster mom told me of that baby’s story. You bet I completely and utterly gave that baby extra touches and silent whispered prayers as I listened to her heart.
The woman, having sex for money and drugs, tired and apathic, texting on her phone passively. You bet I asked her how she’s doing. You bet I held out my hand as she left, looked her in the eye, and sincerely said “It was nice to meet you.” You bet she honestly pauses, reaches out her hand, meets my eyes, her face twitches a bit with the realization I meant it, and says, “you too.”
The woman sitting by a man, within minutes clearly abusive, trying to talk as her partner verbally and emotionally attacked and manipulated her. Yelling and swearing, standing up to try to make his point. You bet I asked him to leave, escorted him out, and locked the door. You bet that woman walked to me and hugged me, crying. You bet I made sure she had a safe place to go to.
The man, trembling because his boyfriend was found to be HIV positive and he is terrified and anxious. You bet I was a listening ear, allowing him to tell his story, and helping him find support he needs.
The toddler, with parents new to the country, mama completely covered head to toe, except her eyes, who looked at me with big brown eyes, not understanding a word I was saying to him. You bet I knelt on the floor before I smiled. You bet I asked the interpreter to tell me how to say hello in Arabic.
The parents with a child who is failing school, arguing in front of me what is best for their withdrawn child. You bet I empathized that parenting is hard, that they can’t tell their son they love him enough, and that there are a lot of school options. You bet that son trusted me, the first provider he has trusted in years.
The elderly woman, speaking a rare tribal dialect, complaining of back pain. Through her daughter, I learn she bows hundreds of times a day for her religion. You bet I compassionately examined her and my heart broke knowing she has other hope if only told. You bet I offered to see her again for additional care whenever she may have a need.
The 32 year old woman with a breast lump. Finally afraid enough to come in. She can’t afford anything. She hasn’t for a very long time. You bet I lost my breath when I heard two days later it was cancer. And it was bad. She came back to me almost one year later, head wrapped, so thankful I was so kind, and wanting to ask if I can see her again. You bet my heart skipped a beat, so humbled, and said yes of course.
The hundreds of babies and children for well child exams. You bet I look parents in the eye and sincerely say you are doing well. You bet I encourage reading and health. You bet I want to scream when they can’t provide basic needs because of twenty factors they can’t change in their past, or their family, or the system.
The constant flow of teenagers. Surprised the test was positive. Or hopeful for the future but no way to get there. Or angry their parents don’t understand them. Or scared they won’t understand English well enough to pass school. You bet those interactions are the hardest and most honest conversations I have during an entire day.
The countless adults seeking for wellness and hope. For relief of their pain or asthma. For treatment of their diabetes and abdominal pain. For encouragement to lose weight or manage their depression. For assistance to just survive. You bet this gives me purpose.
This job is quite possibly the nearest I’ve felt to Jesus. The encounters of people in my job, often remind me of encounters Jesus had with people. Of course my degree enables me to meet a specific need, for why they came in. But it’s not that moment that’s the most important to me. It’s the compassionate and tender love for their story. It’s the equality and dignity.
If I can establish that I care. Truly. Then that person may choose to see me again sometime. And if I keep showing kindness, then they develop trust. If I have a trust of person, then they will return again. If I see someone over and over, I learn their story– their struggles and joys, their vacations and their hobbies — their financial needs and social concerns — their culture and family — then I can treat them as a whole person, in a specific way that they need.
And that is the beautiful thing about family practice. It’s my spot.
Health and wellness is my passion. But loving PEOPLE like Jesus is my joy. In being with “the least of these”, I know people from all countries, all languages, all backgrounds, all cultures….and it feels like home.