The summer before last, I took a trip — a pilgrimage, if you will — to a little town in New Mexico called Las Cruces. Though the raison d’être of the journey was purely medical (and that was not at all exciting for me), I was excited to finally be going to a place that wasn’t on the East Coast. So, when I boarded the plane, my mental plans firmly included not letting the doctor’s office completely encompass my time and thoughts.
I succeeded in that respect. I spent plenty of time in restaurants, tasting the local cuisine, and outdoors, enjoying the radically different desert climate and the bizarre (since I’m used to the deciduous and coniferous types) flora and fauna. On various hikes, including trails such as the Dripping Springs Natural Area and the Pine Tree Loop, as well as the White Sands National Monument, I had the chance to meet with all new kinds of life, greatly broadening my knowledge of God’s creation. At some points, I experienced nature a bit more closely than I would have liked — as per my terrifying encounter with a Tarantula Hawk. In the midst of all this excitement, however, I was given an unexpected opportunity for spiritual growth as well.
Let me just say, I have been dealing with medical issues for a long time now. As in, I’m barely in my 20s, and I’ve had autoimmune hepatitis for more than a decade, along with all the pills, doctors and blood tests that come with it. I’m stable now, and I know that’s a blessing, but I’m constantly pursuing possible cures. So far, no miracles have occurred. Though I know a positive attitude is one of the best paths to getting better, whenever I have an appointment or treatment or anything to do with medicine, I tend to address it as necessary and then rush it out of my mind. I don’t know if that’s negative thinking or not, but I realize I’m being a bit brusque, at least in my head.
Anyway, true to my wishes, my medical treatment certainly did not take up much of my time. In fact, I only was in the clinic for a few hours each day. The least anticipated aspect of my trip occurred, however, the first time I sat in the treatment room. It was a small area, completely, but comfortably, lined with chairs and IV hangers. I don’t remember if I sat alone at first, but the room quickly began to fill up. I remember looking curiously at the people who came through the entryway, all of whom greeted the nurses amiably, each with a different accent, age and appearance. Some were obviously ill and in need of treatment, but for others it was not so apparent. As they sat down, they began to talk with each other, speaking as though they’d been great friends all their lives. I, who was never very good in social situations, pretended to be intently reading my book, but secretly absorbed every word being said.
I’m not sure how it happened, but soon I found myself being addressed by a man sitting across from me. I’d never met the man in my life, never seen him before … He seemed like someone that I’d avoid normally. Yet, he looked at me with such kindness in his face that I found myself answering his questions. I told him — and everyone there — my name, where I was from, my disease, my whole life story … I told them things I’d never even told my best friends back home. And they all listened to me with such attentiveness and earnestness that I wasn’t embarrassed, or nervous, at all. It was as though I’d known them for a long, long time.
After that first day, I stopped bringing my book into the office. Instead, when I came in, I greeted the nurses, and I greeted (by name) the patients as they entered. When someone new arrived, I even introduced myself first, and made sure to get him or her involved in the conversation. There were people from all over the world in that office. Even so, everyone was treated as a lifelong friend. The strange closeness I felt in that room puzzled me for a while. Thinking about it, though, I came to realize that, when you have struggled, as all of us had, you bear the marks of that struggle, whether or not they are visible. Those common experiences of trial and tribulation made an emotional and spiritual connection that ran through the whole group of us, uniting us into a community, and allowing us to share in each other’s deepest pains, as well as joys.
Thanks to the people in that room, I felt myself grow in spirit. Not only was I able to become more confident in my ability to communicate; I became aware of a community that shares in my troubles, that is always with me in spirit, wherever I go. Though I only knew those people for a week, and most of their names I (sadly) do not remember, I can still feel their prayers and well wishes within me, and I still send my prayers out to them.