Before I got on the plane in Portland, I had an image from the NeverEnding Story in my head. I saw Atreyu, standing before the Southern Oracle. In order to pass through the gate of the Oracle, first one has to feel their own worth. If the person is doubtful of their worth, they are incinerated. At the second gate, there is a mirror that reflects the true nature of the observer. Many people go mad looking into the heart of themselves and run into the snowy wilderness to die.
This image became a symbol of my participation in this trip. I had a severe fear of flying on planes. I was convinced that I was unworthy of volunteering in Nepal. I had no idea how I would be able to help a single person here. And, I would be spending nine weeks away from my family, in the company of strangers, most of whom don't speak English. I made myself come anyway and I decided that if it wasn't worth the risk of incinerating myself that it wasn't worth the risk of living.
With three more days of clinic left, the the six of us had a closing circle last night to reflect on our trip. Reflect was exactly what I did, as it's been the crux of my experience here. Every patient, every translator and every other practitioner here has been the mirror in the wilderness for me. I have seen the essence of myself shone back at me with each and every interaction that's occurred here.
Most notably, Lal Bahadur Lama, my patient and my friend, held up a looking glass that required the most courage for me to look at. Of course, it was difficult to watch an extended and painful death. It was hard to see the injustice of a under-regulated system that manages to over-regulate morphine. I cried and I isolated myself on some nights, knowing that his pain could have been managed with one of the cheapest drugs available in the world; a drug that is recommended for this exact use by the World Health Organization. While I slept, I knew that only 150 meters away, he was slowly suffocating in his bed. It was heart-breaking to know that he did not need to experience a slow drowning. It was an outrage for me to see that the huge oxygen tank he was hooked to tied him into an unnecessary bedrest and that the bedrest ultimately killed him. But, Lal showed me that I could find the courage to watch this process instead of running away from it. I saw that if I ever had to die this way that I could do it with the same dignity that he did it with. He taught me how to die with strength in the worst way that I could imagine.
More than this though, he held up another reflective glass for me. So many times, while Debbie and I sat with him, he told us how he wished he could draw or paint or sculpt a beautiful piece of artwork for us. He frequently apologized for not being able to give us anything for our service to him. He told us about the photography shop he started in Bhimphedi years ago. It quickly went out business because he gave everything away to his friends for free. I realized that I too, have a hard time receiving from people and that it is far more comfortable for me to be giving.
When I give, it feels good, but it also puts me in a place of power. I have something and I have chosen to give it to another person. The giving is happening on my terms. Receiving is a position of vulnerability. It requires a great deal of trust in the relationship to relax into that role. I don't know that I've ever been able to do it. Last night, Maggie Shao gave us a quote about generosity:
"True generosity is the willingness to plant a tree whose shade you will never enjoy sitting under."
If that's generosity, what does it mean to be on the receiving end of that? To be the one who did not plant the tree, but only enjoys the shade given by it? It brings up some serious issues around worthiness for me. I am only worth the enjoyment of the shade if I planted the tree myself.
I expect others around me to openly receive my generosity when I would not be able to receive it from them if the roles were reversed.
In the two months that I knew him, Lal Bahadur Lama spent his entire existence in a twin-sized bed in an 8x10 mud room, hooked to a 5-foot oxygen tank. I brought him charcoal pencils and drawing paper. I made sure that he had hot water to drink and codeine for his sleep. I gently massaged his shoulders and did cranial sacral work at his occiput. I took his pulses and gave him acupuncture. I listened to every lobe of his lungs as he inhaled and exhaled. I quieted the room so that I could hear every beat of his heart through my stethoscope for a full minute. I squinted at the curving script of his medical records and copied everything down. I researched and thought about him for hours of every day.
For all of this, Lal told me that he gave me nothing. My heart knows that's not true. My heart knows that I have enjoyed the shade of the tree that was planted with Lal Lama. At his funeral, I cried for his passing, but I also cried with joy for an inclusion that I've never felt. His daughters called me, sister, in English when they handed me roses for his coffin. They took my hands and cupped them and filled them with dirt to throw into his grave. They honored me and gave me the most memorable experience I've had in Nepal. For Lal, buried at the river, I hope he knows all of this.
To be continued after work....
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