“We share a planet” is a phrase that has come to have significant meaning to me. The trajectory of my life story has changed many times and I suspect it will change as time moves forward. There seems to be a constant theme that continues to be captured in this idea that we all live on a planet that we must share with each other, the creatures that inhabit it and the elements that make up it’s surface.
It is an inevitable fact yet it seems like we struggle to grasp the reality of our predicament. Despite Hollywood’s attempts to glamorize the glorious relocation of the human race to some distant planet, the truth is that we are here now and we have to share.
I have been burdened by this idea for awhile. In my late twenties, I was able to spend some time in western Romania. At the time, communism had recently fallen and the country was struggling to develop. I had completed a graduate program in Family Health Nursing and my wife and I connected with a group that aimed to provide rural medical care to those with limited access to healthcare.
It was a great opportunity to put my new skills to work while also seeing new places. It was an amazing time and the reality was that this region of Romania still reflected a time that we would identify as turn of the century. There were more horse carriages then cars. Farming was not mechanized and life was primarily focused on sustaining your family day to day.
Providing medical care was eye opening. It was not uncommon to see people who had untreated cancers that were eroding to the surface of the skin, simple infections that progressed to limb threatening events and fractures left unset that allowed limbs to heal in their deformity. These were all startling on many levels.
The truth is that some events have proven to be more startling than others. I feel like I keep learning from them despite the fact that I witnessed them almost 15 years ago. I realize now how much those exposures impacted the way I looked at the world around me.
The most powerfully disturbing event of my first trip to Romania was an impromptu visit to a local hospital. We were given permission to care for several children who occupied the abandoned baby hospital. It was a ward that was separate from the pediatric ward. It was designated as a spot for the children whose parents had given them away to the state.
These kids were not worthy of being admitted to the pediatric ward. This room was eerily silent. Cries had long since stopped since there was no response to the need it communicated. The children were tied in beds, fed with bottles propped on folded towels and changed twice a day. We treated them for scabies and impetigo and that week one of them died.
It had a powerful impact on my life and led my story down a path of working on child advocacy issues such as abuse, neglect, exploitation, coercion, racism and gender inequality. I follow these issues closely and try to bring people to better understand how these problems undermine the fabric of our society even if we do not personally experience them.
As I reflect on this period of my life, I feel a tension between my generally optimistic and hopeful self and the person who recognizes the suffering that happens all around us. I think about those kids who were segregated into that room as suffering babies simply because they did not have a parent to advocate for them to be in the pediatric wing. Simply because there were not state sponsored values that respected their lives to be treated with the same level of care that was available to them 30 feet away. The truth is that this is not isolated history. The truth is that it happens all the time and it happens all over our planet.
We have been lulled into thinking that when these injustices and acts of oppression do not directly impact our story then we can look away. Unfortunately, we do share this planet and the reality is that we are not that far from being impacted. The planet we share is full of suffering and the hopeless. The challenge is finding a balance in that tension to bring hope and healing into those lives, especially when those lives are children.
Thanks for listening,