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“Sympathy is no substitute for action.” David Livingstone
During our first day in the Dominican Republic hundreds of yellow - clouded sulphur- butterflies were swirling around everywhere. Everywhere isn’t an exageration. They would dance around your feet and swirl up your body as you walked around. They even stayed one step in front of the windshield wipers of our gua gua as we plowed along the mountain at 70 miles per hour. Locals even commented continually that day about the abundance and their presence.
As butterflies accompanied us during our medical clinic that day, I scoffed at how cliché they were in that moment. I didn’t need a sign about transformation. This wasn’t a ninth-grade short story and I wasn’t in the mood for analytical reasoning.
When I was younger, the same butterflies crowded into the dark mud outside our kitchen window on summer days. Nothing ever grew there and our frequent bike rides made sure any caking from the sun was soon turned to slosh. Quite often I was mean and would plow the butterflies down under my tires, but there were a few times where I crept up on them to catch one and watch its color rub off in my hands.
A recurring theme in my quiet time lately has been “child-like faith.” That kid plowing through the mud felt in charge and greater than hundreds of butterflies. Over the years faith in anything deteriorates as you see plans crushed and hopes brushed aside for reality. Little pieces of you rub off and fall away.
It’s been three years since I loaded onto the plane with 25 church members and it still feels like yesterday that those butterflies greeted us as we were on our way to our first medical clinic in Bani. It’s been three years since I started this post, a two years since I’ve updated the post and still haven’t posted photos or fully debriefed from that week because I don’t think I’ve fully seen the impact that trip has had on my faith or my daily life.
I’ve had plans drastically change since then and it’s startling how much location and people don’t really change things at all.
Going into this trip I was looking for a breakthrough of some kind that made me commit to God in a way I hadn’t before. Instead I committed to finding a career path that gave me more opportunities to work with families like I’d met in the Dominican. God fell by the wayside again. Even as I’m preparing for my next “big trip” next month, I’ve learned more than anything that I was selfish in that last trip. I wanted to be transformed. Now I just want to help. This so isn’t about me. If God or anything that makes people believe in a more beautiful, functioning, grace-filled world makes it into my conversation or actions, that’s just gravy.
Big moments don’t really happen that often. They’re built from little actions over time. Expecting dramatic change is impossible because I didn’t become the person that I am today overnight. What I can do is be a part of those little actions and maybe over time I’ll be part of a bigger change, maybe even eventually get transformed myself.
*Note: I wrote this more than three years ago. Looking at drafts, I almost want to vomit at the thought of being this person, yet there are parts of it I miss so much. I’m still thankful to have a creative career that allows me to visit the lives of people in such an intimate way. It really is a blessing.*
Last Monday when I received an e-mail about an Aiken soldier dying in Afghanistan, my heart sank. And then this horrible thought creeped into my head. “Automatic 1A”
It’s the cat’s meow to be on the front page. I’ve tried to act like I don’t care, but I still get excited when I see my name on the first page of the newspaper. If I didn’t, I think I should quit.
Yet, knowing that something awful in someone else’s life will only benefit me is hard to swallow. I’ve found myself randomly praying more often than usual for this man’s family partly as a way to atone for the acknowledgement of self gain. And then I pray again and try to be more genuine.
As we waded through the initial news last week, I couldn’t wait to pounce so it would be my story and not two weeks of double bylines. If there’s one morbid thing I’ve learned, it’s that I’m good at reporting and I can get people to talk about their loved ones. The story practically writes itself because there’s nothing descriptive I could write that is more poignant than their memories of their loved ones. And in the immediate motions of grief, families remember the tiniest details as they try to hang on to every memory of that person. Saying it out loud makes it tangible and makes the person as present as possible.
I was horrified when I was shut out by this soldier’s family. As I said the words “I understand” my face was a mask of disbelief and ‘tude. If they just talked to me, it would be a great honor to their father. The newspaper could be a keepsake.
Seriously, why would they want a keepsake though? They just want their dad. I wasn’t giving them anything.
Journalism’s a selfish business of asserting that it’s a privilege to be allowed into people’s lives while partially feeling that it’s a right. It’s never a right, but in your gut you know that if that story is shared it will be read. You’re there to serve the readers by providing insight into people’s lives behind closed doors. Aaaannndd…I get a 1A.
As the two weeks leading up to Mr. Harley’s burial have churned away, I’m realizing more and more though that I’m the privileged one to be exposed to so many facets of life – even unpleasant ones – to truly see what humanity is about.
After the funeral while trying to determine which granddaughter of Mr. Harley’s received the flag from his coffin, his daughter so graciously turned around from the family car to come back and give me the correct spelling and her daughter’s age. She was pleasant and seemed relieved that the moment was captured and grateful that I didn’t pressure her for additional time or information.
Allison coming back to answer that one question made me want to write something that did honor her father rather than producing something that would earn me kudos. I’m proud I got to be a part of those moments regardless of where the stories ended up in the paper.