September 3, 2007

Doing and Being

When I look back on my first week in Itipini, I can’t say I’ve actually done anything. Sure, I’ve bandaged a few wounds, helped a few children learn their alphabet a bit better, bought food that’s been distributed to people who need it, and a variety of other small tasks. But when you tally it all up, I’ve hardly accomplished anything.

I was thinking about this mid-way through the week and feeling pretty discouraged. After all, at my old job in Nome, I measured the success of a work day by how many news stories I was able to write, how many minutes of tape I could edit, how many interviews I could get, how many events I could cover. Outside of work, it was the same: how many ambulance runs I could take, how many mountains I could climb, how much activity I could cram into the 24 hours I had each day. As a student, it was also the same: how many papers I could write, how many books I could read, and so on and so forth. I am in the habit of measuring myself by what I am able to do so to be confronted at the end of the week with a wholly inadequate list of accomplishments is somewhat frustrating.

But when I reflect on my week in another light I can be a bit more positive. I was an adult who spent time with children who crave attention and I did so in a mostly loving way that hopefully shone a little joy into their world. I was a welcoming presence at the clinic and smiled at the patients who visited and even when I mangled their language and names, I did it in a way that made us both laugh. I think I treated TB and HIV patients the same way I would treat anyone else, which can’t be said for everyone here. I was willing to spend time in a place I did not have to (and that most other people stay away from if they can) and I did so ungrudgingly. Who I was last week was more important than what I did.

On the one hand, this is great. I thought several times last week as several children turned me into a jungle gym, “I’m getting paid for this. This is fantastic!” On the other hand, if I get to the end of a year and all I can say is, “I was a kind and loving presence to people who don’t see a lot of that,” I doubt I’ll be satisfied. Who we are may, in fact, be more important than what we do but that’s a lot easier to say than it is to internalize and act upon.

Of course, I’ve only been a here a week. Once I figure out how things are done at Itipini, I’m sure I’ll go right back to measuring myself by what I’ve done. But I’ll try to be thankful for this brief period when I primarily cared about who I was.


Anonymous said...

Human doing, human being, Jesse--Who would have thought that it would be overseas that you'd have some thoughtful and profound lessons about the difference? May you deepen your "being" as you learn about your "doing."