When I first told my friends and family that I was embarking on Operation Hermes, the reactions were mixed. There were those that viewed my mission as noble and courageous. There were those that viewed it as simply an exciting adventure and chance to travel. And then there were even those that viewed my decision to go as both dangerous and curiously, somehow selfish. As often happens in life, none of their expectations, nor my own, were able to capture the essence of my experience. Yes, there was majestic scenery and adventure that provided wonderful memories, but the truth is, it was not often glamourous or dramatic. In fact, it was some of the most seemingly mundane of moments that offered the most pure and unadulterated view of humanity in all its poignancy, rare moments that have left me feeling both humbled and elevated.
I witnessed a group of people, each of us with our own egos and insecurities, potentially separated by religious, ethical, and cultural values, rise to a higher form and come together for a greater good. Perhaps what struck me the most is the authenticity, passion, and resourcefulness that I witnessed from my colleagues. A little girl physically walked for the first time because of the efforts of a physical therapist, a person who has continued to dedicate time to this cause even after having returned home. A family was able to sleep soundly because a physician offered to sacrifice sleep and personally monitor their sick child overnight. Young members of the community were empowered with invaluable life-saving skills taught by a paramedic, knowledge with the power to touch the lives of countless others. After months of physical and psychological rejection, a new family of refugees now found themselves welcomed by a nurse practitioner, who embraced them and carried one of the children as they walked side by side to their new temporary residence. Instead of engaging in what might have been much-needed alone time, team members spent their lunch breaks interacting with families and trying to bring a small measure of joy. While it would have been easy to provide the minimal basic medical care, team members instead spent time researching, consulting, treating, counseling, and reassessing patients, as well as coordinating transport and logistics behind the scenes to ensure the best possible care. I also witnessed this same care for each other among team members, comforting each other, reassuring each other, assisting one another, protecting one another, and ensuring that any tension or sadness were quickly overcome with laughter.
And as for the people we came there to serve? They opened their hearts and minds to us. They took the time to actually listen, and not just hear. They took the time to actually see us, and not just visualize. Young men and women under incredible conditions directed their efforts into a passion for learning new languages to assist with interpretation. Families who could have been consumed with their own tragedy welcomed us into the fold, inviting us into the privacy of their make-shift living rooms for meals. If it was thought that a team member was cold or hungry or had a superficial injury, refugees were quick to express concern over our well-being. In many ways, they gave every bit as much of themselves as we did. The sentiment that I heard most throughout my time there, especially upon leaving, was that of the concept of remembrance. We were often told that we would never be forgotten, as well as asked that we not forget them. My response is this:
This harsh and splendid land, with snow covered rock mountains, cold crystal streams, deep forests of cypress, juniper, and ash Is as much my body as what you see before you here. I cannot be separated from this or from you. Our many hearts have only a single boat… If wisdom and harmony still dwell in this world, As other than a dream lost in an unopened book, they are hidden in our heartbeat. -The Warrior Song of King Gezar