Ever meet someone - even for a few minutes - who changes your world? Perhaps it's just a short conversation or a small act of kindness or literally a simple, unforgettable smile. We'll, THIS man left an everlasting impression.
I've had the pleasure of serving an incredible ministry that cares for abused and neglected children in Jamaica called Robin's Nest Children's Home. My journey with them started in September 2012 as a photojournalist and quickly expanded into joining the board of directors to starting a three-year adoption journey (with different results than we had planned).
I personally believe that if I am given a task to make decisions for others, that I need to know who I'm serving . . . especially serving as VP and eventually President of the board. I required myself to get to know each staff member and child by name. And after over 15 trips in 5 years this mountaintop Nest feels like home. One of my all-time favorite TV shows from the 80s and 90s is Cheers. Back in college, I would often finish my late-night waitressing shift at Tippins Pie Restaurant, pick up some Taco Bell, and drive home to watch reruns. That TV theme song rings true today . . . "there's a place where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came."
Sidetrack . . .
I find that everyone has their own niche . . . own passions . . . own talents . . . certain things that drive them to accomplish goals and things that melt their heart. This is what makes the human race so amazing - we are all different and unique! I was on a photojournalism trip and I'll never forget how alive one female team member seemed when we visited a nursing home in the third-world country. She was truly in her element. And although I enjoyed the experience, it didn't have the same effect on me. Now, put me in a slum surrounded by kids . . . I'm in heaven!!!
Bringing it back together . . .
So all of that being said, I found myself visiting the Infirmary in Montego Bay. Although many of the residents were elderly and needed constant supervision, others were left here by family members who either couldn't or wouldn't care for their loved one. One area was dedicated for women and another for men, some who were quite boisterous and rather excited for our visit.
Our team walked around the large room lined with twin beds and spent a few minutes with each gentleman listening to their story. One man confidently stood on his one leg proudly showing me his dressy attire above his bed.
The gentleman across from him was a smiley fellow that was missing a limb, but not any love for life.
But the next man I visited on the other side of the room left the biggest impression. I'll just call him "R." One would quickly notice that something seemed off. He laid in his bed the opposite direction from everyone else. R was bedridden so he permanently faced the window for a limited view of the outdoor world through the metal slates in the window. He had a variety of treasures piled up on a shelf and a stack of American movies lined up next to his only form of entertainment - a small TV and DVD player.
R stole my heart . . . not only because of his unique medical situation, but also because he seemed content despite being stuck in a bed on his back. We talked about our mutual love for film and shared a few smiles. Before leaving, I asked to take his picture.
Because I frequently visited that island, I was able to see him again. I took my team to the Infirmary to give them a broader perspective of need in Jamaica (quite a contrast to working with kids - the opposite side of the spectrum). R was my first stop. And what a treat to know I was remembered.
I greeted R with a smile, his picture I took on the last visit, and a new collection of movies for him to enjoy. Our time at the Infirmary never lasted very long, but the smiles that came from our little treats and balloons brought extra sunshine to their day.
But, R left a greater impact on my life. When things get tough, I remember him. If he can find a smile in his day despite being bedridden in a room of many forgotten souls, then my life is not that bad. My problem seems a lot smaller and my life a lot richer.
He also reminds me that a little gesture can leave a huge impact. When you're having a difficult day, how do you treat others around you? Do you take your anger and frustration out on innocent co-workers or classmates? Do you tare others down to make yourself feel better? Our greatest witness is often found in our most difficult of situations. People watch how we interact and react.
So, when you're ready to ask someone "what are YOU looking at?" Remember that you may be the only positive thing in their day. Remember that how you treat others despite how you are treated makes a large statement. And remember R who can still share a smile with a stranger despite his limited situation.
Recently a friend who visited the Infirmary told me that R still asks about me. I look forward to seeing his smile again!