He lived on the beach. He could not speak nor could he control the saliva that constantly drooled from his mouth. He grunted loudly and snorted and he reached out to grab, to touch. He made me so very uncomfortable.
I was assistant professor of nursing at a Christian college. I took students to Central America to learn about another culture, to learn to nurse in another culture, to see how people cared in places where there was not a lot of technology, to live and eat differently for an extended period of time and to serve Jesus out of their comfort zone.
Every year I took a group. Being nursing students, they were principally women. Here is one of the groups I had the privilege of having with me. We were visiting Hortense Robinson, an herbal midwife, who has since passed away, but not before showing my students how to use the plants right around her hut to stop hemorrhage, ease the pain of labor, contract the uterus if the baby needed to get out fast, how to get more milk from the breasts and how to ease a colicky baby to sleep.
We were making our rounds in the villages with traditional and professional nurse midwives and public health nurses in Belize for three weeks. One of those weeks we spent in the seaside Garifuna village of Seine Bight. There my students had to walk through the center of the village to get to the school and clinic where they spent the day and then they had to come back through the center of the village to return to their homes. HE sat right in the middle of the sandy beach upon which the stilt-supported Garifuna homes sat. My students had to pass him every day and he grabbed for them, tried to call to them and it looked like he was spitting and when he smiled big all you could see were his gross yellow teeth against his very dark Garifuna skin.
The first day we all went quickly past him, both ways. The second day I was going to repeat the same maneuver when Autumn, my one student, stooped down, smiled and gave him a treat she had saved from breakfast–just for him. I learned a BIG lesson that day: about caring and personhood and loving and about who really was “the least of these” and about students wise beyond their years. On the way home, all the students stopped and sat around the man and shared with each other about their day so he could hear them. He didn’t make a sound. They were “with” him and I was in the presence of some of the greatest nurses I have ever known.
I got word that Autumn took all her vacation time from the lucrative hospital job she had and went to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 to help with cholera victims. It didn’t surprise me. She had been caring all her life. This is a picture of Autumn with a Haitian nurse. She will always be in the most hurting place, in the most needy place, in the place where her heart can give the most. In Belize, she was right by my side, for I needed.her.most!
Among the least and the greatest,