As the last days of the year draw to an end, I’ve been handed an impossible task.
It is traditional for NGO founders to write a post at the end of the year to summarize the work of the past year and to share with everyone the vision for the year ahead. When I sat down to do so, I momentarily panicked….how can I, in a few words, convey even a small sense of what hard-won achievements by our staff and volunteers this year? We grew from a single team to two medical teams and a dental and veterinary team deploying nearly every week. We launched a surgical program and our veterinary program blossomed. We made many new partnerships and grew our infrastructure, including building a laboratory. We published research. Patients received impossible treatments such as a new heart valve. I could go on and on well into the new year and never do justice to the victories for humanity won by women and men whose names will likely never be known to the world but whose kindness and courage will never, ever be forgotten by the people whose lives they impacted.
People like to lament how there is so much ugliness in the world, and my dad is fond of saying, “Of course there are ugly things in the world. For example, there are people dying of cancer in a hammock hanging under a shack in the jungle, and that is a horrible injustice. But there are also people–total strangers–who will pull that person out from under their house, clean them up and do their best to help them not die in pain and alone. And this is a beautiful thing in the world; an astonishing miracle.”
And it was this taking such personal responsibility for strangers that I watched my team do all year long that really struck me. People talk a lot these days about ‘Global Citizenship’ and ‘Global Leadership’ but I think both of those terms lack something. ‘Global Citizenship’ seems to indicate merely living in the world, passive, and ‘Global Leadership’ smacks of the hubris of knowing better than everyone else what is needed to lead the world to righteousness.
And finally this fall I realized what it was that Floating Doctors inspires in our volunteers, our supporters, our communities, and ourselves–Global STEWARDSHIP: the commitment to stand up and make a better world our own personal responsibility, in whatever ways we can every day. And that may seem like a semantic difference, but I think it is a critical one.
Every evening that I can, I take my daughter (who just turned 1 year old) outside when the sun is setting and hold her to the west and I whisper in her ear. I say to her, ‘Look Aya, the sun is setting. This day is done, and will never come again. There will never be another day like it as long as we live; we can never return and change it. Were we kind and loving today? Were we honest and truthful, with others and with ourselves? Did we work hard? Did we find time for play? Did we find an opportunity to show compassion, forgiveness, courage? Is there something we put our hands on today that was more like us when we took our hands away?” I have no idea how much of what I say she can understand…all I know is that she definitely understands more than I think she does. So this is what I tell her…and, truth be told, I need to tell to myself every day also.
She’s too young to to know that of course, it’s impossible for us to do all of these things every day. We are not saints. But it’s important to always aim high. After all, when you study for an exam, would you aim to get a C? If that’s as high as you raise your sights, that’s all you’ll ever achieve. Living things aren’t made to aim at mediocrity. All things strive–every living thing strives in an unforgiving universe, and to be human is to often stand with our feet in the mud, but reach always upwards towards the stars.
The best part is that we don’t have to achieve all those great things every day in order to change the world. We don’t have to free a nation or launch a movement or solve world hunger. As Bobby Kennedy said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but…it is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” That still chokes me up very time I read it.
As you watch the sunset tonight wherever you may be, decide how you want to mark the end of the end of this year, for it will never come again. There will never be another like it as long as we live; we can never return and change it. But it is not too late–there is still time to show compassion, to be kind and loving, and to choose to be a steward of this world and send forth a tiny ripple of hope. 2018 was a year of staggering accomplishments by our staff and volunteers…but we are just getting started. A million different centers of energy and daring are building; the current against oppression and suffering will continue to grow but only with your help. A very funny and very wise lady, Lily Tomlin, said “I always thought ‘Somebody should do something about that.’ Then I realized I was somebody.”
Be somebody today, so that when the sun sets tonight, you can look to the west and hold your head high because in the twilight of the 2018 you put your hands on the world and made it a little more like you–a little more compassionate and caring–when you took your hands away.
Thanks for an amazing year, everyone. If you thought what we all accomplished together this year was something, just wait. We’re only getting warmed up. Happy New Year Everyone! Próspero Año Nuevo!
Dr. Ben LaBrot