I'm reading "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder
Mountains Beyond Mountains is the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, his organization Partners In Health, and the amazing work this group managed in the health care of desperately poor people. The first time I read this book, I thought I wanted to become a doctor. Revisiting the book has reminded me I want to work for something I believe in.
I'm not ready to go traipsing off to a developing country right this moment. I think there are plenty of opportunities to make a difference in our communities. I do some volunteer work, but I feel like I've been giving the bare minimum. I've been giving just enough to make myself feel like I'm making some sort of impact, but I know in my heart of hearts, I'm fooling myself.
I am looking forward to starting my masters program in fall. Going into Epidemiology feels like a great choice, because it is going to give me all the theory and data crunching skills I need to get really involved in public health work. And maybe it is because it seems so close, and yet still far off, I'm seriously impatient. Reading the story of Paul Farmer only feeds this sense of dissatisfaction. By the time Farmer was my age, he was eradicating infectious disease from Haiti (and Peru, and Boston...).
I don't feel the heavy burden of the word "should" in this case. I feel this deep stirring, a sense of longing for believing in a cause bigger than I am. Where I live, the answer for most people is to go to church. I'm not cut from that cloth (if you decide to judge me here, I'm going to bet you don't know my history with organized religion, so judge away, but remember, he who throws the first stone). When religion is removed from the equation, what else is there to believe in?
Personally, I'm drawn to improving the lives of the people around me. When we get involved in the lives of others, we tend to realize our problems aren't so insurmountable. Like I said earlier, there are places to get involved right here, right now.
When I start school, I expect to be busy enough improving the lives of others. I have a zillion ideas for research, and a zillion other ideas for implementation. I will get it all sorted out with my adviser. But the right here, right now piece of me is screaming. It has been yelling at me for a while, and try as I might, I haven't been able to find some outlet for it.
I marched for women's rights in 2004. I support legislation to legalize gay marriage, the ability to make choices about reproductive health, and the right to an education (there are other things too, I promise). I'm burned out on those issues though. I'm tired of feeling like politics boils me down to a pair of ovaries and a vaginal canal. I'm tired of seeing the happiness of my friends used as political fodder. But I'm tired. I'm not on fire about these things any more. I wish I was. I really, honestly, truly wish I could care about the way I'm being used in politics. I can get righteously pissed off, sure, but it doesn't feel like the route I need to take right now.
I'm running in the "Race for the Cure" this weekend. I did some fund raising, which made me feel like I was building on this idea of wanting to live passionately. Reaching a fundraising goal was the shot in the arm I needed to realize there are ways to get involved with the structure I need to do it.
So here are my thoughts for building this way of living.
1. Go big or go home doesn't have to be the rule. Sometimes, the small differences we make in the lives of individuals spreads in ways we don't expect.
2. Find an organization I really believe is doing good work with out being totally embroiled in politics (remember, I'm exhausted by the politics). Most big organizations are involved, but some still manage to do the good work at the same time. I'm running the Detroit Marathon in October. I just emailed Team in Training through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to see if I can fund-raise for the organization even though I am already signed up. I'll let you know what they say.
3. Start getting involved in the work I want to do ultimately. Contact the County Health Department to find out if I can do some shadowing and volunteering with the Epidemiology team this summer, and possibly even into my masters work.
4. Figure out what areas of my life need to develop, change and do little things daily. A friend of mine calls these daily tasks "The Daily Dozen". Twelve things I can do every day to reach my ultimate success, which I am defining right now as finding ways to make the changes I believe need to happen in the community.
And who knows... maybe a community massage clinic would make an enormous difference in the lives of others. Staffed by members of the community who don't have a lot of other options for work...
I need to learn to write grants.