I was five years old the first time I saw someone almost die. It was a baby. I had woken up to the sound of the doorbell. My father, one of the only doctors in our rural area, padded down the stairs to open the door. I stood at the landing and saw our neighbor lady who lived on the next farm over shove something into his arms. She was too upset to speak and ran back to her car, yelling something about having other children at home. I went down the stairs and knelt next to my dad. He had begun CPR and asked me to bring him his old, leather doctor’s bag. The baby was blue, and I watched as my dad calmly breathed life back into him. As I grew up, I would see this boy on the bus as we rode to school – a constant reminder of what it means to literally help your neighbor.
Fetching my father’s doctor’s bag and joining him side-by-side in the act of saving this child’s life became the first of many memories in which my parents invited me to join them as they responded to the needs of our community. They were able to respond simply because they made themselves available—to listen, to learn, and to defend—and they did this for everyone. They believed that everyone should play a part in restoring hope. This legacy made me realize from a young age that I have something to offer to the person next to me and that it is an honor and a privilege to contribute to my greater community.
This invitation to respond to the needs of the community is one I extend regularly to my 6-year-old son. This is practically demonstrated by having him help me make meals for new parents, giving rides regularly to people who don’t have transportation, buying hot chocolate for the crossing guard on cold mornings, taking our homeless friends to get ice cream, making cards for our neighbors who are sick and cleaning up trash around our neighborhood. Although these things may be much more efficient or even “safer” to do on my own, it would rob both of us from the joy of serving our brothers and sisters together. As a team.
On that night I almost witnessed my first death, my dad could have easily told me to go back upstairs, to go to bed, to get out of his way. But he didn’t. Instead, he invited me in to the story. He set the tone for the rest of my life as a nurse, a public health professional, and a friend. He and my mother played a role in creating my identity as a valuable contributor to the global community. My hope is to impart the same sense of worth and identity to my own son, to widen his vision and lengthen his strides as he moves through life, so he will always know he’s part of a bigger story.