This post is in response to the question, “How do you get to do so much cool stuff?”
On World AIDS Day in 2007, I attended the conference Profiles in Courage: Health and Human Rights in Action. The event had been mentioned somewhere and looked interesting so I sent a quick e-mail and RSVP’ed. I woke up early on a Saturday morning (6:30am), and when I walked out of my building, I regretted my decision to go almost immediately. A) It was an especially cold morning and B) what was I thinking, showing up at a professional conference alone, not knowing anyone, and with nothing to contribute. I went anyway, half expecting them to turn me away at the door. But they didn’t, and I had an incredible time. The whole day was designed to honor international health activists and to get professionals together to talk about some of the current issues facing the world. I learned so much about war, health, refugees and survivors of torture. I was so inspired, I came home and changed my schedule for the next semester so I could become a doctor.
But I learned more about myself: I am usually uncomfortable when I have to talk to other people, but I have to reach out to get involved. Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier. I still (usually) hesitate before contacting a “professional” or going to a “professional event.” Whether it’s because I’m not smart enough or I’m not old enough, I’m always terrified someone will talk to me and find out that I’m an impostor. As this hasn’t gone away with age (but hey, I guess there’s still time), I think this side voice might be here to stay. And that’s okay with me, as long as I eventually tell said voice to be quiet so that I can get on with my life!
Just this past week, I woke up extra early, showered, and dressed, fully prepared to arrive at the United Nations on time. But when it was time to leave, I crawled back in bed and fell asleep. (Yeah, I really did. Dad, please don’t cringe). I had convinced myself I was in way over my head, but when I finally arrived (five hours later), I navigated my way through security and registration effortlessly and found a seat on the plenary floor, and then… I had a GREAT time. I knew all of the words they were using and the issues they were talking about, and I actually felt like I belonged. Now, I am looking forward to more commissions in the future. Again and again, I find that those “professionals” who I am always so scared of are usually incredibly welcoming and excited to have a young interested person in the room.
Healing the Unthinkable
This past Friday, I “had the opportunity” to attend Healing the Unthinkable, a benefit to raise money for Bellevue/NYU’s Program for Survivors of Torture. This is how I had the opportunity: I am signed up on various listserves (because when I find an organization that I like, I e-mail them and request to be added to their mailing list), and this was just one of the many invites I have received as a result. There are so many events, I usually ignore most, but I had heard the doctors speak at Profiles in Courage, so I was especially interested. When I found out I might be in the city at the UN, there was only one thing in my way: the $75 donation. So, I e-mailed the woman in charge and asked if I could volunteer instead. And she wrote back: YES, PLEASE! 🙂
The event was hosted at the Tibet House and I met some really cool people. Doctors from the Program for Survivors of Torture spoke about the comprehensive medical, mental health, social and legal services that they provide to survivors of torture and war traumas. They are the only comprehensive center of their kind in NYC, and their team is so successful because it includes all of the people a survivor might need to see (physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, administrative staff, community liaisons, and volunteers such as English teachers and client chaperones). Samantha Stewart, the attending psychiatrist for the program, explained that their small size is a great asset; if she’s talking with a survivor about how they can’t sleep at night, and she finds out they are anxious about getting identification papers, she can knock on the lawyer’s door next to hers and ask for help. They provide their services regardless of whether or not a survivor can pay. Right now they really need help financially. If you are in a position to donate or are interested in learning more about the program, please go here.
So, what I was saying before…
As Paulo Coelho wrote in The Alchemist, “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person realize his dream.” I have found again and again that when my my heart is in the right place, the universe points me in a direction (usually through people), and I might suddenly find myself say, in a room with people from around the world discussing social development on a global scale or listening to doctors speak about survivors of torture.
I know my heart is in the wrong place when my actions are not aligned with my personal values. So that would include doing anything just because “it’s easy” or “it’s what I should do (without a good reason)” or “it’s what’s expected” or “it’ll look good on my resume.” People can usually sense whether or not a person is out for his or her self, or if he or she has the other person’s best interest at heart. When I’m out for myself, I try to stay home because I know I’ll experience cognitive dissonance and be unhappy.
If I could tell the world just one thing, it would be that we’re all OK, and not to worry ’cause worry is wasteful and useless in times like these. I won’t be made useless, I won’t be idle with despair. I will gather myself around my faith for light does the darkness most fear. My hands are small, I know. But they’re not yours, they are my own. And I am never broken.
Poverty stole your golden shoes, it didn’t steal your laughter, and heartache came to visit me, but I knew it wasn’t ever after. We’ll fight, not out of spite for someone must stand up for what’s right. ‘Cause where there’s a man who has no voice, there ours shall go singing… In the end only kindness matters… I will get down on my knees, and I will pray. I will get down on my knees, and I will pray. I will get down on my knees, and I will pray. My hands are small I know. But they’re not yours, they are my own. But they’re not yours, they are my own. And I am never broken. We are never broken. – Hands by Jewel
—This has been one of the hardest entries I’ve written so far, but I think I needed to write it. I really just want people to know that these opportunities have less to do with luck, and more to do with me just taking the initiative and e-mailing people.—1