About four months ago I found myself an unlikely participant in an unlikely situation, after having endured the unlikeliest of journeys. At the end of October myself and three others from Solaris (Andy Milligan, Luke Oyler, and Robbie Surratt) boarded a plane in Dallas and made our way towards Nepal. We were traveling halfway around the world in order to help a non-profit organization called MountainChild bring medical care to the people of the Himalayas. It was an extraordinary opportunity to serve an extraordinary purpose.
We spent about a week trekking through the mountains with a diverse team and holding medical camps at various places along the way. The trek alone could inspire hundreds of blog posts that still would not cover all that we experienced. Suffice it to say that by the time the trek ended the four of us were keenly aware we had left the mountains as changed men. It had been decided long before our boots hit the trail that we would spend our last Nepali night unwinding in a hotel in Thamel, a popular tourist district in Kathmandu. The team at MountainChild had already planned to take our large group to that area for a day of shopping, so it worked out well for the four of us to say our goodbyes and split off.
When the full group arrived our MountainChild guide (Scott) agreed to take us around to try and help find us a decent hotel. The first stop appeared to be a nice place, but we were met with the unfortunate news that they were fully booked. It was right at the beginning of the trekking season and there was potential for many of the hotels in Thamel to give us the same report. The manager at this first hotel offered to call around for us in an effort to save us the trouble of running all over the city. Though the manager was able to find a potential replacement, Andy and our guide came across another that seemed better.
So we rolled our luggage through the ridiculously crowded streets and into the courtyard of our temporary home. That night we were treated to a veritable feast of grilled meats courtesy of the hotel’s owner. It was a welcomed respite from a week’s worth of mountain meals dominated by vegetables and rice. During this feast we were joined in the courtyard by many of the other guests staying at the hotel, a number of which were from the United States.
As we stuffed ourselves we struck up a conversation with an American man sitting nearby. We went through a few of the typical pleasantries … How did you find yourself in Nepal? Is this your first time in the country? How has your stay been so far? … before finally landing on our lives back home. Over the years I’ve become accustomed to having to explain the term hospice to those who ask about my profession. On this trip the explanations were far more plentiful since all four of us received similar questions and had to give similar answers. But something different happened when this gentleman heard our response.
A wave of recognition hit his face as soon as the word hospice entered his ears. He began to tell us a story of how he was the primary caregiver for his grandmother when she was on hospice. He talked about the peace and dignity that hospice afforded her during her end of life process. His voice was on the verge of cracking as he described the compassion shown by the hospice professionals that worked with his family and how much it helped them during the toughest of times. He described it as one of the most incredible experiences of his life. Though the story appeared to be decades old the positive emotions associated with it were still very fresh. As he finished he raised his glass to the four of us and thanked us for what we do.
I was completely taken aback by this entire exchange. We were still processing what we had experienced in the Himalayas just a couple days before; an experience which completely changed our lives but garnered merely an obligatory “oh, cool” from this gentleman not ten minutes earlier. Yet when talk turned to the things we do every single day, the things we get paid to do every single day, he was floored.
As this brief exchange came to a close I couldn’t help but turn my thoughts toward the greater meaning of what had just happened. When we initially left the mountains I wondered how I could go back to life as usual without feeling like I was missing something extraordinary. My concerns were rendered moot all because we just happened to strike up a conversation with this one hotel guest.
Over the last few months I’ve spent a number of hours thinking about that evening. I’ve thought about the events that lead up to that moment, how a slight variation here or there would have changed everything. I’ve thought about the hotels that didn’t have room for us that day and wondered what our evening would have been like if they did. I’ve thought about how unlikely it is that this particular gentleman happened to be at the same hotel as us on the same evening as us, sitting in the same part of the courtyard as us. I’ve thought of the look of intense gratitude on his face as he shared his story with us. I’ve thought about how fortunate we were for our paths to cross and to share in that moment.
We have a number of terms in our vernacular to describe events such as this: coincidence, fate, synchronicity, destiny, God’s plan, luck, serendipity, and random occurrence are but a few. I can’t say exactly which I would use as a descriptor, but I do know this: that evening was, and will forever be, a vivid reminder that by working in the field of hospice I have an extraordinary opportunity to serve an extraordinary purpose every single day.
Steve Lorenz is IT Director, Solaris Healthcare.
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