I’ve been back in the US over a week now from Mexico City and Oaxaca. This is not a travel update but a mental status update. Time. Time is different. When in Mexico I felt my impatience and had to remind myself to breathe a lot, counseling that I live in a “too fast” world. What am I missing, I wonder to myself that I need to hurry so? Of course, the answer is, not much. It’s become the American default state to be in a hurry, to be constantly busy.
Crushed up against strangers on a train, standing cheek to chest for 45 minutes, was also a lesson. I was on vacation, most of the other people on board that train were on their way home from work. They do it daily. When at last a seat opened up, an elderly woman sat down immediately, before I could beckon to my complaining teenager to sit there. Of course the woman should get it. I hope someday I’ll be that woman, allowed to sit, but for now, I’m healthy, relatively young and don’t need it. She smiled, gratefully.
One afternoon, walking along busy, busted up sidewalks in Oaxaca I saw a man lying in the path. He had one shoe off, and was asleep or in a drunken stupor. No one stopped to check on him. No one was standing nearby with a cellphone in hand seemingly talking to the police or an ambulance. I checked to see if he was breathing and then I too walked on. I wondered if they had a 911 equivalent in Oaxaca and later asked someone. I was told they do but hardly anyone knows it or uses it. The weird thing was that the police and heavily armed Federal soldiers were everywhere in town. It was a festival week with lots of tourists, mostly Mexicans, and there was about to be a major demonstration by teachers and other union supporters (numbering 30,000 the paper later said). Yet, not one uniformed person seemed to be hovering around this passed out man.
I don’t know what more to say on this topic. I want to imagine that if he had been in the US and I’d seen him like that, I’d have called 911. The trouble is, I don’t know if there was more to his story than I could know, there was no one to ask.
I am afraid of becoming inured to suffering. That is the first step in dehumanizing someone. I know that the fast pace of life and my so-called ‘needs’ sometimes prevent me from helping people here at home and somehow, having the time in Mexico to witness, and nowhere I had to be, brought me closer to someone else’s condition.
Then again, like a doctor who witnesses pain on a daily basis, if I am not to become inured, I have to have ways to experience my feelings of helplessness and pain without becoming dysfunctional. Truthfully, this is a major reason I write. I hope my studies and work in graduate school continue to bring me closer to providing these same sorts of outlets for people in the medical world. We need caring and competent medical providers and they, because they are only human, need outlets for their emotions too.