You came to us on the first day of our September mission. There were a hundred people in the room but I couldn't look at anyone else. I felt like I was holding my breath as I saw you move from station to station being screened. Did you ever worry that we might tell you that we can't help? That it is too late? Did you ever worry that you made this trip only to be turned away? I worried. I saw how thin you were, how much working out in the tea fields your whole life had aged you. I prayed. I held my breath. My heart fluttered as you met me at the final station to have your chart reviewed. I read what the pediatrician, surgeons and anesthesiologists all had to say. My eyes welled with tears as I saw those three words with a check mark next to them "Cleared for surgery." I knew that tomorrow your life would change, did you?
What would it feel like to have lived over fifty years with a cleft lip? Your eyes told me that life has been hard on you, without any words I knew. Were you allowed to go to school? To go out of the house? When you were growing up did you wish you had a whole smile, a normal lip? Your eyes. I can't stop thinking of your eyes and how much hurt there was written deep inside them.
Would you have ever dreamed that after fifty years, a group might come along and offer you repair? How did you feel when you heard of us, when our student team first examined you hours and hours away in your village? Was it a struggle to decide to come all the way here, to trust us? To trust me? Did you feel hopeful? I know you would not have gotten on that bus and rode here if you didn't want the chance to be changed. I hurt deep inside my chest for you, I want to erase all the pain. Could you feel the love pour out of me in that first moment we met? Did you feel some of that pain coming undone?
I saw you the next morning, sitting up in your hospital bed with your bandana tied around the lower half of your face. A way of hiding your lip that breaks my heart in to a thousand pieces. You were wearing your green patient gown, today was your day. I saw something different in your eyes, a new kind of worry. Were you unsure if this was all real? Did you ever question that you were making the right decision? How did you feel that night as you slept on the hospital bed? Was there any hope in your heart? How did you mentally prepare yourself for the change you were about to endure?
Hours later you were sitting up stairs, waiting to be taken back to the operating room. Your eyes darted from person to person, taking it all in. What were you thinking in that moment? Did you see me there, could you feel how excited I was for you? Before I knew it, you came and went from the recovery room and were brought back down to the ward to rest until the next day. As you laid in the hospital bed again, did you feel different? Was it every thing you expected? Did you make the right choice for you? Did it feel worth all of your trouble? Were you happy?
The day you left from the hospital I saw you again with your bandanna tied around the lower half of your face. I ran over to you and asked you to lower your bandanna, I told you that you looked handsome. I wish I had told you that before your surgery. You were so beautiful, you see. Had anyone said these words before me? Did you ever feel self-worth? Will you ever be able to walk freely without covering yourself? Or is over fifty years of damage too much? I worried that you may never feel the change inside that we all saw outside. I thought about you all day until the madness of the mission set in and my thoughts became occupied with others.
One week later I came out of the recovery room to see you sitting on the bench where you had anxiously awaited your surgery just seven days prior. I swelled with joy as I noticed that something was missing. I scanned your hands and your pockets and I didn't see it. The bandanna wasn't with you. What would it feel like? To finally be free? To have lived a whole life hiding then to be liberated? To have hope where once there was none?