In a small historic church on the beautiful island of Kauai one bright Sunday morning, a retired silver haired gentleman stood up during the sharing section of the local church’s service, and told a simple story. A story of recognition and remembrance.
This stately man talked of being forced to retire from his medical practice, a busy successful doctor told to “Go. Enjoy yourself, travel, see the world, you’ve earned it.”
He did for awhile, but nothing brought him the joy he felt when he was active and productive in his life’s work. He resigned himself into what he considered would be boring musings through the sunset of his life, as winter approached he and his wife sun birded to South Carolina.
It was there in a church very much like the one we were all standing in that he found himself, on a Sunday, listening.
A woman stood up in the congregation, “I’ve been diagnosed with a life threatening disease and I need an operation. I don’t have insurance, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have two small children I am raising by myself. No family in this state. Nothing. What am I going to do?”
As the words of her story washed over him, he remembered his childhood, his Dad was a minister and his Mom a teacher, and he grew up scrapling alongside seven siblings. Every night they would to sit around the dinner table and his Dad would ask, “what have you done for someone today?” If he had something to say, to contribute, he would get an extra piece of chicken, dessert, something. “What have you done for someone today?” Pretty simple. As the thought spilled into his head, as the challenge stirred, as the voice of his Dad filtered in through his heart, this man said, “I noticed something. I noticed the gifts I had been given and I noticed how little it took for me to feel down and out and powerless.”
As the realization hit him he said, “I found myself standing up, words busting out of my mouth, and, I knew, in my heart… I would be getting dessert.”
This man offered his surgical services, free of cost, to that woman, and asked if anyone else in the congregation of retirees would join him. Without hesitation multiple hands went up, a retired anesthesiologist, a surgical nurse, a local hospital administrator, every one necessary to provide the health care service this woman needed.
That one action of standing up led to a movement.
It was the beginning of VOLUNTEERS IN MEDICINE. Free health care for people who can’t afford it from a volunteer group of retirees.
He took two problems, the inability for uninsured working folks to see a doctor when they were sick, crowding emergency rooms, and an untapped resource, bored, sometimes cranky, retired medical professionals, highly skilled retirees with time to give something back. He had a notion, a notion that he wasn’t alone. He bet there were plenty of people like himself, retired, who would want to give back, on a part time basis. At the time the un-insured in SC was one of the highest of any state in the country.
Amazing, that one inkling of inspiration led to one of the largest private health care reforms in this country. Today every person who lives or works in that community in South Carolina has access to health care. All from a dude standing up in church and saying, “YES! and, who’s with me!”
It has become a model in many cities and communities around the country.
Their motto is —
‘May we have eyes to see those who are rendered invisible and excluded, open arms and open hearts to reach out and include them, healing hands to touch their lives with love, and in the process heal ourselves.’
What have you done for someone today?
There’s no doubt, when you get out and about, the world is a most beautiful place filled with beautiful people doing what needs to be done. People who have something to share. People who are inspiring because they were inspired and carried it forward. These amazing people live and breathe in the fabric of the world’s cities and towns large and small.
We celebrate them…
with infinite love and gratitude.