Right now I’m in the Vienna airport on a layover. I’m coming from a weekend in Macedonia doing volunteer work for the World Federation of Hemophilia. It’s been a great experience. Since this is my first trip to Europe, I’m full of enthusiasm and awe. Up until today, things have gone really smoothly. Just before our 4:30 AM flight, however, my traveling companion, a fellow volunteer from Arizona, lost his passport on our way to the airport.
Because of some confusion and a new airport opening, we didn’t have time to find it before the flight left. He told me to go ahead on the flight, but I didn’t want to leave him alone, in the dark, in a foreign country (this was his first trip out of the US also). But, I did.
I realize that his difficulties have been, and still are, much greater than mine. He’s called the embassy, been back to the hotel, and is trying to reach the airline to reschedule his flight.
But in the midst of a stressful emergency, I did what was best for me. I feel really terrible about leaving him there, but I know that it was probably the only thing I could have done. It would be more work, perhaps impossible to get us both rescheduled on another set of flights.
But in the moment where he leaves the airport worried sick about being stuck in a foreign country, alone, I feel like I failed a huge test (seeing life this way is admittedly troublesome). It’s the golden rule. The same one I remind my kids about every day. I would not have wanted to be left behind, so I shouldn’t have left him behind.
Perhaps it’s my lack of sleep, perhaps it’s the fact that I’m still in the middle of this mess, but I can’t help but thinking that I could have, or should have acted differently in a way that would have helped us both.
Just last night, as I was trying to fall asleep on this rock of a hotel mattress, I started thinking about how much I already love the people of Macedonia. They tell me their stories, the man in the wheelchair, the medication that the government orders but the doctors won’t give them, their children who have a brighter future because of preventative care, and my heart just opens wide.
I want so desperately to help these people, and I know that they already feel our support. We have plans to help them learn how to organize and manage a patient organization, but the connections between people are what really matter.
The message I keep feeling is that when you help someone, you love them. It’s not new, of course, it’s what Jesus and many others have taught forever. But, in this moment when I’m disconnected from my regular life of laundry, dishes, and managing a home, when I’m here in Vienna, worried about a friend stranded in Skopje, it feels more real, more urgent.
I’m seeing that my choices to help a community or to stay with a fellow traveler in need are turning my heart inward.
And yet, as I’m typing I’ve been passing important phone numbers along to my friend (who doesn’t have wireless access). Now he has is passport and is rescheduling flights back home. Perhaps I’ve been more helpful to him now than I would have been if I’d stayed.
In the meantime, I will continue to wish us both a safe trip home and look forward to building stronger ties with the good people of Macedonia.