New Life

New Life

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

New Life

Hope is tomorrow’s veneer over today’s disappointment.

Evan Esar

“A baby was born last night!”

The nurse, a fellow relief worker, shared this amazing news with a look of pure joy on her face. We rarely heard good news in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, during the weeks following the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami, so her announcement was greeted with smiles all around.We all agreed to go to the local hospital together to visit the new family.

Along with my fellow relief workers, I looked forward to a scene of joy within the walls of a hospital. Thus far hospitals were only reminders of how much was lost, because for every person saved and recovering in a bed, there were multiple stories of heartache for their family members swept away by the waves.

I had traveled to the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, from my home in Phoenix, Arizona, in February 2005 to train relief workers on trauma and to help survivors. As a mental health therapist, I had seen firsthand how worn thin the relief workers were by the constant grief and loss surrounding them. After being in Indonesia for several weeks, I was feeling a little worn myself. We all needed an uplifting moment of hope.

We made our way to the hospital, walking toward the nondescript building with excitement. Pausing before entering, my eyes lingered on the wall before me and I stopped.

Stretched across the entire length of the hospital wall were signs, each one displaying the word dicari, which means “looking for” in Indonesian. Underneath that phrase was the face, name, and description of a missing family member. Some signs had just one photograph and description, but far too many showed a couple, several very young children, or even an entire family. Some signs were black and white, old and faded by the elements and hanging on by just a corner. Others looked professionally printed, the colors still bright, the sign still firmly affixed to the wall.

As I looked at that wall, I grieved for the hope on display. The hope the people who created and hung those signs held for finding their loved ones. Week by week, it had become increasingly clear how unlikely a happy ending would be in this tragic situation.

Standing there, I felt the weight of my experience thus far. The stories the survivors shared with me echoed in my ears. The father who told me, “I lost my wife and four children to the water and I have never found their bodies.” The disbelieving mother who cried, “My baby, only a few months old, was torn from my grip when I was in the tsunami.” The priest who lamented, “I did not do more to save those around me. I forgot that waves follow earthquakes. How could I forget?” I grieved with them all.

Shaking off the memories for now, I continued past the grim reminder of hope and loss, looking forward to a more hopeful scene inside. Then, walking into the hospital, we heard the word. The baby had died. I never learned the reason, but saw the tiny bundle in the corner of the room. Wrapped in a blue blanket with a pattern of hearts and teddy bears, the small form served as another reminder of how closely death lingered even six weeks after the disaster. I felt the urge to leave the hospital with its stories of sadness and the evidence of loss papering the front. But where would I go? Sadness and destruction were everywhere in Banda Aceh.

Then, an Indonesian nurse dressed in a crisp white uniform approached us. She wore a white scarf covering her hair, as is traditional for Muslim Indonesian women. Her smile warmed my heart. Despite the tragedy that surrounded her and having to walk by the wall of missing people every day, she still radiated joy in serving others. With her bright smile, she brought us into a room and showed us twin newborn infants swaddled in matching blankets.

Laying side by side, only their tiny red faces peeked out. I noticed that the blankets had the same pattern of hearts and teddy bears as the other infant’s swaddling. These children, born to a survivor of the tsunami that very day, showed all of us how hope endures in the midst of tragedy. One young life lost, but two lives started that day in the hospital. Gazing down on them, I felt renewed by such a strong reminder that life does indeed go on.

“Congratulations,” I said to the family gathered around. The exhausted mother only smiled, but her mother, the proud grandmother of the babies, told us, “The nurses made the babies live.” In a time and place with very limited medical resources and many potential complications of childbirth, the nurses had ushered in new life against great odds.

Then my friend offered to take my photograph with three of the nurses working that day. In the photo, initially you see only our differences. I am a Christian, American man. They are Muslim, Indonesian women. My height towers over their small frames. Looking closer, though, you see that what unifies us is our smiles. Initially brought together because of disaster, we now celebrated new life together.

Their smiles and joy remind me to this day that hope lives, even in the midst of tragedy.

Thomas Winkel

[EDITORS’ NOTE: To learn more about supporting tsunami relief, go to www.WordPointPublishing.com. ]

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