Feeling Small

Anthony Chua '17, Contributor

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By August, pushing wheelchairs down the busy hospital hallway was as regular to me as the smell of brewed coffee wafting down the corridors. I found a general routine: don my pink volunteer jacket, accept the latest transfer request, take a wheelchair from the main lobby if needed, travel to the correct building, wait for an elevator with enough room for me and my wheelchair, ride the elevator to the patient’s floor, pick up the patient, and bring the patient to the destination. I do not mean to say that my service was wholly monotonous, for variations were common: sometimes the patient only needed directions; I might need the help of a fellow volunteer; and other times I had to travel outside the main building complex and cross busy Boston streets to complete a task.

Occasionally I caught a scenic glimpse of the Charles River or the Boston skyline, framed by the building’s glass panels, with a myriad of tiny boats and cars and people darting this way and that across the canvas. It was easy to lose myself in the vastness of the landscape I beheld, even when transporting a patient. Within each scene were many tens of thousands of people – quite a few of them hidden within edifices, grand or minute, each coursing through a lifelong pilgrimage; meanwhile, I was tucked away in some floor of some building of some hospital, feeling smaller than the moving dots in the frame, a pink coat-clad high school volunteer trying to make a difference in someone’s life. Since my only job was to bring patients between sections of hospital buildings, my interactions felt too brief to have any lasting impact. It’s not as if I nursed someone to health or performed surgery on anybody.

As the service hours accumulated, I thought about whether my contribution had any real impact on anyone at all. Perhaps the manpower we volunteers contributed allowed hospital staff

to focus on more critical tasks like diagnosing and treating patients, or maybe the hospital needed us to promote a less somber demeanor in a place which most visit only when sick or injured. With my reflections came a revelation: community service benefits the larger community as a whole, not just a small cluster of persons. Whereas previous volunteer locations had me work closely with the same group of individuals, MGH promoted brief interactions with many different people. Helping those from all walks of life revealed to me the big picture, in that by assisting even just part of the population, I contributed to to the whole of its wellbeing.

Admiring the urban landscape feels different now, post epiphany. I feel less like an outsider peering into a fleeting snapshot of a million individual lives, passing as a bystander through everyone else’s existences. Rather, I am part of the scene, experiencing it in my own way – a way that nobody else ever could. No longer does insignificance dominate my outlook: my life is as important as any other. I can make a difference in my community, no matter how miniscule. A small impact is an impact nonetheless.

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Feeling Small