I used to think I was grounded and I knew that many people were suffering around me. I felt like I had been through some suffering myself; my parents divorced and my mom moved away. But, it wasn’t until this past summer that I saw what real suffering looked like.
I grew up in San Francisco, where approximately 8,000 people are currently homeless. I thought I had seen it all at the ripe age of nine. I didn’t know why every time we walked down the street people were asking for money. I had no idea of the daily struggles the low-income community of the world has.
This summer, I completed an internship at the Marin Community Dental Clinic. They provide affordable health care for the insured and uninsured. I spent four hours a day, for four days a week, there. Walking into this internship, I thought I would just learn what it was like to be a dentist and learn more about that field of medicine. Instead, I came out of it with a new perspective on how close we are to people in desperate need of help.
I helped people plan their next appointment based on when they were going to have enough money. I will forever remember the time a woman sitting in the chair was asked if she wanted painkillers after her extraction and her saying,“No, painkillers have ruined my life once before.” The lady explained how she had a surgery, was given pain killers, then was hooked. Addiction had ruined her life and she had dug her way back out of it.
The way I look at Novato now is different than I ever imagined I would. When I walk by someone on my way to my next class; I don’t think I know them, I think how I don’t know them. Everyone is living their own lives; we will never know what everyone in the world is thinking or doing but we can realize that there are people struggling. All we can do is realize that those people are out there. We might not know who they are but they are out there.
This month-and-half-long internship has changed me for the better. The way that I think and my life goals are different now; I used to want to be a plastic surgeon because I thought it would help me make money and I would get to help the rich become who they wanted to be. I now believe that this reasoning is ignorant and I need to think about others and not just myself. This may sound cliché, but I now realize that life isn’t defined by what your job is or by how much money you make. It is how you give back and make an impact on those less fortunate than yourself that defines you.
Before I finished this internship, I never realized there was suffering just a five-minute drive away from San Marin. I thought I knew the world around me; I was wrong.
Novato is a place filled with people of all types, poor and rich, happy and depressed. You never know what is going on under the surface; our city is much more complex than it appears and comprised of many different people with different experiences. The only way for you to get to know the place we live, is to know you do not know everything about it.