Sunday, October 4, 2009

Do I Smell Like Smoke

This question was asked of me one day by a patient before we began treatment. So I know her fairly well. She has participated in our medical missions and I consider her a friend, I’ll call her “L”.

When “L” asked the question, “Do I smell like smoke?”

I was confused because I knew she didn’t smoke. I just replied, “What do you mean?” with a puzzled tone to my voice.

She asked again, “Do I smell like smoke?”

All I could say was “No, what are you talking about?”

“Good”, she said, “Because I just came here right from a fire.”

I didn’t see that one coming!

Now I was shocked. “What happened?” I asked.

She was reluctant to speak to me about what she did and was really only interested in knowing whether she reeked of smoke. But because she asked such a strange question, I was compelled to find out why she asked it.

My persistence paid off and she gave up her story.

In fact, she was very humble and almost self-conscious while telling me the story. She said, “The morning news reported on an apartment fire and requested Spanish speaking volunteers to lend assistance. So I went down there to help out.”

She began to tell me that before leaving the house, she gathered up some supplies like water, clothing and other basics to take to the victims of the fire. She was sure that they would need those things since the news reported many families were displaced from their apartments.

Arriving at the scene, “L” put her Spanish speaking skills to use. She told the authorities about all the items she brought to aid the fire victims. Unbelievable as it may seem, she was told they couldn’t accept what she had brought. They had no one in charge to handle donations. Unwillingly to accept that answer, “L” found one of the victims and put her in charge of organizing the people and distributing the needed items to them. This turned out to be very successful.

“L’s” selfless act of giving comprised of two components—the giving of material goods and giving of herself through service.

“L” really didn’t see the enormity of her action; she down played it quite a bit. Not wanting to be recognized for her good deed.

She even said, “Anyone would do the same thing.” I pointed out to her that not just anyone would do that. Most people, the great majority, in fact, would watch the news, hear the request and go about their business. I illustrated my point by asking if any other translators showed up.

Her answer—“No”.

I said, “There are four million people in the city, so a large percentage of the population had to be watching the same news broadcast. Yet out of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even a million or so, you were the only one to show up. And you took action beyond what was asked because you brought some very necessary supplies!”

“This is no small thing,” I said. “Don’t minimize its value and your worth! Not everyone would do it. Only one did it. But that one made quite an impact.”
Then she told me she felt that a good deed should be unpublicized.

I didn’t agree with her, citing these reasons. While I agree that shouting from the roof tops, “Look at me, look at what I just did!” is in bad taste, boastful and perhaps self-serving. Humbly talking about a need and filling it is quite different.

The intention is the difference.

“Do you think it takes away from giving if you tell some one about it?” she asked. I said, “I believe it helps to inspire others.”

Every giving action doesn’t have to be revealed. But some should. I also felt that by telling others it sheds light on a particular problem. It also nudges others to take action. Perhaps next time someone else will remember what she did and feel encouraged and strengthened to take action themselves.

Sometimes we need to read a story or hear how someone else participated in giving and serving which could enable us to believe that we, too, can do that! Perhaps it will inspire someone to look around their own family or neighborhood and spot a need that they can act on.

This is how relationships are built, goodwill is fostered, barriers fall and love is spread. The essence of our existence is to love one another.

To love a stranger can sometimes be difficult, to do this unconditionally, all the time takes effort, to do this only when it is convenient and under ideal circumstances takes little courage.

I told “L” that our work with the medical missions and helping Rudy build stoves for the Nahuatl people wouldn’t be possible if we kept it a secret. Throughout my office are photo albums, and pictures on the walls from each medical mission I’ve participated in.

Photos of beautiful children, the elderly, toothless people, people carrying bundles of wood, colonias and churches made of wooden shipping pallets and other discarded materials, photos of all our mission participants—dentists, nurses, medical doctors, translators, clergy, chiropractors, vision care, acupuncturists, massage, occupational and physical therapists and support people.

You can’t walk anywhere in my office without coming in contact with some reminder of a mission trip. I have pottery, blankets, walking sticks, and a host of different gifts given to me by people who I’ve served. I even have an extremely old wooden crutch hanging on the wall that a woman in Mexico gave to me after I treated her.

Why do I have all this? To be boastful? No! To draw attention to me? No! It serves several purposes.

For one, I enjoy the mission work totally. It is a passion for me. Some people like golf vacations or lying on the beach and then displaying photos of their trips.

The mission trips are my vacation. I love them. I enjoy looking at the photos. I enjoy the feelings they bring and the memories. Even the feelings of pain and discomfort about the hardships these people endure are important and welcomed.

It is also an “in my face” reminder of how fortunate, blessed, lucky—you pick the word, I and most people are. It is a reminder that at any moment, a tragedy could occur in my life and I could be one of those people. There really aren’t that many steps from having to not having.

These photos of wonderful people captured in their environment keep me humble, and keep me grounded in reality.

I also told “L” that because of the pictures, and the writing and speaking I do about the missions, people continually donate money. And many have been inspired to participate in the mission trips. In fact, our mission team in Sugar Land started because one of my patients inquired about the photos, and we created The Medical Missionaries of Divine Mercy.

(You can see more photos at

My patients routinely deliver clothing, shoes, crutches, wheelchairs and toys to my office for me to bring on the mission trips. Soon I’ll have to build a bigger garage just to store it all! The photos, also, encourage people to do more and afford them an opportunity to be blessed by giving.

It allows them to “be” more. I have seen my patients find and fill a variety of needs in our own community because they were inspired by our photos and stories.
If we don’t see or hear—we don’t know. It’s important not to boast. But I believe it’s vital to tell the stories! It calls our attention to a need and screams to the universe—“Now who’s going to step up and help?”

I reminded “L” of the section in scripture which teaches; just as you wouldn’t hide a light under a bushel basket, you must allow your light to shine out for others to see your good deeds which glorifies God!

This is not ego talking, but simply showing by example. Being a good role model for others to follow even at the risk of making ourselves feel uncomfortable with the attention it may garnish.

This is why Joe and I wrote Give to Live, The Real Secret to Manifesting Life’s Rewards. And will continue to promote the timeless message of Give to Live—to stand for something more, to inspire and to motivate others. To fortify those that are “doing” and encourage others to join and revel in the experience!

“L” and I had a great conversation. She then opened up and told me about some other selfless acts she was performing quietly within the poorest areas of our community. Though I won’t tell you what those things are, I will say, she absolutely inspired me!! She truly has a giving heart.

I know “L” is making a huge difference in our world by spreading hope and love. She really lives the giving message and exemplifies the ideals set forth in my Affirmation of Service.

I choose to carry out my day as if it is my last.
I will give freely and unconditionally that which I can.
I will provide service to one or more persons
With or without their knowledge.
Thought coupled with action equals change, therefore,
As I think and act, I can and will create positive changes in my community and world.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve humanity today.

“L” is an inspiration to me and I believe I am to her as well as many others in my life. We inspire one another to reach within ourselves to find ways to improve the human condition and in the process, force our own growth.

A tool to help monitor one’s daily life of giving is the Acts of Service Journal.

It’s described in Give to Live, The Real Secret to Manifesting Life’s Rewards. Use it to keep a personal accounting of the goodwill services you provide. It is a nice way to stay grounded and periodically reflect on your daily life. I encourage you to get one and utilize it.

You can download a free Acts of Service journal at

Get a free digital Give to Live book at or purchase books at or at

With Love and Gratitude For All You Do, Known and Unknown,
Dr. Rick Barrett

P.S. Who you are, makes a huge difference…Thank you!