I am a woman, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a minority, a physician, a researcher, a Muslim, a health advocate, a believer in social justice…I am a part of one and many communities.
I was never an individual, being raised by my family and my “community.” We celebrated birthdays, broke bread, and prayed with our community. My parents’ friends were my second parents and their children were my brothers and sisters. The line between friends and family was thin and indistinguishable.
I have lived my academic life since then, moving from city to city and having built-in friendships, either through my dorm mates in college, my medical school classmates or my residency class. But then I moved to Los Angeles, alone, with no one to share my life with; I realized that for the first time I did not have a community.
I passed my neighbors in the hallway, always hesitant to say hello. I chatted with my postman, only realizing his surprise. I got to know the workers at the local coffee shop, only for it to close down a few months later. I took weekly trips to the local ice cream store and chatted with the same kid who made me my chocolate sundae. He never knew I would make these trips just so I could feel a part of my neighborhood. But in each situation, I realized that everyone was happy to say hello and talk to me, sensing my sincerity and my acknowledgment of their existence in my life.
I found more peace in my new life by starting to volunteer in my local community health center and caring for the homeless patients in my neighborhood, only to bump into them at the movies or walking down the street. I found some happiness in knowing that I not only lived in my neighborhood but also shared it with others, perhaps others who did not know that the physician who treated their skin infection was also a part of their community.
My work now takes me to churches in the poorest areas of Los Angeles every Sunday where I see the strength of community. I see the El Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Filipino communities congregate after mass and share a meal with each other. Part of me is envious of their community.
Through my time in this new city though, I have tapped into my cultural and religious community and have found much solace and companionship. The bond of culture and religion is strong and brings people who may otherwise be very different into everlasting friendships.
I believe in the importance of community and how I will need to be a part of one always. I have come to realize that a little effort on my part, a small gesture, a single hello, opens up doorways that normally would be shut. Only by putting forth my own effort will I become a part of my community and will people realize that I am a part of theirs.
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