In this time of Advent, I find myself reflecting on its meaning and the hope that this season brings. Advent is the time spent when we as Christians prepare ourselves for the birth or coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. During Advent, we have the opportunity to not only wait for our Savior’s arrival, but to also actively prepare ourselves and our homes for this amazing event. December can be such a dark time of year so many individuals celebrate the season with candles and lights. How do we prepare for the season? How do we bring light and hope to those in great need? Finally, I ask myself, why is hope so important?
As a physical therapist, I often ponder how we bring hope and inspiration to those with injuries, broken bodies, changed lives, and troubled souls. How do we work with family members as well? Physical therapists help patients see new possibilities for their lives when no future is initially seen. We help prepare patients with new strategies for greater participation in their communities.
One of the most graphic memories I have of preparing patients for a new life or an Advent of a different sort, was when I first served in Haiti just after the killer earthquake of 2010. At the tent hospital in Jimaní, Dominican Republic, we worked long hours with patients from Haiti who had lost everything. Some had lost limbs, others lost bodily movement due to spinal cord injuries sustained in the earthquake, and others were dealing with multiple traumas of mind, body, and spirit. Many patients were facing the unknown.
Our job as therapists was to improve our patients’ mobility despite the external fixators patching fractured bones together or bandages covering wounds visible or not. Each patient we worked with was frightened and facing an unknown future. As director of the international rehab team at the hospital, my rehab team moved from bed to bed working with patients building a connection of trust and a promise for a future none of us could clearly see. Yet, we had to trust – trust in goodness and the possibilities of what might occur. We did this by building what I call COMILIA. Comilia is that relationship that develops when we engage goodness in our work as educators, consultants, administrators, researchers, and everyday people. Seeking comilia happens when we engage in a community with reciprocity. Here we move beyond being strangers, visitors, guests, or helpers into the sacred space of caring, deep caring. . .
My last night in the tent hospital during the final rounds was a bittersweet time. In the morning many of my patients were to be discharged to the refugee camps on the Haitian side of the border. I was to head back to Santo Domingo and eventually back to the United States. My patients gave me a blessing and told me my suitcase would be extremely heavy when I returned home because I would be carrying home the hearts and souls of all my patients. They told me my heart would also feel heavy because they were taking a piece of my heart and soul with them. We would be eternally connected through our time together at the hospital. I had made their life brighter through our physical therapy treatments my patients told me.
That is the essence of comilia – preparing for something new and good. Building comilia is how we prepare ourselves and our communities this Advent season for the possibilities of something new and better. I believe Advent is a time we should cherish every day and not just during the designated time in the liturgical calendar. It is a time where we reflect on our God given gifts and talents. We may even reflect on what we were born to do and how we will do it as part of the body of Christ. When we take time to see the broader picture, we may even appreciate how our gifts and talents bring hope to those in need. We don’t have to be a physical therapist in a faraway country to bring hope to others. It is something we can all do anywhere. We must simply live and build comilia! The Haitians say, “Piti piti plen kay,” which means “a little light fills the whole house.” Advent is a time when we are called to bring light and hope to those in need as we wait for the birth of our Savior. It is this gift of hope and a promise for a future of new possibilities that makes us live!
Les pwa fe viv!
Reflection by Sue Klappa, PT, Ph.D., Curriculum Chair for the Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program