Take Love and Pass it On: Matthew Jones’ Volunteer Story
On Monday, February 19th, 2018, Matthew Jones – CMMB’s first Aurora Fellow– will leave his Welsh family home and travel to South Sudan. For the next six to twelve months, this UK-trained doctor will serve at the St. Teresa Hospital in Nzara, joining the amazing staff and community volunteers who are helping improve access to healthcare to the people who live there. In this piece, Matthew answers the question, “How did I end up here?”
How did I end up here, three days from leaving the comforts and love of my family home for South Sudan, the most unstable country in the world?
Through all the affectation and stylization of previous responses to this question, I wish to tell a story that might come closer to some truth.
18 months ago, I was a committed, highly trained, addicted marathon runner. I was good. I was proud. I take pleasure in my achievements and I shared them. I felt invincible and untouchable, defying gravity.
Then one day, it went wrong. I became unwell, wracked with unbearable pain, tormented by the loss of my running dreams, and ultimately hospitalized through over-training. This is not meant to induce sympathy or pity. I brought it on myself, this suffering, in pursuit of a self-centered dream. The privilege, recklessness and luxury of being able to choose when to suffer. But nor do I mean here to be self-flagellating. It is done now. The past, because the episode changed me and brought to a better place and time.
After I put aside my running ambitions, I found myself lost and adrift for a year. Perhaps it was a sense of grief for the part of me that perished those weeks. The loss of purpose, the return to earth, a crashing return. It was a difficult year, and at times, I felt my own mind turning against me. The voices that demand you achieve, achieve, and then once you have achieved, achieve some more.
But through all this soul-searching, one thing remained, like a beacon, the love of friends and family. It is easy to deconstruct your life and that becomes a habit after a while. You see the false ambitions and vain pursuit of glory for what they are. But to reject, is not to choose. It merely takes you a layer deeper on the painful road to self-awareness and self-absorption. Until eventually, you hit something solid in your heart.
For me, that was love, platonic love for and from friends and family.
It was not an easy journey and it pushed me and those around me a little. You ask a lot of people when you love them and when you accept their love. Love is painful with its expectations and demands. It is never simple. It is complicated, a vast set of chambers and passageways through our past, through our mind.
But it should be complicated. The best things are. Love should demand of us. When we are loved, we should not hide that away possessively. We should not stockpile love for a rainy day. Love is a mirror, that reflects back to the world.
And for every act of love, patience and kindness I receive, I merely wish to reflect that back to the world tenfold. We have a responsibility to take the love we receive and pass it on.
There’s a lot of use of the word journey in our society. There’s a lot of cynicism about the word and the underlying idea. If I speak of a journey, please be patient. If I speak of my story, please accept it as a humble act as it is intended.
I have spent all my life being told that half the stories we tell and retell are beautiful and true and might belong to me if I believe and if I commit. And that the other half of the stories are bogus and filled with false tyrants and false prophets.
But I have never been able to tell the difference.
There is a hole in the page at this point, with the words ‘until now’ punched out, scribbled out, expunged. Because I cannot claim to suddenly be able to tell the difference. But at least now I believe one day I might have the wisdom and good fortune to do so.
When I am asked why South Sudan, why CMMB, why now? I think of all the love I have ever received. Love that at times I have stowed away. But that I am now ready to share a little more with the world.
Life is filled with moments, some special, some hard. Some painful, some joyful.
But it is love that knits them together into a story, my story. Our story.