Tonita Cervantes (c) 2011

“You made me cry,” wrote one of the many medical personnel who see to it that Global Links receives good quality surplus medical materials. She had just read the most recent update from the Suture Donation program, Restoring Sight in Ethiopia.  “Oh I’m so glad,” I wrote back. “We cry a lot at Global Links.”

We handle a lot of “stuff” here, tubes and blades, gloves and gauze, large, heavy machinery and sutures so fine they are practically invisible. It was the effect of sending some of those very tiny sutures to a doctor working in Ethiopia that brought tears to the eyes of this particular staff member in the OR at UPMC Mercy. People far from Pittsburgh who had been blind could see – in a developing country, this is lifesaving.

We all have our vulnerable areas, photos or stories that bring tears to the eyes. I am notorious here at the office for crying at the slightest provocation, but honestly – a c-section that saves the lives of mother and baby? And what about those other children at home who, because their mother survived childbirth, are not orphaned? Some of us can’t stand to see the photos of babies having surgery, children with facial deformities, or devastating machete wounds. We weep at the knowledge that someone might die not because their condition is fatal, but simply because the clinic in their community, the only place they can go for care, lacks basic supplies.

At Global Links, we try to publicize the happy stories, the times when we’ve been able to make a difference, because throwing up our hands and weeping simply doesn’t help. It is optimism – knowing that someone can suddenly see again – that keeps us going. It helps hospital staff take the extra trouble to set aside things they know we need, and it enables volunteers to spend many hours sorting, counting and packing all that aforementioned “stuff” for shipment. And yet those victories, photos of a young woman smiling because her fistula has been repaired, or a boy able to return to school because his cardiac defect has been closed, bring on the tears as well.

Why cry? Was it Marx who stressed the importance of having an emotional connection to how one’s work could benefit humanity? Are these tears good, or pointless?

They’re only inevitable. We can’t turn off the emotional waterworks. They help us rise above the sea of “stuff” and focus on the effect of what we do, both good and inadequate. And when they don’t come too often, they’re even a little refreshing.

So go ahead, contemplate being blind in Ethiopia and having your sight restored. And have a little cry.


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