When I was 23 years old I spent two months in the Alaskan wilderness with two close friends. Midway through the trip, we found ourselves deep in the Brooks Mountain Range pummeled by horizontal rains that drove us into our tent. After two days of being stuck inside the tent, I had enough and decided to venture out by myself. I hiked for three hours to get to the top of one of the myriad of nameless mountains in this vast wilderness. The summit was well above the tree line, and I found myself alone on the mountaintop, confronted with high winds and driving rains; I was awed and humbled by the enormity of the universe. It was in this moment that I had that pivotal experience many have when it becomes painfully obvious just how small and insignificant we are in this world. But at 23 I was not ready to resign myself to a life of insignificance quite yet, and I made a proclamation to the universe on that mountaintop that my life did matter. To be honest, I did not quite know how I mattered but I was convinced that I did. That moment stayed with me, and as pursued my optometric studies I continued to grapple with this idea of how to lead a life that mattered and what it meant to truly make a difference in the world. So when I learned of a trip to Mexico to participate in a medical mission, I jumped at the opportunity.
On the first day of the trip, we arrived at our site to find 2,000 people in line waiting to have their eyes checked. One of those in line was a 7-year-old boy who was carrying a braille book. The boy’s family explained that he was blind but as I started to examine his eyes I soon realized that the boy was just extremely myopic. His prescription was a -20.00D and, incredibly, we were able to fit him with a pair of donated glasses with a -19 prescription. As I placed the glasses on the boy’s nose, I watched as the blank stare of a blind person transformed into an expression of unadulterated joy -I was witnessing someone seeing his world for the first time. At that moment, I remember looking up to the heavens and rebelliously stating “See, I DO MATTER!” This was a defining experience in my life –it was a beautiful exchange of value. I provided this boy with sight, and he provided me with a keen sense of purpose. I decided then and there that if I could replicate that moment 1,000 times over I would have led a meaningful life.
Now came the hard part, making it happen.