The people who were there for you

About a year ago, I told you about the people you were going to meet. Hopefully, in your lifetime, you will have met great people, people who inspire you. If not, look for them. They are all around you.

But what about the people who were there for you?

The other night, in one of the episodes on television of The Flash, the opening narration talked about how two kids (one The Flash and the other Zoom, the villain) grew up to be very different based on who was there for them at a moment of crisis. When Barry Allen, the kid who would grow up to be The Flash, saw his mother get killed and his father framed for the murder, Joe West was there for him. Joe, a cop, took in Barry as a son and helped raise him. When he was transformed into The Flash, Barry decided to become a hero and help people.

Zoom, on the other hand, was orphaned when his father killed his mother and himself after coming back from a war. He grew up in an orphanage where there was no one to love and care for him. In time, he became a criminal, then a serial killer. When he got powers similar to The Flash, Zoom decided to dress up like a superhero so that, in his own words, he could “give people hope. Then rip it away from them.” He became a super villain.

Not too long ago, there was a man with my same exact name shot and killed himself on the front yard of his house — and in front of his neighbors — as police attempted to arrest him. (The only reason I found out about it is because some anti-vaxxers cheered his death thinking it was me, but that’s neither here nor there.) This is not the first time something like this has happened, where two people share the same name and have very different lives. The book “The Other Wes Moore” tells a similar story. In it, two Wes Moores, both from Baltimore, grow up to be very different people. One is in prison while the other is now a successful community leader and author.

The common denominator in stories like these come down to the people around us. The people in the featured image above are my parents when they were dating. Although they got divorced shortly after I was born, they both remained very involved in my upbringing. Them and my aunts and uncles, and my grandparents. Heck, even my cousins helped raise me. And I was raised in such a way that I learned to take the best parts of them and apply them to my life.

From dad, I learned to fix things. He taught me to see complex machinery and systems and understand what makes them work. He showed me how no one piece in a big machine is more important than another. Engines might continue to work with one part broken or missing, but, eventually, the whole thing is going to break down without it. He also showed me how to be a loyal friend. There is nothing he would not do for his friends, and it’s the same for me. Be my friend, and I will die for you, or with you. (Though, let’s not test that just yet, yeah?)

From mom, I learned to be an advocate for the weak, the downtrodden. She never allowed herself to be a victim, and she taught me that victims need a champion to be there for them. I remember her many times going out the door to make the world a better place by helping someone, expecting little in return. Even today, she cheers us on to be there for others, and I look back on her acts of heroism to get inspiration to go ahead with my crazy ideas.

Even as an adult, I’ve learned a lot of good things from a lot of people. There was the lab manager who taught me about discipline and professionalism. The lab techs, nurses and doctors who looked after me like a son and correctly pointed out to me that I needed to do more with my life. Some of them even helped me get out of a very, very bad relationship. The list goes on and on of the good people in my life who have been there from the moment I was born until today.

And that’s just the people that I know about.

I am willing to bet you dollars to doughnuts that there are plenty of people out there who have been there for you but you don’t have a clue of who they were. Some of them you have not met. Others, you’ve met but only for a short time, yet they’ve made a big impact in your life…

When I was five or six years old, I was riding the bus from Juarez to Chihuahua with my grandmother. A young man on the seat in front of us was reading a really big book. I walked over and asked him what he was reading. He said it was a book on pathology. I asked him what it was, and he said it was the study of abnormal things. That quick conversation — cut short because my grandmother asked me not to bother him — changed a lot of things in my life. I kept that word, “pathology”, in my head until I was able to look it up at home on the encyclopedia. Then I discovered that it was a field of medicine, and that microscopes were involved. Then I nagged mom to buy me a microscope at a garage sale…

Then I looked at a leaf under the microscope, and I have not seen the world the same ever since.

Likewise, you need to be mindful of who you’re going to be there for, even when you’re not thinking of being there for anyone. That young man on that bus is probably in his late 50s or early 60s right now. He probably doesn’t know that he launched me into laboratory medicine, then epidemiology, then this. But he was so patient and willing to answer my childish questions (something about a duck was asked, as “pato” is the word in Spanish for duck). He explained to me a little bit of what he was reading. He didn’t have to, but he did, and my life is so much better now for it.

So I guess what I’m saying after over 1,000 words is that you should be thankful for the people who have been there for you, the people who will be there for you, and for the opportunity to be there for others. Even explaining the book you’re reading may make a big difference for others. Who knows? You might just change the world, even if only a little bit, and set it on a course to something better.

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen