1. Darby, Mark MSN, BSN, RN, APRN, FNP-C


An NP remembers sage advice from a Dominican priest.


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The priest had gathered the women in a tumbledown yard cleared of rubble next to the tin-roofed church. Mothers all, grandmothers many, sat in a circle, polite and staring.

Figure. Illustration... - Click to enlarge in new window Illustration by Gingermoth.

The women waited, expecting the priest to lead, though he had told me he would not. He merely stood behind their circle, arms crossed, patiently staring down at the ground. He did not even say a prayer. More importantly, he didn't introduce me. How would the women know who I was?


His only instruction to me had been, "Shut up and let the women speak."


I was in the country on a medical mission, but I'd thought this side visit to a Dominican slum with a priest, famous for his work among the poor, would look good on my resume. I imagined being at a party back home, standing in a circle of friends, and dropping this experience into the conversation. "When I was in the slums in the DR, I worked with Fr _____." Everyone would stop and hang on my every word.


This small circle would not make a great party story, I thought. There was no action. But the gentle priest had been emphatic in his instruction to shut up and let the women speak.


There was a silence that seemed interminable. Then one woman with knuckle-bent hands made the sign of the cross and said "Nuestro Padre[horizontal ellipsis] " It was a prayer I understood. Then more silence.


Suddenly, a second woman talked in rapid Dominican Spanish. The only words I understood were clinica de salud-health clinic. This broke open a flood of women speaking rapidly. Occasionally, one person spoke to the whole group. She was asking a question. The women all nodded.


I noticed at these times a small smile come to the priest's lips. The women couldn't see this because he hid the smile behind his hands. He returned my glance, and his eyes reminded me, "Shut up and let the women speak."


After an hour or so, the torrent of words stopped. The women looked at each other. Then they looked at the priest. He uncrossed his arms and said in Spanish, "Let us pray." All the women bowed their heads.


On the walk back through the slum, I asked the priest what had happened. "Every woman I meet in this parish wants a doctor for their children," he told me. "They looked to me to provide one. I told them they would have to work together and make it happen. They started meeting months ago. This is the last discussion before they meet the health minister with their plan."


I thought of that party back home. I could say, "When I was in the slums in the DR, I helped these women get a health clinic." They would hang on my every word.


"I want to help," I said. "Can you get them to let me go with them to the meeting?"


The priest stopped midstride. His expression grabbed my attention. He said, "Don't take this away from them."


The only thing I could think to say was, "Shut up and let the women speak, right?"


"Yes," he said. "Remember, people have their own hope and power which they need to discover."


"Will they get the clinic?" I asked.


"I don't know. It is not my concern. It is their clinic. My concern is the people themselves. They will take care of the clinic." I left the country shortly thereafter. Many things have happened since. I gave up working hard just to impress people at parties. At least, most of the time. Several years later, I heard the priest had died. I don't know if the women got the clinic. That day became an old memory. Until last week.


I had been working on an obesity initiative for three years, meeting people who were overweight and teaching them weight loss strategies. People were having success. I spoke with some women who were concerned about their community and asked them if they would like to implement a community-wide program. One Saturday, I gathered these women in a dingy church basement.


Before the meeting, I was fretting. What if the meeting goes wrong? How can I implement this program alone? Can I pull this off?


Questions were coming into my head rapid-fire. So rapid-fire that it reminded me of Dominican Spanish uttered by women with knuckle-bent hands looking to get a health clinic.


I suddenly remembered the voice of a priest. "Shut up and let the women speak."


When the meeting started, I did just that.