This week I caught a unique glimpse at the fragility and gift of life. In general, I see life’s preciousness 1000x more clearly since coming here, in the radiant faces of too many malnourished, malaria-infected, barefoot little Cabbage Patch Kids that run around this place all day. Having witnessed the contrast of the full circle of life within the last week has offered new vision to my daily African routine.
On Sunday morning after church, among a crowd from my Daughters of Mary group, we went to visit our friend Joice, a new mother who had delivered her baby girl less than 24 hours before our arrival. As I picked up the little babe and cuddled her in my arms, I was thinking of nothing except the tiny and beautiful masterpiece before me. Then, as I watched her being passed around by the group of excited primary school girls and looked into the proud face of her teenage mother, impressed upon my heart was the weight of the situation. This society is overloaded with children producing children. Yet despite the difficulties and many cultural imperfections, still they grow into good, strong women like their mothers before them. It became all the more apparent what a miracle it is that this unbelievably tiny human being now has an irreplaceable role to play in the story of the world, despite the fact that her life was a “mistake”. That little girl, at one day old, was indescribably perfect and her future limitless. Maybe she will light the spark that this nation needs to change for the better.
On Friday morning, not but five days later, the news reached our compound that the mother of one of my students had passed away overnight. I hadn’t met the woman, as she lived a distance away from our mission, but I am very close with her daughter, Mariam. With this horrible news, Cait and I went as quickly as possible to the funeral place to offer our condolences and mourn with our children. My first moment of heartbreak was to gaze upon the beautiful, young woman before me that didn’t look much older than fifty. The second was to be clutched tightly by Mariam as she wept into my shoulder, repeating again and again how her mother had left her alone. No words were adequate, so I held her in silence. The same pain surfaced minutes later, when her younger brother was in my arms. It’s impossible to convey the emotion of consoling these devastated teenage children left with only their memories of a woman who impacted them so deeply during their short lives.
I can’t even begin to imagine their pain, and yet this is the reality for each one of my students who have all suffered the loss of immediate family members. I have students absent from my class for funeral services on a regular basis. A nation rampant with disease, an underdeveloped healthcare system, the continued practice of tribal witchcraft medicine, and the physical and emotional trauma that accompanied decades of war in their homes, among so many other factors has left all of my students heartbroken and devastated time and time again. Seeing it firsthand illuminated for me the pain that they all have to swallow and suppress on a daily basis in order to keep looking forward each day. A pain that somehow becomes normal.
For a culture of intense trial and suffering, I can honestly say- never have I met a more joyful people. Why? It’s simple. Because they’re happy to be alive.
Life is a gift.
“Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.”
― Mother Teresa