As I write, my tears are making spots in the dust on my keyboard. I cleaned the keyboard two days ago, but dust and dirt have a way of creeping into the office, through cracks and crevices that are bare to the eye. Why is it that bad news always comes when its rainy and grey? I should have been on guard when I walked out of the tent to find foul weather.
Today I got a very sad email detailing devastating incidents from a dear friend in South Africa who I worked with for two years. For almost a decade she has been running a program for children orphaned and vulnerable because of HIV and AIDS. Over these years of working with children and families impacted by the HIV and AIDS crisis, I have learned to listen gently, balancing my own heart ache with a desire to help those who grieve also find the space to celebrate hope. When a child would come into my office, I never knew what story I would hear—sexual violence, abuse, neglect, sickness and death. Always, though, I prepared myself to enter into a sacred realm where, even for a moment, I would be given a chance to help carry a bit of a burden too great for any one person to bear.
I also learned to live with the sharpness of disappointment. Just because a child is given an opportunity to succeed, an opportunity for good education, an opportunity for a better way, doesn’t ensure that he or she will be able to accept this gift and carry it through to completion. Sometimes even a priceless gift is too heavy to hold on to when one has lived through hell, when one has been worn ragged and wrung dry by life’s unfair blows. Through witnessing unwavering love of grannies, aunties, friends, and care givers who pick up pieces and continue to pray even when darkness covers the whole earth, I have learned that hope can bring you to your knees with sadness.
Today it feels like no one understands the trouble I know. How can they? No one here has lived and worked with these children. No one here has hosted sleepovers and ice cream parties for kids who then turn and steal or perpetuate violence against one another or have unprotected sex leading to another life being born into what seems to be a never-ending cycle of poverty. No one here has listened to tales of child rape by uncles and bothers. No one here really knows, or do they? As I have gone about my morning routine, a prayer breakfast, encouraging soldiers in their work, sitting through intelligence briefs, I have reconsidered my position. While no one here may understand the details of my particular story, tragedy and sadness do not discriminate. They come knocking on all of our doors, one day or another. Today. I know, just a little more closely, what it must be like to experience difficulty away from family or friends who understand all the details. Though there are many here who are prepared to listen to my sadness, none of them feel the same way about it.
Writing this helps me remember that when a soldier or any person comes to share their story of loss, I can only hear so deeply. At some point, I own my deficiency. Yet, even in inability to fully know or understand anything a person is going through, I know that willing ears and a compassionate heart mean a great deal. It certainly has made a difference for me today, as I have carried around my own measure of sadness for a place and a people I no longer touch but still love. On days like today, prayer demands courage. Because of the faith I knew there and for the people who, in many ways, taught me to praise God in utter darkness, I will find strength to pray.