“Do you know how blessed the boys are to have you play kickball with them in our front yard?”It was me asking Steve, and his response was pretty much what I expected, “I thought that was normal.” It is normal…and that is just the reason they are so blessed.
We say it often–we don’t realize how blessed we are until something is taken away. Whether it’s health or running water, a job, or a healthy pregnancy we tend to expect that it will be there like always before. We forget that these are gifts–not something that is promised. Sometimes, or make that often while living in this community, I am slapped with a big dose of reality. My normal life is so blessed!
Tuesday the boys and I went to CoR to garden with the students. While we were getting the preliminaries ready, we were talking to a mom and her two-and-a-half year old daughter who were relaxing at a table just outside the garden. The little girl and Zachary played together on the swings while I worked. When we headed in to the kitchen, she wanted to go with us. I told her mom it was okay, so she tagged along and soon asked me to carry her.
I told her she was so sweet. She hugged me tightly and I hugged her, too. “I love you!!”
My heart melted. She reminded me so much of our former foster son in the way she clung to me. It’s the kind of squeeze that you feel in your heart as much as around your neck. Somehow you sense that it’s a plea for security and love.
When we went into the kitchen, I couldn’t find the lights which made the large kitchen with it’s huge equipment and quiet corners seem foreboding. She squeezed her little arms and legs a little tighter. I took her back outside of the kitchen to where the boys were waiting in a lighted room. “Do you want to wait here with the boys?” I asked her. There was a look of fear in her eyes and she squeezed me even more tightly. I hugged her and told her she could stay with me. We got the bowl as quickly as I could then headed back to the garden.
After that she wanted to be with me every second. We made another trip inside, and again she clung to me as though her life depended on it. It was one of those moments when I felt really alive. I was pushing Ian’s stroller with one arm and carrying C. with the other on our way to ask the supervisor about how soon the fifth graders would be coming out. Zachary was walking beside us, and the dandelions he had given were tucked into my hair. There’s something about sharing life–joy–security– with someone who has known much less that gives me a sense of doing the thing for which I have been created.
When we got back to the garden, I asked C’s mama to take a picture of the two of us together. And that’s when I had one of those doses of reality. I got my camera out of my bag. I admit it can look rather intimidating. Sometimes at portrait sessions I would show children a few pictures on it, and let them touch it so they wouldn’t be scared of it.
When little C. saw the camera in my hand, she freaked out! She had been completely attached to me, but now she ran screaming and crying to her mama with terror in her eyes. I felt terrible! Her mama tried to tell her that it was okay, and that it was a camera; but she wasn’t calmed by that at all. I aimed the camera at Zachary, and took a picture then showed it to her. After that she finally calmed down and trusted me again. But, y’all, she’s only two and a half!!!!! I could have cried to think of what she has seen in her life that my camera brought such fear.
This came on the heels of another day when I jerked back and forth from the blissful –watching a robin feeding her babies
–laughing with my sons
–having Steve pump gas for me because I was so tired
to the heart-rending
–women who don’t feel free to have a casual conversation with me–a stranger
–hearing the life story of one of Steve’s co-workers who has grown up with little besides hate and abuse
–a homeless guy threatening to shoot me because I didn’t talk with him (honestly he was so mentally ill in a harmless way this wasn’t a real threat)
There was more, and often I have a hard time processing it all. How can I live in my peaceful world while there is so much devastation in lives all around me? My heart aches for these people. I could get really, really radical. I have lots of days when i want to sell almost everything we own and truly live among them. But how does that even work with a family? Especially when in reality, I grossed out when we ate at a local fast food joint where sanitation is seemingly the least of importance.
One thing I do know–my life including all the pain I have known, all the stressful situations I have been in–are so much more privileged than I ever realized. When I have said things like, “Where was the community? Why did no one care?” I had no idea what it would be like to have no community at all. When I stressed over our tight budget, I had no idea what it would be like to her my child crying because he was hungry, and I couldn’t find food for him. When I felt lonely, I didn’t know what it would be like to have NO ONE who had my back.
Does your daughter cringe when she hears her daddy coming close to her?
Are you a mom of five…do you have more than $50 in your possession?
Do you worry every day that you will be evacuated for not being able to pay rent?
Are you dependent on the government and charities for food and clothes?
When was the last time you were beaten by your husband?
Are the guns at your house for something as (personally) harmless as shooting squirrels?
Have your children missed week after week of school this year because you need to keep moving to wherever you can find a place to stay?
There have been things in my life that were very painful, and not as they should be. They have made me lest trusting, less innocent, more needing of redemption. But the thing that is gripping me these last few weeks is this: no matter what pain I have known, it is only a small part of a long list of painful experiences for most of the people in our community.
I drive past them.
I remember their stories.
And then I cry.