Astonished, I found Him, the Beautiful One, deep in a cranny of Mathare Valley, Kenya – the same One I glimpsed in the fissure of a Mother Teresa’s home in Huruma, as I share below. It’s enough to make my head spin – apparently, at least according to what my senses report, my body landed back home, here in Colorado, a couple weeks ago; but my soul seems yet to catch up. I think it’s trailing somewhere over the Atlantic, trying to find its way back.
But, with great relief, I sensed Him again in a most unexpected crevasse in Colorado Springs…
My Grandma and I idle, soaking up afternoon sun in the courtyard of a memory care facility. She moved here while I was in Kenya. The yard is surrounded by a continuous building on all sides. Here, the edges are clearly delineated. Residents can’t just leave whenever they desire; the doors to the outside world remain always locked. Visitors must press a buzzer to request entry, and only those with specific purpose stop by.
A lady in a wheelchair appears in a doorway. I greet her and comment on the lovely afternoon. She replies earnestly and with great concern about… her patches of snow. Granted, flakes did flurry through the mid-May air here; but in late June warmth, on a post-summer-solstice day, I simply smile and nod.
My Grandma asks, “What is she saying?”
I reply, “Oh, she’s talking about snow.”
With a rather confused expression, my Grandma nods too.
Soon after, words of frustration issue from behind our new friend: apparently she blocks someone we can’t see yet from coming out. A rather loud and demanding negotiation ensues. Then, a little black dog slips through, followed by a woman. They settle in the shade, and my Grandma and I join them. The lady in the wheelchair reappears. An aid, who calls her “Nelly*,” helps her over the threshold.
We introduce ourselves. “Fran*” proudly tells us about her dog, “Nick*,” sprawled at our feet. Nelly drifts along the sidewalk nearby, with an uncanny knack for catching bits of conversation and inserting non-sequitur remarks.
“What is she saying?” my Grandma keeps asking.
Barely suppressing a grin, I re-phrase Nelly’s comments as innocuously as I can.
Nelly apparently wearies of our company and pulls her chair along with shuffling feet back towards the door. A lever on her wheelchair catches on the frame, preventing progress. Again and again, she repeats the same motion, trying to pass through.
“She’s stuck,” Fran comments.
I ask Nelly if I can assist. She replies most graciously, “Oh no dear.” She persists in her impossible task.
Fran comments that Nelly most certainly is stuck, and it doesn’t make sense for her to refuse my help.
I chuckle to myself, there are a few things around here that don’t make sense.
Nelly gives up and scoots back into the sun.
Fran informs us that groomers will come for Nick next week, but no one will tell her when. With obvious disgust, she remarks that all it would take would be for someone to check the phone book; she herself would do it for anyone. But no one there will help her.
“What can you do?” she asks.
I shake my head in sympathy.
Strange how the peace settles here. Startled, I recognize that feeling. Just a few weeks ago, I stumbled across it halfway around the world in another most unexpected place.
There, I sit on a small plastic chair next to a boy, his legs bent, folding over upon one another with bare feet dangling at odd angles. I stroke his arm, and he wears a consistent grin. A girl slouches in a chair behind him, her legs in white tights stretching up and resting on the back of his chair. She says not a word, but her smile drifts like sweet fragrance.
Mamas bring steaming bowls of food as someone turns on music. A boy begins to clap with his entire body, scooting his little plastic chair around while pulling his friend, a tiny boy in a wheelchair, along with him in time to the rhythm of the song. They clap and bounce their way over to me, exuberantly offering fist bumps.
“Rejoice in the Lord always,” the words of the song implore. They do.
All around us, unseen but evident in odors and sounds, the slum bustles. Out there, dingy white birds with grubby yellow feet pick their way over haphazard boards slung across open sewage ditches, around piles of mattresses stacked in the dirt, under found-stick-constructed, tarp-covered shacks sheltering wheelbarrows of dusty lettuce, crates of tomatoes, piles of mangoes. Somehow the birds narrowly avoid being crushed by hordes of humanity, surging desperately all around them.
Sturdy tall walls define this space where we are harbored, labeled near the clanging metal gate: “Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order) Home of Mercy.” In few places can a wall make such a difference. Outside, chaos. Inside, open space yawns, flowers burst, faces beam.
Like those of the children surrounding me. I don’t understand the happiness emanating from their faces, the peace I, myself, feel. How can they “rejoice in the Lord” here, when they are regarded by many in their society as cursed because of their disabilities, when they’ve been abandoned and dropped into the abyss called “orphan”?
Sister Van passes by. Her face beaming, she says when she is feeling down, she feeds one or two of the children and finds her way back to joy.
There is something here I just don’t understand. This place confuses me more than any other on earth. I can’t comprehend the collision of suffering and joy here.
I am feeding a little boy named Hillary. I laugh to myself at the inconsistency of his name to his gender. He perches in a stroller facing me. He accepts each spoonful, but a tongue thrust seems to expel most of it. I persevere, and after awhile he turns his head away as though full, even though I wonder if the bowl is any emptier than when I started. I ask a mama if he has eaten enough. She scoops him from the stroller and settles him into my arms, directing me to keep trying. I cradle him as lyrics ebb and flow around us:
While we walk the pilgrim pathway
Clouds will overspread the sky
But when travlin’ days are over
Not a shadow, not a sigh
When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory
(lyrics by Brad Paisley)
Gazing into Hillary’s warm brown eyes, the song sinks into my soul and I imagine myself there with him, after our traveling days are over. He stands tall and straight. He runs and dances, and I just watch and laugh.
There in the moaning and groaning, in the bent and broken bodies and minds of abandoned disabled orphans in Kenya, I hold little Hillary and yearn with all my being for the coming day when every wrong will finally be made right. I long for the Beautiful One as never before. And I realize the peace sinking into my heart feels like Him. He is already here. Somehow in this strange juxtaposition of nightmare and elation, He is here. Here in the cracks.
Surprised, I recognize Him again in the courtyard of the memory care facility.
Maybe, just maybe, I’m finally starting to understand. There’s this upside-down theme emerging: wherever suffering is most acute, the longing for traveling days to end most intense, He seems to linger there…
Honestly, I’m still so confused about it all. But I am noticing, consistently, wherever I am in the world, I seem to find Him there, most present, in the cracks…
* names changed