Every school, every kids program, neighborhood… what have you, has “that child”. The kid that is quiet and doesn’t command attention… but has a heart that seems different from others; a different way of showing kindness and gentleness and sincerity among other beautiful qualities. We have a few of those children here on our programs. At first they don’t stand out because the raging extroverts (and we love our extroverts too) overshadow them in the beginning. After a few classes together you know their faces, then after the first few weeks you start to know their personality.
Gloria, a first grader at Un Jour Nouveau Academy was such a child. She was tiny. Very tiny. Her cheeks were big and so cute, though a lot of kids made fun of her for them. Her smile was full of light. She was Lauren’s favorite kid… she was a lot of people favorite. So, so smart.
She had been sick for about a month off and on. Yesterday she came to school and sounded horrible. The raspy sound that escaped her mouth with every breath made my chest tired just listening to it. She said she didn’t feel good. Poor baby, we could all see that. I hugged her, told her it would be ok and prayed for her. That afternoon when she left with her parents I gave her a hug and told her how smart and beautiful she was. She smiled and her eyes lit up.
Gloria in dance class.
This morning we heard she was in the hospital so we decided we would go visit and pray for her after school. Not even 5 minutes later we were told she died in the hospital.
“…true joy is often hidden in the midst of our sorrow, and that the dance of life finds its beginnings in grief.” – Henri Nouwen
How is it possible for a heart to go so numb in such an instant? Numb with pain yes, but the disbelief… that almost makes it harder. We rushed to the hospital. At the hospital, we prayed over her. Her sweet, peaceful lifeless body. As Lauren and walked back to the car hand in hand, our faces stoic fighting back the fresh tears waiting to spill and cheeks stale with dried tears, all I could hear were the comments about the “Wazungu” (plural for white people/foreigners)… I just wondered, when they see us, do they see our broken heart, too? When they see the teachers walking with us and to them they may just be some locals walking behind us. Can they see their broken hearts? Can people see our hearts hurt? The pain is so real that it feels impossible someone could look at me and not see it. I feel like I wear it on the outside of my clothes.
But I’ve turned that question back on myself. When things in life are great and I’m having a great day OR even when I’m grumpy and I’m looking at everything and everyone with a critical eye, how many people cross my path who are suffering from a broken heart? How much easier would it be to show compassion and love if we could visibly see the condition of the heart? I guess that’s why we should do it anyway. Show compassion and love and kindness and gentleness and joy and hope and affirmation… even when life is great, who doesn’t want that in their life? So often I become so wrapped up with myself and my struggles that I miss the opportunity to help someone else.
But, still I go back to what I know. I know that in this world, no matter where I live, death and pain exist. I can’t let that be the story I carry and I don’t want to be the girl that says one thing on her blog and lives an entirely different life. Even in the hardest times, I want to choose Joy. I must. Without joy, the pain would consume me. Without joy I wouldn’t have the strength to pray for others. I started reading Here and Now by Henri Nouwen in July. It’s changed my perspective on joy even more and helped me for moments like these.
“But hope is something other than wishes, and joy is something other than happiness” – Henri Nouwen
This hope I live for is not in something material, it’s for the joy I believe is coming for eternity. Please pray for Un Jour Nouveau, for our staff, for the kids here… for our hearts to not be hardened in this pain. Today we will go back to Gloria’s house together (all staff) to pray and show our support. We all continue to choose to joy.
That was yesterday… this morning we went to the house for the mourning. How can I possibly describe this atmosphere… what it feels like to sit in a 7’x12’ room with 25 other women on the floor and mourn? The heat. The tangible sadness. The amazingly colorful African clothes are a direct contradiction to the somber faces covered with tears. the sound of a mother wailing at the loss of her baby.
Gloria on the right, with her arms crossed, waiting patiently with a smile for English class to start. These kids are so, so fun! So smart!
When Gloria’s mom saw me she started to wail again: “You are here, you came back. my baby is gone. my baby Gloria is gone” I told her that all of UJN* came as a staff to show her how much we loved Gloria and how much we love her family. Clarissa, the director of the school, came a few minutes later and again reassured her we were all here to give her family our support. Mama Gloria asked us to stay with her, so we both crawled down on the floor and sat next to her as she showed us pictures of Gloria’s past birthday… still asking us how this was possible.
The questions that come freely from her mouth in between sobs and gasps for air… there are no answers for why? There are only prayers of peace and the occasional song in Swahili.
“Hata milele, Yesu ni bwana” (also in Heaven, Jesus is Lord).
“Sifa bwana. Alleluia. Sifa bwana. Amen. Alleluia, amen” (Glory to God. Alleluia. Glory to God. Amen)
When the singing started, it was one of the most beautiful sounds I’d ever heard (and singing here is regularly amazing). It was a much older woman outside (probably about 70-90 people where outside) who started the song. She sang the first line of the song and every one joined in on the chorus; my body was covered with chills. It was so angelic. I wished I had a recording of just the audio for that moment… I feel like it gave me a fraction of a percent of how beautiful it will sound in heaven. Such simple words sung over and over again in unison and a mix of melodies and harmonies that can’t help but cover you with joy and peace. Even in the most tragic of situations.
Tomorrow, all of our staff and many of the members of our church will go to the funeral to bury this beautiful baby girl who died – from our viewpoint – way too soon. In the past 24 hours, Baby Gloria has died, my great-aunt Gloria has died, papa Jean-Paul’s (director of programs) brother in law and papa Pascal (also staff) lost a family member. It feels like we have been surrounded by death. This too will pass.
Choosing joy with much love from Congo,
*The staff at UJN never ceases to amaze me. Staff that didn’t even work for the school, who didn’t even know Gloria…they selflessly sit outside in the heat for hours on a Saturday to show support as a unified organization for a family many of them didn’t even know. Tomorrow, staff and many church members will go together to the funeral to and have all put money together to give a gift to the family. I’m so proud to say “Mina tumikaka APA!!” (I work here!)