I’ve started to write this month’s column over and over again. I’ve written a sentence, erased a sentence, retyped the same sentence, only to erase it all over again. What to write that can be spoken in only a few hundred words? What I really want is to sit down with my readers, look them in the eye and tell them that this life is so precious, so fragile, and beautiful yet broken all at the same time.
I met him last July. His big, brown eyes stared at mine from across the conference center. He was all of one year old plus a couple of months. I scooped him into my American arms, him being the first African baby I’d ever held. Our differences were obvious, with his dark skin against my light. His tired mom passed a small bag to me, as I promised to hold her baby during the three-day marriage conference. “Just enjoy your time here,” I whispered.
Our hearts melded together, two moms, raising kids oceans apart, but with hearts instantly knit together in a moment of shared motherhood. The conference lasted three days, and during multiple sessions, her boy was in my arms. I held him for hours each day, coaxing him to be quiet with Dum Dum lollipops and taking him outside of the open-air pavilion when being quiet simply wasn’t an option.
She sat through marriage sessions in a country where men pay for their wives via an antiquated dowry system. She was one of those women. Her husband bought her for $1,000 from uncles who required the traditional dowry. If I went all the way across the ocean to hold her baby for those days, it would have been enough of a trip for me. To know that she was hearing ideas about marriage that crosses cultural boundaries and raises up a new generation who refuse to sell their daughters into marriage, it felt worth it. So many times as I held her brown-eyed boy, I prayed that he would never have to purchase his wife, that a willing father would say yes with no monetary strings attached.
But New Year’s Eve day, as my family sat down for lunch, a phone call came that took me back to our summertime mission trip to Africa in a heart-wrenching, unexpected way. Mom and baby had passed away in a bus wreck on the chaotic streets of Nairobi, Kenya. The double decker, over-crowded bus had slammed into an 18-wheeler, killing 36 people because of a supposed brake failure. My heart screamed as I sat down on the middle of my bathroom floor, trying to regain my composure before telling my kids why I had hurriedly walked out of the room.
His mom and I were friends in the most unexpected of ways, forming a bond. Our hearts had remained intertwined over the love of her boy. Since returning from our trip, we had emailed back and forth. I always imagined returning one day, and his little feet would hopefully run toward me as they once did.
This life is too short. As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “Life is fleeting, like a passing mist. It is like trying to catch hold of a breath.”
So we spend our lives trying to catch hold of something that can not ever truly be caught. But there is today. We can only enjoy the fleetingness of these moments and try to hold onto the memories of good times. I preach it to myself over and over again. Enjoy this day. Enjoy this moment. Take more pictures. Make more memories. Don’t get lost in what you don’t have, but treasure what you do.
And if the people you love are with you, hold them as tight as you can. Love as hard as you can. Pray with them. Talk with them. Laugh with them. Smile across the room at them for no reason at all. Be thankful for today. Because this beautiful mist of life can never be caught, but it can always be cherished.