That afternoon I sat in your office seemed like so many other hot afternoons there. In the light filtered through blinds, I gazed around at all the worn books and weathered photos. They stared back at me, offering memories and deep nostalgia of times that held no less confusion in other ways, but definite familiarity.
“What’s up?” you asked. The place smelled exactly like it always had, cigars and day old coffee. You leaned back in your chair, casually as if you had no agenda.
I started to tell you about the kids I worked with, just a mile down the road. I told you about how tired I was. This was nothing new to you. You’d probably seen it a hundred times or more. All the things you had tried to teach us about the world and fighting for it, well I was holding onto those, and still I was drowning. I had left you the year before, thinking I knew it all, wanting to get my hands and feet dirty in injustice. You used to talk about this “splagma” of the soul. Jesus had it, you said, this movement in the bowels towards compassion.
I didn’t realize I was an activist till I had already become one. But, that day, I sat, both full of this “splagma” and my own pain and I looked at you not knowing what to say. All those dreams you had told me to chase and the fight to win, well they seemed so far off now. Everything I was doing felt like just a drop in the bucket of tragedy.
The summer before, I had begun working on a four foot painting of a quote that had hung in Mother Theresa’s Shushu Bhavan Children’s Home in Calcutta, India. Every day after leaving children’s voices, I traced the letters over and over, as if to imprint them into my own skin for both our sakes. Love them anyway. Build anyway. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
I took a lot of baths that July, sought out places of water as if it were my mission in life. When I submerged each time, it was as if the stillness drowned out the chaos of the world. When I was younger, my sister and I used to practice speaking underwater. She would yell and I would try to interpret whatever it was she had so eloquently bellowed. I found some sort of laughter in the ridiculousness of it all then. That summer, those underwater screams became prayerful wails; the water, a sanctuary. And, I hoped that God would understand those cries in ways I had never been able to do for my sister, in ways I could never do for the world. Maybe in ways I had never been able to do for myself.
I stepped into this work, and it felt like falling down a deep hole. I can only compare it to love, and then heartache. People call that “falling in love.” Is it really falling? Or, is it simply discovering those deepest places of connection that feel so natural they don’t feel chosen at all? You feel as as if you have been chosen. Then you realize your choice in the matter. You get to say, despite the pain and heartache, I will still choose you. Out of all the rest, you are the one I choose. I want to have the kind of commitment that it takes to stay and hold hands here, in all of our imperfections, yours and mine.
Five years later, I sit with tea in my hand, this symbol of grief as I slowly sip and remember. These same questions turning over and over. You have just sent me an email about continuing the work, imperfectly and wherever it might be. We fight every day with small acts of great love. One drop will eventually tip the bucket. And, the water will rain down. And, when it does, I want to be beneath it.