68 in 25; Week Ten – Voice

April 5, 2012 § 2 Comments

Our voice is powerful, powerful in what it can do, not do, and undo. It can be as much an engineer of clarity and union and strength and transcendent meaning, as it can be lazy and aggressive, divide us, feed the ego it’s dissolving meal, and leave us weak and broken.

The quest to purify our own voice is no different than it’s ever been. Spend a lifetime learning yourself, identifying what you really need, and you’ll learn to speak bravely in the hunt and capture. Learn compassion in the way you communicate your needs, the way you listen and feel for the needs of others, and learn to give and take for the sake of both, and two extraordinary things will happen:

You’ll get more than you ever thought you needed, and you’ll need less than you ever thought you would.

As if encompassing clarity in our own voice isn’t difficult enough, there’s a new dimension to the challenge in this world of explosive interconnection. We’re linked more visibly, instantly, inextricably than we’ve ever been before, and our one voice joins a second voice, a collective one, at unprecedented ease. Governments can topple in a weekend, in a week a video can flash in more eyes than the population of Japan, and our rush to react can be as giant as our vanish and vacancy. For every colossal ounce of shape-shifting potential this lends, there is massive fragility in our speed.

Fifty years ago, Charlie Brown was on the cover of Time Magazine, Andy Warhol debuted the Cambell’s Soup Cans, Cuba and the Soviet Union signed a trade pact, Nelson Mandela was arrested for ‘inciting rebellion,’ John F. Kennedy announced his aim to put a man on the moon, the Beatles found Ringo, Dylan went electric, the Vietnam War was smaller than a fist on the horizon, and whispers of a personal computer began a skeptical stir. The world was no less confusing, arousing, conflicted, lost, or found as it is now. But now, something new and especially dangerous happens, we confuse the expression of action as action itself. We confuse clicking, ‘liking,’ voting, tweeting, talking, debating and watching and waiting, as enough. But it’s not. It’s the beginning of a story, so many stories, so much potential, but just scattered beginnings.  We’re losing the art of writing whole stories, stories round with body, resolution and endings.

Our challenge this week, in this long-drawn campaign to live more thoughtfully and compassionately, is to recognize our powers of voice: our speaking voice, our collective powers, and above all – the soundless, echoing voice of our real action. In speaking and projecting, both in vocal chords and megabites, be slow and mindful. Make room for your needs as much as you make room for the needs of others. And, lastly, of utmost importance, don’t die full of beautiful intentions and hope for change, make something real. It is as much a doorway, as it is your responsibility.

I set the goal a few weeks ago to find100 people of the thousands who read to support me in form of an act; to part with $12 per month and by sponsoring one these awe-inspiring children in their quest to have a voice; to lead and be heard. Since that day, 33 caring people have stepped up, which means I need 68 more, in less than 25 days.

I need you; your act. And I’ve made it as simple as it can be:

Send me an email, a facebook message, or a pigeon (brian@flyingkites.org),and paste this sentence in the body:

“I’d like to forever change the course of another’s life.”

It’s that easy, and it’s real.

Thank you for caring enough to read, and for some of you – for staying with me all this time.

Love,

Brian

Eunice was just eight years old when she was ushered with her older brother into a children’s home in a Nairobi slum area called Kayole. The home was horrendously overcrowded with orphaned children, near 300, without adult supervision past 7 p.m. Food was scarce, abuse was unbridled, and her older brother spent his nights sleepless, defending Eunice from the abuse that plagued the home. When her brother, whose name is Francis, reached to Flying Kites for help, we were honored to welcome them into our home.

Since then, only a year and a half ago, Eunice has climbed from last in her class to number eight out of twenty one. Despite the depths to which her young life has taken her, she remains resiliently open to great joy and it never ceases to amaze us.

Eunice is fearless but never foolish, a characteristic that has gained her equal harmony between the boys and the girls in the house. She is a precocious young girl who is both humble and full of fire. Eunice has a flair for making funny faces, playing card games, and just like her older brother, a gift for dancing, rapping, and writing poetry. There is a depth to Eunice that gives her a presence that belies her young years and enables her to connect with both children and adults in an incredible way. Eunice has a laugh that can instantly cast a bright light over an entire room. To see her and her brother arm in arm together is melting, and the echoes of their laughter and the inspiration they gain from one another is as definitive of love and conquering as anything.

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Week Eight : Action : What Would You Wish?

January 6, 2012 § 3 Comments

Week Seven: Mindfulness

November 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

I read a story about a woman who collected rare books and original works of art and treasures from a life of world travels.  Her house was a museum; her soul exhibition. Then a forest fire came, swept the gilded mountainside, and swallowed everything.

And of all the priceless artifacts, what remained?

Only the things she gave to others.

 “This,” she said, “was her lesson in nonattachment and the virtue of open-handed generosity.”

For it’s simplicity and inherent wisdom, I love this story.  In my life here, there are few constants.  In fact, it feels often that there are only two.  There are forest fires and there is the beauty of what remains.  Or, in less poetic terms, there is endless change and challenge, and thus endless opportunities to unearth boundless meaning and enlightenment.

It’s not hard to find people here or anywhere in this world who have at one point lost everything.  And I mean everything.  Then of equal wonder, there is another course of emptying; there are those who willingly and lovingly give all they have away.  They are immensely dissimilar courses, as different as something being taken is from something given away.  But reader, if there is one thing I have learned from this place, it is that we are destined to be thrust open, ever-more deeply!  By force or by choice, it is our destiny to learn to let go.  And in doing so we learn to separate what one day wash away, from what will endlessly remain.  Or, as Rumi said,  “If you are in love with the infinite, why grieve over earth washing away in the rain?”

“Of all you see, only love is infinite.”

Wisdom is the horizon my friend; there is no time to waste!  The tingle pouring from the crown of your scalp, the one galloping down your spine, that’s the vehicle which will carry us.

Since I last wrote, Kenya has engaged in war, my hair has grown longer, food prices have exploded like a stop-motion film, and between theft and surgery and biblical rains, this recent chapter has been something I imagine sea captains write their wives about.  But like yogis and sea captains alike, every flow has it’s ebb.  And I’m finally in a place to breathe and be thankful for the lessons left gleaming in the wake.

Angie is here, gardening gorgeous dreams and inspiring a whole new sense of family.  And by her lead, a whole new cast of inspired sculptors are here lending their strong hearts, hands, and wings.  Julianna is missed deeply and daily, though we smile knowing she is home building our bright future.  And the children!  The children are as fit as I’ve ever known them, academically, physically, emotionally.  Imagine twenty-six feather-weight fighters on the road to glory!  Pink gloves, sharpened pencils and pearly whites.

But here’s the kicker, we as Flying Kites need help.  Everyone who reads this blog or browses our website sends the most gorgeous words of encouragement and invest great hope in the value of such equitable work, but less than two percent actually do something tangible to make it grow.  So I’m appealing to you today, with all the energy I have.  It will take more than a wish to make us live.  It will take an act.  So for me, or for whatever reason you chose, take thirty seconds to give five dollars, even ten.  Make a wish a reality.  Just click.

We have more lives to learn from and to change.  So with a pure heart, let’s plunge into the present.  I am looking into eyes that could jump a car.

Chapter 1:  Mummbi (Moo-m-bee)

Mummbi’s fingers dive through one another like dolphins towing leashes of warm yellow yarn.  She’s knitting a scarf, narrating a tale of tragedy and redemption and ceaseless substance.  She speaks of it all like weather; like water sculpting rocks.  She is a grandmother of similar composition; water and sculpted rocks.

“When they came, I grabbed only one thing.”  Her hands locked in a pause and her eyes flicked up. “I grabbed a thermos full of hot tea.  And then we ran.”  She hung like a picture frame in that moment, like the event was projecting on the wall behind me, then she kick-started her fingers and resumed the dolphin dance. “I knew with this I’d have something for the baby.  But that was it, three of my eight children, my grandchild, my husband, and a thermos of milk.”

They burned everything.  But neither flames or screams consumed Mummbi the way worry for her five missing children did.  I’d love to tell you that she found them.  But she didn’t find them all.  News of some came from friends; news of others came from the morgue.

It was a tribal war, so it didn’t matter what kind of person you were.  It mattered only what kind of person you were.  So they ran to their kind, to the Kikuyu Highlands, where a Red Cross IDP camp was filling like a teacup in a field of rain.

“The moment we arrived, we were separated.”  There were halls for women; halls for men, for children, for the sick and halls for the elderly.  For two weeks she was frozen here, without anyone or anything besides a bed to try and sleep in.  She did not know whether her missing children were dead or alive.  She didn’t know when she would reunite with her family in the camp; she didn’t know what they would do from here; where they would go; how anything could ever be anything again.

She said, “I begged them to let me stay with my daughter who has epilepsy, but they could only allow me to see her when she was having a seizure.  So in a strange way I was hanging to the hope that I might get to see her.  That felt like all I had.”

“This was the lowest place I’d ever known.”

Then something extraordinary happened.  A single friendship.  And from this a single act of profound generosity.  And from here, eventually, the beginnings of redemption.  But how and where?  So much has been lost.

Wisdom is the horizon!  Stay with me!

Chapter 2:  Mwangi

His hands are clasped on his stacked knee, legs crossed, and his broad smile is tucked neatly beneath his bowing forehead, like a pocket-watch in a winter coat.  What he could say is that he dug holes to put himself through school.  That for two cents a hole, he worked hard from the moment the bell rang until the sun bruised itself purple.  And when the final exam came (the equivalent of SAT’s), he could say ‘I didn’t have the 4,500 shillings ($45) to enter the room, so I had to spend the entire year to come just digging and washing and hustling, playing teacher and student in the evenings, until the opportunity came again.’  And what he could say is ‘that test finally came, and I earned every ounce of question and every right answer on it.’  But all that humble Mwangi says is, “I worked hard to put myself through school.”

His dream was to make it to college and someday hold a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management.   So with his hard earned high-school diploma, he set off to find work, to save money, to once again put himself through school.  He took a job with a company called Spring Box, making plastic bottle tops in a plastic bottle factory.  “At first I was excited!  True. I was making 200 shillings ($2) a day, and it took time before I realized I could never really live on such an amount.  Then I met a girl on a bus, and we fell in love.  And I didn’t even have enough money to take her out.  So I started working much harder.”

He stopped eating lunch, started working fourteen hour nightshifts, and he jumped on so much overtime he typically worked all but two or three days a month. “I realized I was going nowhere in the company, but I was grateful to be able to work as hard as I wanted to.  I knew I was learning important new skills, so I focused on those things.  I was pursuing my dream.”

Mwangi saved enough money to pay the dowry for his bride and left Spring Box.  And while there wasn’t enough for the management course or much to start a life alone on, the couple came up with a plan.  They’d moved into Mwangi’s parent’s house, Mwangi would return to odd-jobs, they’d invest the money they had, and they’d began saving for the future; a future which was already growing in the belly of mom.

Now, reader, the fire sparks.  Mwangi’s step-sister started taking drugs a long time before this and after five years of having neither seen or heard from her, they too got a call from the morgue.  And only a few short days later, her young son stood cold at the family’s door.  So they took him in and loved him as their own.  At this very same time, Mwangi’s father’s condition worsened.  He’d suffered from a spinal disorder all his life, but support from a loan group kept him ahead of his medical bills.  Until, it didn’t.  Until he defaulted on a hefty loan.

Mwangi looks down at his knuckles, his breath shortens, and his eyes are swelling.  Like Muumbi, the film is reeling.  “It was brutal,” he said softly, “There were no negotiations.  They came and took our land by force.  I had 1,600 shillings ($16) in my pocket and I was afraid for my life and for my family.  Everything we’d started to build was taken.”

“It felt like all of the sudden, everything was gone.  I was in a town called Njabini, in a one room apartment with my pregnant wife and my orphaned nephew.  All we had was a single bed in the middle of the room, a bag of porridge flour, a bag of rice, and two cans of charcoal.  Not a coin in my pocket, and  I can cry thinking about that day even now.  I will always remember that day.”

Reader, this is thankfully not the end of the story, but it’s also not the end of the trial.  The food ran out.  And the pains of being hungry are nothing compared to the pains of knowing your pregnant wife and your unborn baby are hungry.  But once again, as we will soon find, a single friendship and a single act of generosity will snap like a key through a bolt, and a course of unimaginable redemption for both Muumbi and Mwangi will converge.

And an opportunity for us to join their story will come.

For now, my friend, this is where I must leave you.  I hope light is crashing all around you and you blanketed in gratitude for all the freedoms you have; for how totally limitless you really are.  Give love today with unguarded faith and receive it wholly and mindfully.  Every drop makes for a bucket more full.

This week’s focus is the practice of mindfulness, the practice of “using our mental energies more kindly and productively.”  It is a way, by non-judgment and self-reflection, to become more harmonious with the fullness of each living moment.

Let today be enough.  Let today be full.   Make an orphanage in Kenya grow.

Love is Infinite!

Brian

Week Six: Open Your Eyes

September 3, 2011 § 4 Comments

Week Five: Empathy

August 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

YOU!  Yes YOU, reading this!

I am watching tears fall like an April windowpane from two eyes that could not be more deserving.  This elation; this equity is in bloom because of YOU. Kadogo is sitting in a worn navy dress; her soft face is buried in her hands, and she is gasping for air, gazing in intervals toward the ceiling.  Her life has been forever changed today, simply because a handful of people cared enough to sacrifice for the betterment of another.  I am blessed to be the translator of this extraordinary, human togetherness.

She used the corner of a sweater sleeve to wipe her wet lips, saying “Do you know what you have done?  My goal for almost all my life until now has just been to have a small farm, and a good house; something to share with my children.  And now, for the first time, it’s like a light has been shined on this part of the path.  It feels as though I have been pregnant for so long, and just now I gave birth.  It’s very painful, childbirth, but when you have a baby, it’s like you are on another stage of Earth.  Nothing else can say how I feel.”

“To you who did this, you will never be forgotten in my heart.

We will continue following the lives we touch mighty lover.  In five weeks, we’ve altered the course of ten lives, at least, all through mothers, all sustainably and lovingly; all through simple acts of compassion.   Think about how simply we can change lives on the other side of the planet.  In a matter of seconds, we can touch someone nine thousand miles away.  I could dance for this, but you’ve heard plenty of my fireworks.  Let’s just dig our hearts into the next.

The Art of Opening:

In Kiswahili, the word Susu (pronounced ‘Sho Sho’) means grandmother.   This term is extended not just relatives by blood, but rather as an endearing name for women of elder wisdom and value.  A clever young person can collect many of these guide-lights, but inevitably a few shine with particular resonance. The one sitting with me now is without question one of the most inspiring I know.  So for today we will call her by this name, Susu.

When you touch Susu’s hand you can feel the whole Earth; soil, rain, splinters, thorns and new growth.  They are as worn and cracked as an elephant hide; strong as an axe handle.  And with everything she says, they are her paintbrush.

Today, she is wrapped in dirty neons, pink and green; all flowers.  Her eyes explode at the corners like sunrays; her beautiful wrinkles pinch closely together like hands in prayer.  She is showing me her knees, how they are swollen from carrying firewood; then she asked me for water to sweep down her pain medication.  I don’t know if I have ever met someone who alone could aptly compose a coffee table book.  Her memory is incredibly articulate and her sense of humor is wry.  But most of all, she is a mountain of sacrifice and compassion.

This is why.

Susu saved a life.  And in doing so, she saved her own.  This is what I’ve learned true love to be, when you don’t know who saved who.

Let’s start at the beginning; Christmas morning, 1943.  This is the day Susu was born in the Rift Valley.  To make a long story short, she was ‘relocated’ to the Central Province (where we are now) during the Colonial Era, went to a Catholic school, and eventually became a teacher.  Then one day, she was ‘chosen.’

In her tribe, in most tribes actually, this is how it worked.  A man spotted an attractive woman, elders were sent to arrange the marriage, and life suddenly wasn’t yours for the planning.  “Next thing I knew,” she explains with a smile, “I lived in this grass thatched house with a man I had never spoken a word with.  Not one word.”  

It was traumatizing,” she said.

Now, I have to mention something about Susu.  She is wildly hilarious, and a salty bird at that.  So when you show clear empathy or a certain depth of vulnerable emotion, she takes you down with laughter.

She said, “When you’re young you think you know what being married is like.  And during the day, I did know what being married looked like. I’d seen that before.”  A smile is breaking across her face.  “But then night came.  And I was like, ‘what is this thing?!”

Susu spoke endearingly of her husband’s qualities, his kindness and understanding, but she likewise admitted that she never did love him the way she knows love can be between two people.  He was an orphan and a cattle herder; gone almost every day.  Beyond this, he was nearly as quiet as their relationship prior to marriage; spend most of his life in his head.  She took care of him as a wife here is expected to, and she found great meaning in this act.

But then came the 17th of November, a long time later; the day everything changed.

“I kept having the same dream, for almost three weeks.  It was so real I would wake up and touch my stomach to see.  I was pregnant in my dream.  And somehow I knew it was a baby girl.  I could feel her.  I told my friends, and at my age they would laugh at me, so hard.”

This particular November 17th was a Sunday, a sunny one.  Susu woke up early to pull vegetables from the garden before church.

“I remember it so clearly.  I pulled carrots and filled my basket, changed into my Sunday clothes and left.  I went to church and left early to sell my produce in the market.  When I got their, I saw one of my friends stacking her potatoes. We started talking and she told me that she heard people talking about a baby girl found by the river; that the baby had been abandoned, no more than a half-day old, and she’d been taken to a clinic; no one was claiming her.”

“I wasn’t even thinking.  It was like I could feel her.  I just left my things and started walking.” 

A police officer and a doctor stood above a small table, displaying the baby.  She was naked, not yet cleaned from birth, crying and jolting.  The police officer and doctor raised their heads in surprise as Susu walked straight up to the baby girl and picked her up.

“I saw her laying there naked and I went straight to her.  The policeman said ‘what are you doing,’ and I said ‘she is mine.’  It was instinct.  I still can’t believe I did it.  I just tucked her beneath my sweater, and the policeman said I would need to come to the police station.”

The policeman knew this was not her child; everyone in the station knew this.  But without her, what would come of this precious life?  So they just followed procedure, as if she had collected a child that wandered off while she sold carrots to the brightly dressed dressed churchgoers.  This is how Susu saved a life.

She’s smiling again, clearly building up again for something in the face of my defenseless awe.  She said “Can you imagine what happened when I went home?!”

My husband was sitting in a chair in the corner.  He said ‘where did you get that?’  And I said, ‘I did not wish to disturb you, but I have been pregnant. And just now, I went to the clinic and had the baby.  So, we have a baby girl now.”

“And, let me tell you something, he believed me.

She is laughing so hard she is crying.  It’s like she still can’t believe it worked.  “He’d seen me bathe, and still he believed me!”

They agreed to name the baby after his mother, Njeri, meaning ‘ever happy.’

 For Susu, Njeri became an anchor of meaningful sacrifice.  She describes Njeri’s presence in her life beautifully in these few sentences.

“To me, Njeri is the embodiment of total peace; my utmost purpose of living.  Caring for her feels better than caring for myself.”

“I’ve spent my life working hard for her to have a great life; to have her own bed and become whatever she wishes to become.  I will die loving her.  And I am thankful for this.”

Now imagine this is you.  One day you are sitting in a grass thatched hut with a miracle baby from the river and a not-so-talkative man.  Njeri is four months old and you are rocking her in a chair, trying to make conversation.  And for some reason you uncage the truth.

I imagine the air was frozen in some way, handing like an icicle until it broke.  He spoke; said “well, she’s ours now. Yours and mine.”  And that was it.

Believe it or not reader, this brought them together.  Susu and her husband shared purpose.  But sadly, not for long.  Susu’s husband, we’ll call him Guka, died.

Susu started to cry when she told me this; the kind of cry that catches you off balance.  She describes:

“He walked to her bed and shook her hand and said ‘Njeri, you are my mother.  And I am going now.’”  Susu pauses to whisk tears from her eyelash. “and then he said ’You will be left to carry the peace.’  And that night he died.  I haven’t said those words out loud in a long time.”

Suddenly Susu was the sole provider.  Her income came from chopping logs, tying them to her head in unimaginable bundles, and hiking them a few miles to town; all for around forty cents per day.

But, because of Njeri and her instinct, she was not alone.

Njeri is now ten years old.  She is a living miracle and beautiful in every way.  I hope, in fact, she reads this someday.  This is how Susu described Njeri and all she has become today.

One day Njeri asked me if she could separate a small portion of the farm to work herself and sell the yield for her own income, so she can buy her own handkerchiefs and cookies.  I decided to let her, and now when I go to the market with my many heavy bags of potatoes, she drags her own small sack behind.  She sells them beside me at the market and shows me the money in her pocket.  Whenever we do okay for the day, she tells me that when I get old, she’ll use her money to raise cows so that I can drink milk with every meal if I want.”

She is like Susu; hard working and selfless and adorable.  But unlike Susu, she is of a new generation.  She is encouraged to dream magnificent heights and has a huge support network in her pursuit of them.  Njeri is a student at Flying Kites Leadership Academy, and in result Susu has asked us to make a promise; a promise to care for Njeri when Susu leaves this life.

Flying Kites has humbly made this promise.

Today, Susu still carries firewood every day, farming when she’s not chopping.  This is why her knees are swollen and he hands are their own coarse geography.

They need a help reader.  So this week, my goal is to encourage small sacrifice for their wellbeing.  Susu insists that she would get Njeri to the potential of college, but after this, it will be beyond her.  So she’s asked simply for help opening a college savings account for this miracle child.  Susu has never had a bank account in her life.

It is my hope to surprise her, as we did Kadogo, by putting something in this account to support her inspiring sacrifice; something to signify that the future of both these beautiful people is of great value to us.

I propose a goal of $1000.  If Njeri gets into the University of Nairobi someday, this will get her one semester.

Saving Njeri was not an act of compassion, reader; it was an extreme act of compassion.  And while it is not likely you will find a naked baby lying on the path today, there is an immense opportunity born from this.

Empathy is the core practice and lesson for this week, week five of our fourteen week study.  Empathy is the expanding of our sympathies; an opening to another’s sorrow and pain.

How often do we grow annoyed by someone’s bad mood, instead of actively work to listen and repair?  How often to we avoid the grief of others – the coworker, the frustrating friend, or the homeless man outside the grocery store – opposed to actively alleviate suffering?

For those engaged in our quest for self-improvement, this week is solely dedicated to opening more wholly to the cries and callings all around us; to understanding people’s unhappiness and creatively formulating one small act to relieve it.  That’s it.       

Start with Njeri.  Tell a child left for dead that you believe in the immense potential and purpose of her life.  Give $1; it’s a symbol.

Limitless Love,

Brian

Welcome Flying Kites ‘Blue Gum House;’ a gift from my Susu and Guka, Barry and Carole.  Watching them first climb the stairs and poke their heads into this magical little world will forever shine in my frame of mind.  Thank you Grandma and Grandpa.  I love you.

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