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!