“The universe is a big place, perhaps the biggest.”
— Kurt Vonnegut
Forget the universe for now—the earth is still a big place.
Despite airplanes and the Internet—the ability of the body to explore far-flung places and the capacity of the mind, through its ideas, to commute long distances—there are billions of people I’ll never meet. Billions more mammals, birds, fish, insects, trees, flowers, mosses, rocks—in fact, most of what exists—will remain anonymous.
As I begin this blog, my hope is to connect with others and make the world a little smaller. Still, I realize that besides the volume of words, images, and ideas out there competing for attention, there are so many people who live outside the bubble of our developed world.
For instance, Jeanette Kantegwa, one of my ‘sisters’ that I’ve sponsored through Women for Women, is not likely to discover this blog anytime soon. She lives in Rwanda as a single mother raising not only her own but her deceased sister’s child and caring for her mother.
Rwanda is a land of women (about 70% of the population now), in the company of orphans turned young adults, together rebuilding a country following a brutal war.
Jeanette has no electricity and lives in what she describes as a hut. In a letter to me earlier this year, when she learned that I don’t have children, she said, “I will be praying for you,” per the translation from her native Kinyarwanda. Do you know how humbling it is to be prayed for by someone who has survived genocide?
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I chose not to have children, that there are too many people vying for resources, and that I hoped that by not having children there would be more in the future for the children of others.
Instead I sent her children one of the few things that can be mailed in a letter without causing customs issues, glittery stickers. The gesture seemed so inadequate.
Jeannette with her Mother & children
In America, we tend to see poverty only as dollars and cents, but to Jeanette, who knows that poverty well, bringing forth life in a country that has known so much death is its own richness.
Admittedly, there does seem to be too many people on the planet. We’re all like one, enormous herd of deer overgrazing our refuge, looking around, wondering what to do next, locking antlers over what remains.
Rwanda itself is one of the most heavily populated African nations, with 10 million people clustered, still nervously, on a parcel of land slightly smaller than Maryland.
But. Doesn’t the world need more people who can care about a stranger they’ll likely never meet, people who somehow manage to give more than it seems they have? Okay, that’s not a rhetorical question—of course we need more like Jeannette. Those who love, should be able to bring children into that love, because the world needs that soooooo much.
I realize now that my wealth is in the form of choice. In the developed world, what we have in spades is choice—just look at any cereal aisle in the grocery store. Apparently that is the one place we fully embrace diversity.
While Jeanette’s choices are far more limited than mine, she is choosing how she responds to the life in front of her.
Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote, “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose ones attitude in any given circumstance.”
When you consider that some of Rwanda’s children are the product of war (rape is a very personal weapon of mass destruction), the choice to love and nurture a life tinged by someone else’s hateful act is a kind of quiet heroism rarely acknowledged.
When I first considered writing a blog, the idea seemed way too self-indulgent. What makes make me so special that anyone should take the time to read what I write? Shouldn’t I be doing more to make the world better in some way? Isn’t blog-writing no more than navel-gazing in public?
The answers: No, I’m not special. Yes, there must be more I can do. Maybe blogging is too self-reflective. But maybe, like the Little Drummer Boy who’s been tapping away on the radio all December, the only gift I can bring to the party is my ability to be a witness who can write.
So, here we are. This blog is an invitation to you to join in looking around the world we share. Find find beauty in unlikely places. Pay attention and be mindful. Learn to live with loss and with joy every day.
Let's each make conscious choices about where our paths leads. Okay?