pristine and blue
muddled and foggy and overall cloudy
seasons we can and cannot drive away
simple to do
hard to see through
but able to chase all the cloudy away
passionate zealous and vital we sing
a now-revealed sun and a taste of a moonbeam
our vision not dry
to love and to live
and to sing and to give —
and hard to see through
becomes pristine and blue
as clarity reigns once more.
This poem, “Pristine and Blue,” is one that I wrote during my junior year. I found that while singing with my small choir, I would often find sudden tears in my eyes, for reasons unknown to me. And after my eyes dried again, my vision was clearer. I could see things more sharply – colors, objects, faces. It seems to me that this is also true of the soul –when something unknown causes tears, we are able to see everything around us a little bit like what it was meant to be – saturated with life, filled to overflowing with ripeness and energy.
Buechner says this about tears: “You never know what may cause them, but of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.”
This past weekend some friends and I headed to Debre Zeit, a town south of Addis Ababa that has several lakes and is rife with flowers and nature. This weekend was full of good things that revitalized me – canoeing, fishing attempts (nothing was biting), singing, reading, games, and good conversation by the lake. As I sat one morning on the porch, overlooking beautiful Lake Babogaya through a canopy of flowers, this poem, one I hadn’t thought of in years, came to my mind.
Addis is a very polluted city, and honestly, the city just isn’t pretty. Whenever I minibus across the city to get to the Mother Teresa home, by the time I arrive, I feel queasy from inhaling all the pollution. I’ve heard that on some days in Addis, the pollution damage to one’s lungs is the equivalent of smoking half a pack of cigarettes. Needless to say, after a month in the city, adjusting to working at the Missionaries of Charity and a new country, I felt muddled and foggy and overall cloudy. The pollution has been the hardest adjustment for me. It just makes me sad to see that nature and a beautiful world have been reduced to fumes and ramshackle infrastructure in the name of “development.”
The weekend at Debre Zeit was just what I needed – a few days of fresh, clean air, good company, and beautiful nature. There’s something about nature that doesn’t just make me feel peaceful; it makes me feel like everything in the world is going to be okay. That whatever tragedies and hardships we may face, that there’s beauty left here, and we haven’t wrecked everything. That we can’t wreck everything.
We headed back into Addis Monday afternoon, and as dusk was approaching and I was walking home, I decided to sit on a rock and watch the sunset. The sun was bright as it hit the brown mountain in the distance and continued to disappear from sight. I stared at it for the longest time, watching the mountain as it was bathed in the light of another day’s close. It seemed another indicator – as much as we tend to destroy the beautiful world that has been created for us, light and glory will still reign supreme.
Every day spent at the Missionaries of Charity seems to find me smiling and laughing more and more, making more jokes, kissing more faces, stretching more curled limbs, and having more fun, rather than looking at the dismal things. I find my soul more at peace as every day passes and I can rest in the fact that I am living the faith that I say I believe. It’s funny how Jesus’ words leap off the pages these days and fill me with peace. As Mother Teresa says,
“The fruit of Silence is Prayer.
The fruit of Prayer is Faith.
The fruit of Faith is Love.
The fruit of Love is Service.
The fruit of Service is Peace.”
Today, I decided to go in early and leave early, arriving between 7 and 8 am, and leaving at 12 pm. During the early morning hours at Missionaries of Charity, I used some free time for the kids to do stretching and massaging exercises with the ones that can’t move from their beds. Wondwossen has been teaching me basic physical therapy for handicaps, so I decided to use my recently acquired skills to move some positions for kids and get some circulation running.
As always, some of the kids are fairly compliant to having their arms and legs uncurled, untangled, and stretched out, but some are not. Sisai particularly doesn’t like the exercises. When I started, he looked pretty uncomfortable, but by the time his legs were about halfway-stretched out, he was crying uncontrollably, narrowing his eyes at me and seizing his muscles so I couldn’t move him any more. I waited, and when he regained control of himself, I began slowly moving his legs again. Every time, he cried. Wondwossen said to continue with the exercises even if they cry, because bedsores will hurt worse than physical therapy, and if their limbs aren’t stretched, they’ll lose all muscle tone and bone density completely. They need to be stretched out and massaged, even if it hurts.
As I continued to slowly stretch and massage Sisai, I couldn’t help but realize what a lesson I was seeing. I am just like Sisai, able to do nothing on my own, unable to move. It is another who moves me, and I’m grateful for that until it begins to hurt. I don’t tend to see that the hurting is for my own good. Even though I stayed beside Sisai the whole time, slowly stroking him and comforting him while I stretched his limbs, he couldn’t even see or feel the comfort because he was so focused on the pain. The pain was only for his well-being, though, only for the purpose of keeping him well.
In the same way, we miss the comfort and peace that God provides us through the pain, because all we can see is the pain, and we ask him why it’s happening, when all the while it’s for our benefit and health.