In Zambia last summer, I found the gift of presence, of love.
To organize what I learned and felt, I used teachings on solidarity by Father Dean Brackley, S.J. He invites us to have the courage to discover our vocation by lowering our status — downward mobility.
Have the courage to lose control.
I seek explanations, justifications, logic. But in Zambia, under the brightest moon, with eight of my best friends, I could let go of my control. My need to understand disappeared because that moment embodied true presence. Mwape looked at me with doe eyes. Monta hid under the sheet next to me to stay warm. Jackson and Chisala shared a blanket. We sat silently; I gave up my control; it was a perfect moment of human connection.
Have the courage to feel useless.
Jonah, 18, was our closest older friend in Lubwe, Zambia. He took us places, helped us avoid being scammed, invited us over for dinner. But he also expected that we could change Lubwe and make it better. After hearing his plans for the village, we sat paralyzed, imagining all the complicated intricacies. I felt useless; this scared me. I told Jonah we weren’t there to fix Lubwe; we couldn’t. We were there to love, to share stories, to learn about our brothers and sisters.
Have the courage to listen. Have the courage to receive.
Adriana sang “I do believe in Jesus” in her sweet 7-year-old voice as we walked home after sunset. Those five words were more English than I had heard all day from her. Anthony exclaimed in the local language how he could sneak home to America with me. I received love through avocados and potatoes. My friends gave all they had, and I received it with open arms.
Have the courage to let your heart be broken.
Mwila, whose father is dead, begged me to support him in school or buy him a school uniform. He works to afford school for him and his brother Charles. He also perceives gift-giving as love; so when I supported another student who wasn’t in school, his heart broke. Hearing I had given someone else a gift that he was not receiving, Mwila believed I loved him less. He ignored me for days. Eventually, he sat next to me and cried. I tried to help; he just cried more. My heart broke for him and his community.
Have the courage to feel. Have the courage to fall in love.
In Zambia, I couldn’t understand everything. I could only feel presence, pain and joy. One day Chanda and Teresa got in a fight that took six of us to break up. Chanda could barely breathe; I was left in shock. I walked away and began to cry, but then I saw Mwansa, a 10-year-old boy with Down syndrome, and yelled “Mwansa, isa” or “Mwansa, come!” He ran into my arms and I picked him up. I stared into his eyes and let his innocent joy fill me. His comfort showed me that where there is immense pain, there is also immense love.
Have the courage to get ruined for life.
One of the fathers invited me into their home. The parents’ room barely fit a bed, and the seven kids all shared another room with clothing used for blankets. Mwaba, one of the sons, saw me inside and immediately ran outside. He worried I would treat him differently since I had seen his reality. But love knows no size of home or amount of stuff. That family is in my heart forever.
Have the courage to make a friend.
This statement felt less powerful than the others until I met Monta. (I am also friends with many others, and I wish I could share each of their stories.) Monta and I bickered, played cards and futball, ate fritas. He jumped into my lap at sunset every day, and although we couldn’t verbally communicate, his presence calmed me. He didn’t need anything but to sit there with me. Me being a part of his story and him being a part of mine reminded me of the power of simply making a friend.
These people, that place, taught me how to love better, more unconditionally. As I look back, the friendships I made and the pain in being separated from my new family now reminds me of my continued journey in downward mobility.