and then my parents died.
It’s a phrase I’m hearing almost daily at the moment, and it’s usually followed with one or more of the following variations:
…so I had to drop out of school.
….so I got married at the age of 14.
…so I took over care of my 5 younger siblings.
I knew what happened here during the war. Theoretically I understood the life-altering violence that occurred. I knew people were killed. I knew people were abducted. I knew children were left with unimaginable responsibility. I knew there was trauma. But it doesn’t matter that I knew. Hearing it in person is as different as watching someone go snorkeling on the Discover Channel and being thrown headfirst into the ocean to dive with sharks. The emotional shock is core-shaking.
I’ve looked into the brown eyes of a woman who recounted her parents’ murder, her own rape and resulting pregnancy, and the five children she was forced to care for….at the age of 12.
There’s nothing in the world that could have prepared me for the way my heart broke. No article or course or documentary can steel you against the grief you feel for the lives lost and the lives forced to bear such weight. Hearing it in person is different. Indescribably so. Hearing it in person fills me with a torrent of emotion that makes me grateful for the long motorbike rides back to the office. I need that time to process the grief and horror I feel on their behalf as well as the deep gratitude I feel for my own good fortune. It could easily, so easily, have been me. Those could be my steady brown eyes, my voice recounting that story. I didn’t do anything to deserve an easier life, but it’s what I was given simply because of the location of my birth. I never did anything to deserve the safety, security, and abundance to which I’ve become accustomed, and I know there’s nothing I could ever do to completely balance the scales. However, I find comfort in the knowledge that I wasn’t blessed wastefully. I will never let the gifts I’ve been given remain idle or go to waste because I will use them in the service of others always. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me – I have to fight for the tired but determined eyes behind the stories. The faces, voices, and real stories of the people I work with have touched me to the core. These connections are just the latest additions to my long list of things to be grateful for in this life, because their touch has energized me.
Hearing it in person is different. Hearing the horrible things human beings are capable of doing to each other, hearing the immense burdens some are forced to carry, and hearing the remarkable resilience of people who have no choice other than to simply go on is not easy, and it’s not fun. But I am grateful. Hearing it in person gives me purpose….
To never take anything for granted.