I got a Christmas card the other day from a friend. In it, she wrote, “Every place, culture, and community of people has their won special qualities.” As I read this, I was sitting outside my house under the shade cast by the overhanging of my tin roof. I thought about this statement, and wondered what qualities I was getting to experience. At the time, it was 95 degrees F, and the way I was swatting away flies looked as if I was creating a new dance routine for those dancing, magic brooms in fantasia. Just then, two girls rode by on their bicycles. They both had on the uniform of the school nearby, long green skirts and blue t-shirts (though the one girl had on a sweater…ridiculous). They were probably headed to the well to fetch water, or maybe on their way home to start the charcoal fire and cook for a family of twelve. Past them there was a dried field of maize. I can remember just a few months ago when that maize was being planted. The field was dug by four women and a man, over the span of a few mornings. The field was weeded, planted, and after the rains came and the months past, harvested, leaving only a few, lonely stalks to become a dry, golden color, and whither to die. We haven’t had rain for months. Actually, we’ve had a good rainfall exactly once this year. Everything is dry and eagerly expecting the sky to burst open soon. Yesterday, it looked like that time had finally come. We heard a cracking overhead, and rain began to fall in large, solitary drops. I was standing with one of the sisters and she began to shout for joy. I asked her if she wanted to hurry and take cover, but she was too busy celebrating to take cover. It looked now as if the heavens would tend her garden. But the celebration was short lived as the drops ceased and the clouds blew elsewhere. Just before I had come to my house to sit in the shade, I had been in the staff room at school eating lunch. The school provides lunch each day. We eat posho (ground maize flour) every day except on Wednesdays, when we get goat meat also. I put the posho on the bottom of my plate, then placed the beans on top, one scoop, two scoops, three. My plate was a mountain of beans. Sometimes we have black beans, but this day, we had the red ones. They were still hot, but I couldn’t wait. I dove in, temporarily burning myself in the process. One might think that day after day of posho and beans would get tiring, tedious, tumultuous, and temporarily tasteless, but this is not the case. Not one member of the staff complains about this culinary redundancy. Maybe they’re grateful, understanding, or just plain hungry, but people generally seem content. Perhaps this is one of those special qualities my friend was talking about in her letter, an understanding that things could be worse, even if they could be better also; to have to fetch water, endure 100 degree heat day after day, and the same meal, posho and beans, for lunch, and probably for dinner also, and be completely satisfied.
I found out recently that a kid at the high school I graduated from, a kid I know, just won the Indiana high school state wrestling championships. I was thinking about what this kid (lets call him Brock-because that’s his name) might be thinking about that night as he goes to sleep. I was trying to imagine his emotions, and the emotions of those around him. I would guess that he thinks that this state championship is the biggest thing in the world right now. I would guess that everyone he runs into right now has heard and congratulates him, and so, he might think that everyone around him has heard and cares and places value on this tremendous act of discipline and desire and, frankly, courage. Then I think about Africa. I think about the health center 800 meters away, where people are suffering with malaria and HIV. It’s midnight here, and the rain’s beginning to pound overhead. Finally, the dry season appears to have broken. I think about the people all around who have waited on this rain, who rely on this rain, who would have gone hungry had this rain not come. These people don’t know anything about Brock’s achievement. Some people, if they were to hold these two up to the light, would make claim that a state championship pales in comparison to having the pertinence and emphasis that needs to be placed on those suffering in Africa. Some would say that the elation of getting your hand raised in the air at the end of a wrestling match is not but a blinder to the dejection facing many people around the world. I however, am not one of these people. It is true that I am not one of these hungry or sick or dying, and Im thankful to God that neither is my family. Instead, Im a third person perspective. I know all too little about the dedication and commitment involved in Brock’s achievement. But I know much about the hope of a dream. I know that standing alone at the top can only mean on thing, you’re alone. You’ve done what no one else could, and though frustration, pain, discouragement, and struggle seemed, at times, the only ones near, hope has now replaced that with an all-encompassing joy. And if a joy of this nature cannot be felt. If a joy of this magnitude is told it’s “not important.” If a joy of this incomprehensibility is tried to be quieted and squashed, then I would ask, what is it that those who are sick have to pursue life for? What is it that is worth hoping for? This joy comes in different forms and in different arenas. For Brock, I imagine, this joy has come to him within the arena of a gladiator’s coliseum, and he shouldn’t let anything or anybody take that joy or tell him it’s not significant or lasting. Some might say that, compared to the oceans, the Nile is feeble and small. But these people would be missing the power of the Nile’s many falls and rapids, the love of it storied past, the nourishment of its provisional present, and the flat fact that it’s because of the Nile that the oceans hold much of their greatness. When Brock got his hand raised in that state championship match, thousands saw. But Im convinced that the shock waves of hope and inspiration that reverberated from that same action, can, and hopefully will, touch many, many more. Though still, even if no one else saw, or knew, or heard, the action would be significant because of it’s meaning alone to one guy. Do your thing Brock. Africa supports it.