I held my eyes shut a few seconds longer in blinking because my mind couldn’t seem to catch up with my spirit in this moment. And all of a sudden, I realized this was why I was here. I realized my need to see and not look away.
We can look away, when it’s on a screen or a laptop or a story someone is telling you. And you can even scroll further down or mark “I don’t want to see this” on Facebook to avoid what I’ve just said, because it’s not comfortable - it doesn’t feel good. But I couldn’t just look away or avoid because I was in my corner. I had positioned myself in this corner specifically to see. And I was missing it. I was choosing to protect myself from caring because it actually hurt. Out of the desire to keep myself comfortable, I was missing the most precious moments.
And in this same moment of perspective, I heard it. They were still working on the eldest son and his sores. And what used to be sounds of whimper and crying now turned to something else. Mimicking that of a motor boat, this boy started making raspberries, to which, Rebecca our translator, smiled and responded the same way back at the boy.
A full face grin encompassed his face and he returned the sound effect. Back and forth, they made these humorous conversations, filled with laughter as the doctor applied ointment to the sores. It was a small thing, but it was the only thing in this moment that my eyes could take in as comfort. I wasn’t avoiding or looking only for the good. But in the midst of it all, you saw it. We all were smiling at the exchange, including the Mother.
When the doctor was finished with the oldest son, he moved to the middle son she was holding. The boy had a gargle in his tone, which made the doctor suspicious of bronchitis. He asked her questions to see if there was anything she had noticed or had concerns about. He mentioned the lack of movement in each child’s limbs and his worry of atrophy. And instinctively the Mother reached down to this boy’s foot to start a bicycle motion with his leg. The doctor had taught her physical therapy exercises to help her children and she was religious about making sure each child had been given this care daily.
Because he suspected bronchitis, the doctor and some of the team made their way out of the home to grab antibiotics from his bag, leaving Rebecca, the Mother and me in the hut. I stayed in my corner, watching this Mother as she continued this bicycle exercise. She pushed his knee up to his chest, then rolled his leg out to stretch the muscles. When his leg was fully extended, he opened his mouth wide, squinted his eyes, jolted his head back and cried.
The Mother leaned in, whispered something in his ear and kissed his cheek. Then, he smiled. She then brought his leg back up to his chest and rotated it out again to a full extension. He cried again, and once more she leaned in, whispered something in his ear and kissed him. And again, he smiled. Then again to his chest, then out, his cry, her whisper, kiss, smile.
And again. Chest. Out. Cry. Whisper. Kiss. Smile.
Over and over again, she continued this ritual. And all of a sudden, I felt tears welling up in my eyes, on the brink of overflowing. I sniffled and blinked obsessively, and thought I didn’t want the Mother to see me cry here. I didn’t want her to think I was sorrowful for her situation.
It was everything of the opposite. I was in awe of this moment, because it was the most tangible representation of unconditional love I had ever seen. Even a painful movement displayed her care and compassion. This Mother loved her children so fiercely, so infinitely, that it filled the walls up in her home and was the same joy I felt when I walked through the door frame.
Because I knew the density and saturation that this moment held, I snapped a couple of shots - nothing intrusive. I never moved from my corner. But I promptly dropped the camera when I felt the Mother get self-conscious. I wanted her to understand I wasn’t looking at her as though she was in a magazine or museum. She was not a spectacle, and I had no intention of making her one. And by the grace of God, I had words to give her.
I don’t know where they came from or how I was able to choke them out through my visibly emotional state. I hadn’t said a sentence the entire time I was in the home. But here, the phrase came and I couldn’t hold it back.
With only us three women in the room, I asked Rebecca to translate, “I took a photo of you, so I will remember what a great mother looks like”.
She has far more than I could ever have, because she gives more than I could ever give.
Burden and bravery. Humanity and divine. Graceful and dirty. Bold and full of fear. Worn down and completely trusting. Facing reality and hopeful. The most evident shape of depravity and, amid it all - love.
Do you see now how it fought? Do you see now how it grapples for our attention? Do you now realize how this view of love was a gift, a gift of vision and realization.
You cannot look at the depravity of man and not see the grace of God. They ebb and flow with one another, beating and curling into each other. If you keep looking and looking away because of the pain, you will miss Him in it. The Lord resides in those dark places. He is most known and trusted to those who have seen this side. The beauty is in both. And this love is so much more than you thought. Look, and don’t look away.