When I got out of the shower this morning, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and paused. I took a moment to look back at myself and see the blue lines that are drawn across my chest and my arms. I took a moment to admire being human. I gazed into the mirror and saw warm brown eyes gazing back, bare shoulders and soft angles, the rise and fall of my breath and what how this moves across me. I saw the lines of sun and worry, the creases of joy and heartache, I lifted my fingers and placed them to my face, gently. These lines and creases, they are my history, every single story I could ever tell lives here.
I remembered sweetly, how the kids in Kenya, how they’d run, run run, so fast, cheering Mozungo! Mozungo! (traveler, traveler) as I’d be walking through the slums to go to class. They’d reach for my hands, and quickly, they would turn them over to see my palms. They would want to see the color of white, and they’d giggle as they place their hands into mine, they’d place their hands in the center of mine and look to me, and smile. The pleasure of seeing contrast spread wide across their beautiful faces.
They’d then take their small fingers, and begin to press onto the blue lines that run across my hands, I’d sit on the ground so we could see one another. At first I didn’t understand the fascination, but then I realized that the color blue of my veins they could not see in their own little bodies….and so they pressed their hands into the rivers and valleys that keep me alive…reminding me that I am alive.
How can I forget so easily, about the blood coursing through my veins, about my heart who’s vibration fills my entire body, about my open eyes that inform my imagination, my love, my loss, my fear. But this morning I did not forget…the blue lines across my chest, and I remembered. And I did not turn away.
I looked in and she looked back. I did not break.
As soon as I reached the ground, small swift hands would release the bun atop my head, and watch with complete glee as my long Mozungo locks fell to my shoulders. They’d twirl their fingers around my brown hair, they’d pet me the way I pet Moose, they’d smile at each other, giggling at the feel of something new and unfamiliar.
I looked at my long brown locks this morning, covering my shoulder blades and dropping across the angles of my collar bones.
I looked at who I am, a woman with her hair down, oh, just let your hair down, she said. Be free.
The kids in Kenya are pure spirit. I don’t know how else to describe it. I’ve recently developed the 500 plus pictures I took while there, and have begun to move through them and put them in albums. It feels so good to remember, what it was like to be vulnerable enough to have a small child remind you what it is to be alive. A small child with a torn uniform, small shoes with big holes, a small amount to eat, and a big big appetite to learn, see, and explore. A heart so big that when you let go of this childs hand, when you turn to walk back down the road you came, you remember the uniform of course, and you make a promise to try to find a better way….but what you remember more is holding hands. What you remember most is the pleasure of contrast existing beyond the judgement. The judgement that has been learned and insisted we must consider when matters of black and white exisit.
One of my many favorite parts that came from these visits, was when given permission to do so, I would take pictures of these sweet babes in their beautiful country. I would take my camera from my bag and they would run over to me so quickly. They’d run wild, and with intention, they’d playfully push one another out of the view of the lens. I’d snap these pictures quickly, so I could show them.
Their smiles. Their hands in the air. Show a child their smile, and then do this, say this.
‘you are beautiful’
I promise a language barrier dissolves. Just like that.
I wish I still had this picture but on July 1 1988, I turned 7 years old. I was in the backyard playing by myself bouncing a basketball as high as I could on the back steps, over and again. Baffff. Baffff. Baffff.
I wore a baseball cap that contained my brown hair that fell to the middle of my back, my sisters old Florida t-shirt, a pair of blue canvas shorts, and nike high top sneakers. I wore the tan of a kid that loves summer, and a layer of dirt and sweat that comes from being a tomboy, I was so happy.
Mrs Brooks lived next door. A sweet older lady who I remember always in light blue polyester pants that matched her light blue buick skylark. She’d always peek at me from her kitchen windows, and I would always wave, she was kind, and I knew it.
She came over that day to see me. I announced to her proudly that today, July 1, 1988, was my birthday. I shared with her of the grand plans that my 7th year would hold as I took big swigs of red kool-aid, wiping my mouth with the back of my hands. I smiled, and I meant it.
It’s your birthday!!!! She said. Well we need to take your picture!!!
We doooooooo?!!! I exclaimed. We took very few pictures in our house.
And for the longest time I held onto that picture that she developed down the street at the drug store. As the years went on I looked back in wonder at that scrappy little girl, on a hot summer day, playing basketball in the backyard. I didn’t care that I was alone, I placed no emphasis on that (I’m sure we had cake or something like that later) but I was in my glory. I was playing, there was sun, there was kool-aid…and this kind kind woman who SAW me. Mrs Brooks who cared enough to take my picture when she found out it was a special day in my then 7 years on the earth.
You are so cute she said. Sooooo cute.
I smiled. I agreed.
The world is different now of course, we take pictures, we delete them, we un-tag ourselves, but what I loved about Kenya was remembering 7-year old me, and seeing me in all those beautiful little babes.
As I stood to take their pictures and show them again and again, I remembered. How I stood in front of Mrs Brooks, and the joy I felt that someone wanted to take my picture.
And it helped me to see the beauty in all that was, deep in the slums, where resources are low, and opportunities are met with challenge and heartache. You cant go into the slums and only be thinking about those things, because you will never ever see the joy. And if you are someone that simply comes into environments and you do not seek the joy, you should turn and walk away, people deserve that.
So my question to you, the people in your life, and especially the ones with little hands in feet, what can you do today so that they feel that they are seen as who they are. To recognize each other in the unique ways that we are beautiful. To create individuals in our small little leaders, ones that are not afraid to march to the beat of their own drums, lets provide the drums. Lets watch as the joy of a child who realizes they can produce noise, who tries out their voice, again and again.
To do this, let us remember that we have voices too. They are the same ones we had on the back steps at 7-years old. Lets remember what lights us right up, so we can model the same to everyone around us.
Lets have kool-aid moustaches.
I looked at her this morning, and she looked at me. And I did not break. Today I commit to remembering that I am alive and it is no accident, that I was given a heart, so I better go out there and use it…to capture joy. To ignite the passion I know lives through me. It starts with me.