Wednesday, July 9, 2014

malaria-ridden dreams

It's hard not to relive the past over and over again in one's head.
I thought the other day of the girls in India who taught me how to love. There are really no good ways to describe last summer, only horribly grand and vague statements like: learning how to love and solidarity and being with; not working for.

“What’s it like to have India inside your head?” 
At my friend's simple question, my face lit up like the warm wood of the large maple table that was reflecting the soft light of the Starbucks where we were sitting. Michael Bublé’s Christmas album was gently floating through the PA system, and beautiful December afternoon light, softened by snowfall, streamed through the large windows. My face flushed with excitement as I began to attempt to answer his question, memories flooding back into my head before I could form the words to share them with my tongue.

His simple question unlocked a whole realm of memories that I was being given permission to share. It isn't often that someone says: describe the interior world that's roiling inside your memory and imagination. I remember just letting all the things I missed pour out of me, the smells of frying kati rolls, the sound of the sisters singing after morning mass, 
the walk from Motherhouse to the bus stop that would take us to Shanti Dan, the taste of mangos, the sharp bite of good, strong, chai, looking into the eyes of people bathing in the gutter, avoiding the mangy dogs, haggling with the fruit vendor, the smell of Shishu Bhavan, the MC’s orphanage, 
the pig family that lived in the garbage dump near Shanti Dan, the Tangra neighborhood, the dreaded crush of people near New Market, 
the taste of a fresh coconut, the unrelenting heat of the sun that mixed with the heat of boiling oil at the samosa stand, the posh greenery by Park Street, the arctic air conditioning of Gangur or Blue Sky Café, the endless game of trying to keep Sheela from swatting you in the face, the sound of the Bengali Bible song CD floating through the PA system in Shanti Dan, 
helping Asha climb the steps to the roof to do laundry, the sweet breeze on the roof that would shake the wet bed sheets and wipe the sweat off your face, the noise of the bus conductors yelling out the names of the bus stops, the sounds of Josephine and Anita singing, the memories of haggling with taxi drivers over fares.

My friend's question was a rare and oh-so-welcome invitation to remember, and to share the memory.
I wanted to remember over and over Shakina’s joyful grin as she would hug me around my waist with her vise-like grip; I never want to forget watching Sister Yesu Dasi kneel on the hard floor in front of the Blessed Sacrament, listening to the sisters sing: “Evermore, I will quench Thy thirst, Lord.” 
These are memories of not a summer spent "helping others" but very intensely being helped.
All I did that summer was literally sing along to Danielle Rose songs and dance party to the same Disney CD over and over.
But that small green room schooled me. I got schooled. 
It was a school of charity, where I learned to love. 
My teachers were nine small saints, who welcomed me into their community with open arms, and shocked me with the ease of their love. 
Those small nine women were my teachers, the lesson they taught me was simple, but profound: If you simply show up each day, ready to dance party and embrace the chaos that comes with loving other people, you find that your world has been changed. Not by working for other people, but simply by being with them.

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