There is a moment that sometimes happens between two people when you look at each other and, without any words at all, speak to each others souls. You reach across the divide, however large, that separates you from that other person in less than an instant. And somehow we realize that we are thinking the same thoughts, and feeling the same feelings. That we are more alike than anyone, especially us, could have ever realized.
I know, because this happened to me when I was living in Haiti and visited a tent camp nearby the compound that we were living in, where many of the women who work at Kado live with their families. I call it a tent camp, but it was more accurately a ruin. Many of the families who had been living in a tent camp in the nearby field after the earthquake had actually moved back into the cinder block village where their houses had been, patching them with reclaimed cinder blocks held together with no mortar and USAID tarps. Here, amidst the piles of rubble still present, hundreds of families lived together, nearly on top of one another, going about their daily lives.
Children ran and played in and out of broken foundations of houses. Laundry was hung on lines stretched between walls. Women and girls carried old buckets to a few wells to get water – I am not sure whether they were filtered and treated against cholera. Men gathered in knots, talking and laughing and sharing stories. Women gathered in groups to talk and laugh too, cooking over charcoal and rock fires or bringing some other task with them.
Amidst this all, Don and Lucy and I walked, visiting the camp to deliver some medicines that Don had promised on a previous visit. Several of the boys from the baseball team had seen us right away, and came to grab our hands and lead us to the families we sought. As usual, a knot of curios people and bolder children formed around us, trying to figure out why we were there and betting on whether Lucy was a real human or a doll. When we finally reached the little cluster of houses we were a five minute walk into the camp through twisting and turning paths between closely built houses, and I knew there was no way I could find my way out without help again!
While Don went from house to house talking with people and dispensing his medicines, I sat on a chair that someone had immediately brought for me with Lucy in my lap and tried to play with some of the children clamoring for her attention. All around us a group of kids and “ti mamans” formed, little girls no older than eleven or twelve with babies on their hips, charged with taking care of their younger siblings. I finally stood up and walked around with Lucy to encourage her to get down and play, and that was when I saw you. A woman, around thirty years of age (it is always hard to tell in Haiti, where some eighty year olds look forty and some twenty year olds look fifty), you were leaning against a broken pillar of concrete, watching Lucy and I.
People might think that when I look at you and when you look at me, all we see is the vast gulf of circumstances that lay between us. You see that I have everything that you do not, and vice versa. And at first, they might be right. It is hard to ignore the poverty that surrounded us there, in the camp that you called home. But then I looked closer and saw the little boy behind you, clinging to your skirt, and I realized that despite the almost crippling differences that we have – language, education, poverty, opportunity – we have something in common that transcends any boundaries that might lay between us.
We are mothers.
Being a mother is a vocation, not an occupation, whether you are in the tent camps of Haiti or the maple lined suburbs of Minnesota. In the best of situations being a mother is the most difficult and most joyful vocation a person can ever take up. I think to myself all the time what a difficult task I have ahead of me, raising my daughter Lucy, even when I can offer her the best possible chances to succeed in life. Safety, good nutrition, available heath care, education, family. I have such a large network of support around me to help, and still from day to day I find myself at a loss of how to do the right thing. How to be a good mother.
When I first saw you that day outside of your house – a room or two at most made out of un-mortared cinder blocks, tarps and tin – I was struck by the impossibility of your life, being a mother in that situation. Not knowing if you would be able to feed your children from day to day. Not knowing if they would be safe when they went off to school, if they were lucky enough to be able to go to school. Not knowing if your roof would blow away or the walls of your house would fall down in the next storm. Not knowing if your child would grow up to go to school, or have a job, or grow up at all.
When I struggle, and think that I am failing, I remember that sometimes all it takes to be a good mother is to love, which is something that you taught me. I saw that day that you love your children with a ferocity that is inspiring, because no matter what your situation is, you never give up. Ever. You find a way to feed your children, even if it means selling a few tomatoes a day along the side of the road. If your child is sick, you borrow money from friends and family until you have enough to get them to a doctor, even if you have to carry them yourself eight miles to the hospital because you cannot afford the doctors visit and the tap-tap. If your house falls down in a storm you make a shelter for your family from USAID tarps until you can find a better solution. You give everything you are, because you love your children –that is what it means to be a mother.
I held my daughter in my arms, and looked into your eyes as your own baby clung to your skirt. And when Lucy finally squirmed out of my arms and ran to say hi to your son, we smiled at each other instantly. As I drove away from your home a while later, back to the safety of the compound, I knew one thing to be certain: I would do anything in my power to help you succeed in your vocation.
Being a mother is hard enough…Let’s make sure to give each other all the help that we can!
Please visit Kado
today. Every gift you give helps a mother make her children’s lives a little better.