I saw Valentino Achak Deng speak almost a week ago in Jackson.
He is an amazing man. A man who, as a boy… such a young boy, suffered though the turmoil of the Second Sudanese Civil War: being seperated from his family, no food, no water, death around him, death before him.
Deng came to Jackson and gave a presentation on the schools he is building to educate the children in Southern Sudan. It was his heart and you could tell… he only wanted to give the life of learning to these children.
He didn’t say a word about his hardships. He didn’t talk about how hard it was, how much he should have hated life, how cruel the world was to him.
So, when the question and answer time happened at the end of the presentation, it was obvious that someone was going to ask what we all wanted to hear…
– How did you get through such a hard time in your life? How did you deal with that?
I have hope and a belief in humanity.
Wow. The whole night was worth if for that line. I was completely blown away. Someone who was treated so wrongly, had a hope in humanity. A man who had EVERYTHING taken away from him… over and over and over… this man has a belief in humanity.
I decided that I wanted to strive towards that kind of love and belief in goodness. I wanted to give grace to the worthlessness of this world for the wonders of humanity.
And you would think that I could handle more with this new mindset fresh in my mind. But the goodness and grace to humanity failed to come to the front of my mind when I checked my bank account to see that someone cashed a check of mine that did not belong to them. A random picked up a check I had addressed to a friend from a restaurant.
I looked at the cleared check online and immediately thought, That mother f*cker. Oh, I hate this. Of course this would happen to me… of course on my vacation. Dammit! Who does this?? I hope this person suffers.
After being on the phone with my bank for over an hour, these thoughts became stronger and stronger. To think how wronged I was was too much for me.
The goodness of people was gone… in an instant. For what? A dollar amount.
But still, I was livid.
In a city not my own, now without a companion, I decided I needed to get out, get coffee, sit, read, write, listen to music.
I came to a café that I was at a couple days ago… but today, it. is. packed.
Looking around, there was nowhere to sit… at all. Well, except for that tiny kid table in the corner. The rest of the normal sized tables were occupied with hipster students.
And standing there with latté in one hand and apple tart in the other, I sighed to myself and thought, Screw it., and headed to the kid table.
Just in case I wasn’t awkwardly tall enough, now I was sitting at a table that was less than two feet high in a smaller chair…
…with Portland hipsters all around me… the symbolism qualifies for lyrics better than those of The National.*
I sat reading, writing, loathing, sulking, until a little boy came up to me. A three-year-old in full firefighter garb. [day instantly better already.] His mom came close after and asked me,
– We come here every Sunday so he can build firetrucks out of Legos. I’m sorry, but can we sit here with you?
– Oh, my gosh yes, please. Don’t be sorry. I’m sorry… I’m the grown woman in the play area… there should be kids playing here.
So, they sat… Aiden [the little boy] and his mom [who’s name i’m so sorry i didn’t catch] on the tiny chair on the other end of the tiny table where I was sitting.
We were too close not to talk. Wait, p.s., did I mention that Aiden also had a fireman’s hat? It was amazing.
So, Aiden built firetrucks out of Legos and his mother and I made conversation. She was so kind.
Before I knew it, I was telling her about Bard, the little boy I just had to say goodbye to and told her how her little boy made me sad about him. I showed her pictures… she looked at Aiden, looked at me, lifted a whispering hand and told me…
– That is the cutest little boy ever.
She asked me why I was in Portland. I danced all around the question for a little bit and she nodded politely at my bullshit answers until I paused, thought, Screw it., and told her…
– I actually am here because I convinced myself that this job I applied for out here was supposed to work out… So, I bought some concert tickets for my favorite band who was playing here… assuming I would be moving at this time.
The simple truth of that exposed failure and ridiculousness was met with bottomless compassion from the friend across the tiny table. She told me stories of her own hard times, her own hopes… and then she encouraged me. ME. The creepy, stranger sitting alone at the children’s table eating desserts at 3pm.
We connected. We shared. Aiden made us laugh. We built firetrucks.
She smiled. I smiled. We were happy to be there together.
Aiden had a three-year-old melt down and it was time for them to go.
– Thanks for letting us sit with you. Have a great trip! I’m really glad we met you.
– Thank you! I’m really glad I met you as well.
Compassion. The simple kindness that comes from deep within.
Who am I to think that I have it harder than anyone else? Who am I to think that life is harder for me? Money is harder for me? Self-image is harder for me? Love is harder for me? That things are hopeless? That people are hopeless? That I am hopeless?
Having hope, believing in myself.
Having hope, believing in those around me.
Having hope, believing in humanity.
It’s worth it. It’s true. It’s valid.
*That is, more or less, an inside joke.