Purple Flowers and Running

October 19, 2009

Dearest Friends,

I have a new roommate.  She is an 11 year-old Zulu girl and will stay with me and my roommate from Holland for a month.  She speaks English as well.  Her name is Nonhlanhla and she’s had a rough life.  Even in the short time she’s been here, she is blossoming and beaming.  I think she’s a survivor with so much talent that is just aching to be realized.

At night when we have dinner, I’ve asked that we each share 5 things that happened during the day that made us happy or grateful.  One night, I told my housemates, “It made me really happy to see a tree that was covered in brilliant purple flowers.   The flowers that fell to ground below looked like a purple carpet!”  The next day, the driver that takes several children to school told me that “Noni” (Nonhlanhla’s nickname) begged her to please stop the car.  Not knowing why, the driver pulled over and Noni jumped out.  She ran to one of these trees and gathered handfuls of the purple flowers from the ground and handed them out to all the children and the driver.  What joy!

Noni is tall and thin with long long legs.  I asked her if she liked to run, and she lit up like a light!  I told her that my brother ran marathons and she said, “I want to run long distances.”  I also said, “When you run, it is important to think about nice things.  My brother always drew a smiley face on his hand to remind himself that he was having a good time.”  The next day, when Noni came home from school, she told me that she ran.  It was clearly noticeable because the high school coach saw it, and he timed her!  He asked Noni to run with the high school team (even though she’s 11), and she has everyday since.  Noni will run in her first race on October 30th.  She told me, “When I run, I hold one of the purple flowers or put it in my hair.”  I imagine this is her reminder that she is having a good time, just like my brother’s smiley face.  What a wonderful breakthrough!

I came home today and knelt on my knees to pray at the same time that a group intention/prayer was taking place.  I could only feel waves of gratitude.  I have noticed all day, since waking up, that I have a new feeling.  The sky looks more blue, the trees have a glow about them, and I’ve noticed people smiling as I pass them in the street.  I have an expanded point of view or a different perspective, as if beauty were painted today for me to see and experience.  I feel truly happy.  In fact, the song “Oh Happy Day” keeps repeating in my head.  I feel this way because I know I am loved.  I know that you who are reading my words are all supporting me in this journey, and I cannot express my gratitude sufficiently.

My work here is tough; there is no mistaking that.  The things I’ve seen and experienced are raw and dark.  Sometimes I feel that there is not enough that I can do in one day to support everyone that I wish I could; stress builds and sometimes I honestly feel helpless.  However, it is truly the poverty-stricken, sick and dying women and children that have gifted me.  I am humbled by the experiences that I have come here to face.  I have learned more about faith, gratitude, joy, and generosity from my Zulu friends in the 90 days I’ve been here than I have in my lifetime.  I will never be the same.  I have received so much from them and all of you, in such a mammoth way that it overwhelms me.  I honor those who have suffered and I wish that my lessons were not connected to the pain they have endured.  However, I came here to learn the truth.  I will not turn away from these realities.

Tuesday marks the halfway point of my time here in South Africa.  I will never take for granted the kindness and support my friends have shown me.  From the depths of my being, I love and appreciate you.

With gratitude… Amen.