A moment. It is the smallest possible denominator in life. We plan our lives in years, we set goals based on months, we have to-do lists by the day, but everything eventually comes down to the moment. Life is an endless string of moments and I have a tendency to get swept away in them. For that single instant, to be completely bewitched by living, breathing, feeling the splendor of a moment – it truly is a beautiful thing. I look back at nights sitting on the beach in Diani gazing up at a spectacle of stars; I recall long drives on winding roads towards unchartered lands to watch a thundershower over the Rift Valley; I can close my eyes and remember fondly stopping on the side of the road near a farm to bite into a succulent Malindi papaya before it reached the city market. I could fall back in these moments again in a heartbeat because they bare the possibility of a lifetime of happiness. And at the end of the day, that’s what we all crave. An eternity of happiness.
But what happens when the moment is not one of happiness, but of heartbreak? What happens when that single second evokes so much emotion that we get lost in the moment – where the lines of reality and fantasy become so burred, that it is impossible to find our way out? I have faced that fear every single day for the last year and a half living in East Africa – not knowing if today is the day that the pain will be too great, the stories of life and death will be too overwhelming, the disparities in quality of life will be too disheartening that I will lose myself in the field and not be able to find my way out. There are days when I feel paralyzed. I feel like the solutions are beyond me, are beyond us all. I feel like what I have to offer pales in comparison to the magnitude of the problem. In those moments, I pray for a hand to hold me, for a voice to comfort me, to guide me out of the moment and back to a place where I can do something about it. A place where my head rules my heart.
But maybe the heartache is part of a masterfully crafted plan to facilitate action. An unmotivated head is worthless until it is combined with an unrelenting passion to drive it – and what better motivator than pain. There is so much pain in this world. So much pain. I have borne witness to only a fraction of it and even that has been enough to unnerve me. I can close my eyes and picture babies in an urban slum outside of Nairobi being tied and locked in confined spaces while their mothers seek work for the day. With no stimulation and no engagement from a caregiver, they tend to grow up with physical and developmental delays, thereby hindering their chances of thriving in an already disabling environment. Images like that haunt me, but also motivate me to step up to the plate and do something about it. They invite kindness and humility but equally, summon the ability to think critically and strategically – a perfect marriage between the heart and the head.
I can close my eyes and imagine the man who finds shelter near the matatu stand by my flat in Nairobi. His feet are bare, as he paces back and forth mindlessly by the side of the road. His hair is in disarray – likely not having been washed or shaved in months. His body is filthy and his pants drape past his waist, weighed down by the empty soda bottles he ties to his make-shift rope belt. His mind is not here. It is clear this fellow is suffering from serious psychological distress; one amongst a growing number of people who can no longer afford the rising cost of living in Kenya. My heart bleeds for him while my head ponders his options for seeking help in a country where good quality healthcare is costly and mental illness is not readily accepted in society.
I can close my eyes and picture being held up in a queue of traffic and hearing the slightest tap on my window. It’s a child, a boy of 7 or 8-years old with his hands moving from his stomach to his mouth, showing his hunger, begging me to do something about it. In my travels, I have come across many street children – and it never stops hurting, it never stops being startling to see a child run after your car shouting ‘mama, mama’. I am still a child in many ways, still exploring the world, figuring out my place in it. But to these children, I am a mama with money. I could use my heart and give all that I have to offer, but I choose to use my head to question whose pocket my Shillings end up in. I seek to use my head to find an alternate, more innovate way to make a difference in the lives of these children.
Success is as much driven by the heart as the head, and my heart has found its place at the core of life’s moments. When you strip away the complexity of the world, all you are left with are moments. And a moment – whether filled with happiness or pain – is the most beautiful gift of all.
Image source: Dalo_Pix2