It had been almost four years since my last trip to Kenya, and I was struck by all that had changed and all that had stayed the same. The students I had grown to love are all grown up and off to high school, but the laughter and joy of each new face was familiar and comforting. I didn't know it when I walked off the plane, but I needed our students to remind me of the richness of our shared human experience.
Joy does not exist in a vacuum; it occurs only when you can embrace each experience to its fullest without shying away from the best or worst that this world has to offer. To feel joy is to bear witness to pain and suffering. No one understands this better than the children of Kibera, and we have so much to learn from them. Our students are no strangers to suffering, but they refuse to let their darkness shroud the light. The trick is to give each emotion its due process, and to the best of our ability, grow strong enough to experience all of it. Sometimes to balance the scales of hardship in this world is as simple as cherishing the little things like new friendships, arts and crafts, dance or learning to play chess.
The kids remind me that there are always ways to be more present to the world around me. There are always opportunities to appreciate the little things in life. Joy is not a grand state of being, it occurs in every small act of gratitude and kindness. On our first day at the COPA school, we laid our hands on Clement and his three sons as we shared in his love and his grief over the unexpected loss of his wife Susan. We shared his tremendous love and his painstaking grief. We prayed, we cried, and even found space for gratitude and joy.
It feels like the world moves too fast for most of us to keep up, and I forget that it is my responsibility to sit and listen. If I don’t give myself that time, I know I will lose the ability to reconnect with the things that matter most. To live fully into each moment is a gift, but I have been spending far too much time thinking about the past and the future. At Cheza Cheza (our dance program partners) I cried, not out of sadness, but out of the fullness in which these young people were able to express themselves. I felt their hope, their excitement, their fear, and their pain.
We all need to be reminded of ways to reconnect with our shared humanity, and it can’t be done without being in community with each other. The kids in Kibera reminded me that I have been moving too fast for my own good, often missing what is right in front of me. I have re-committed to practicing the art of staying connected. Connected with my passions and my loved ones, all while seeking joy in my everyday life. As a co-founding member of Crossing Thresholds’ Emerging Leaders Initiative (ELI) I have allowed myself to bring more young people into the mission of community and connectivity at home and abroad. There is not enough time for all the work that needs to be done, but it only takes five minutes to be compassionate and the effects can last a lifetime.
CT Emerging Leaders Initiative Co-Chair