The sun is rising and I once again find myself sitting outside looking down into the valley, a place that was so foreign 8 months ago and now familiar, a place where many of my friends stay. I pause and listen, hearing Embo awaken. I watch, and see the people walking along the train tracks headed to work and school. I wonder if Peter took his medicine, hope that Lindo is off to school, and know that Cyprian is in a better place. I smile, sometimes shed a tear, and say a quick prayer for them. I often start my days this way, cup of coffee in hand, for it provides a great source of strength, peace, hope, and focus for my day. This is a very prayerful time for me and it is where I feel closest to God and to the people I encounter daily. The Zulu people are as colourful as the rising sun and are amongst the happiest people I have ever encountered. Their lives simple yet rich with love and compassion for one another. I have been blessed to witness and share in this love and compassion time and time again being situated at two beautiful places; Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust Respite Unit and St. Theresa’s Home.
The definition of compassion is, “the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it.” The value of compassion has never been more clear to me for it really is all about compassion; compassion for ourselves, our family, our friends, our neighbours. It starts with a smile and extends with human touch and realizing how vital these gestures are is humbling. Working at the Respite Unit, which is a home away from home for people suffering from HIV/AIDS, is just that and so much more. With compassion at the forefront of this operation, it takes a group of very special individuals to work at such a place that oozes with unconditional love. I am blessed to be apart of this family. I find myself constantly busy with a variety of tasks at the unit but firmly believe that spending and sharing my time with the patients, my friends, is where my time is best spent and relationships are formed. There is something beyond powerful and spiritual in holding someone’s hand restoring dignity into their soul. When you witness another’s difficulties for love, for companionship, for strength, for life, perspectives change for the better and priorities have a way of falling into place. I have taken walks around the hospital grounds with patients, massaged feet and backs, shared smiles and laughter over my broken Zulu, counselled and wiped away tears, spent many hours at clinics and hospitals, crafted memory books, bathed, changed, and fed patients. I have spent many hours by one’s bedside, holding hands, rubbing foreheads, singing, and praying for their souls to be at peace. I have had difficult conversations with patients about dying, both of us well aware that their time was near. I have seen many of my friends die with dignity returning home to God. I have witnessed loneliness in its rawest form and hope in its purest and am more aware of the harsh realities that exist in our world. I am not jaded by my experiences nor am I pessimistic about our society but rather hopeful for I trust with my whole heart in human compassion.
The love and compassion does not stop at the Respite Unit but continues in a different capacity as I make my way to St. Theresa’s for these children represent life. Spending my afternoons at St. Theresa’s Home with the boys of St. Joseph’s cottage, my 13 angels, is always fruitful and chaotic. Their beautiful smiles and warm hugs often set me on the right foot for the afternoon, melting away any heartache and baggage collected from the morning. They come from a variety of backgrounds; most orphans, some infected with HIV, some scared; all loveable. I do my best to provide a balance of discipline and enjoyment by celebrating their accomplishments and providing them with consistency; consistency equalling love in this equation. They never cease to amaze me and their curiosity and creativity is always refreshing. I have the boys journal once a week and recently came across this entry about friendship, “One of the most important things we do in life is to choose other people to be our friends. We spend some of our happiest moments with them. We laugh and cry together.” Words of wisdom from a 12 year old boy wise beyond his years. With that said, I can confirm that together we have shared in many happy moments. We have laughed together and cried at times too. These boys, Philani D., Sibonelo, Dumsani, Ayanda, Philani M., Siphiwe, Phumelele, Sandile N., Musa, Sihle, Mzamo, Siya, and Sandile M., my chosen friends, have shown and shared with me their whole self and I could not ask for anything more.
My attention is drawn back to the creeping sun. And yet again I am reminded that the sun rising is a chance to right ourselves and receive each day in all its glory. Each day is a wonder. Each day is a gift, and how easy it is for me to forget that sometimes when I am caught up in my own “stuff”; my own obligations and expectations. However, I try to strike a fine balance between work and renewal. It is a constant struggle that I am aware of but worth pushing myself toward one day at a time. I find myself captivated by the sun and its beauty, the colors swirling together. To be able to watch the day unfold above the clouds is a blessing. The sun casts a pink haze over the sky long before you see its rays, and the ridge below the cloud begins to glow. It is so still up there you can almost hear life whispering to you. Sometimes the whisper is too soft and at other times so loud it is deafening. I can feel the depth and potential of my own existence, the shared experiences I have had with Mary, Jacob, and Matthew, the unconditional love I have exchanged and shared with the patients at the Respite Unit, and the trust and kinship between myself and my boys at St. Theresa’s home. I stop and take a deep breath for them, for you, and myself.
No matter where God leads us in life, when the earth turns on its axis one more time and we see what appears to be the sun rising, it is the universe calling for change in ourselves and this world. To be able to witness the dawn each day, to be able to feel and share love and compassion is a wake-up call - I have been blessed in so many ways. My hope is that we all have one more day, and I hope you choose to rise with it.
South Africa 2007