Dear Congo Mama,
I can’t get you off my mind these days. Perhaps it’s just that Mother’s Day is peeking around the corner, taunting all of the joyful and hurting alike with the displays of greeting cards and overpriced flowers. Or maybe it’s that remarkable, mind-blowing thing that happens in childhood. Namely, that crazy thing called GROWING UP. And, Congo Mama, that sweet girl of yours- that sweet girl of ours– she’s growing up so beautifully. So smart. So strong. So. Brave. It’s like I’m watching this miracle unfold before my eyes in technicolor.
Actually, it’s exactly like that.
As I write this letter, I stare at my favorite photograph of you. You’re wearing yellow- the exact shade of yellowish-gold that always looks so stunning on Elizabeth (and, incidentally, the exact shade of yellow that I can never, ever pull off)- and you’re holding a baby. Your firstborn. And you look tired. I can recognize The Look a mile away. Probably because I am well-acquainted with that exact expression- wholly-content + mind-numbingly-tired. Apparently life with a newborn is the same across every culture and every land. EXHAUSTING. I just feel this nagging urge to step through the photo, offer up a fist bump, and tell you that you’re doing a SOLID JOB at this mom thing.
Elizabeth would come years later, and you wouldn’t have the privilege of holding her, rocking her, singing sweet Swahili lullabies over her as she drifted off each night. She would never be strapped to your back as you made your daily trek through the village for water. She would never know your voice. She’d never hear your stories. She’d never stand next to the fire- next to you- as you stirred and stirred and stirred the evening’s fufu. She would never know what it’s like to grow up in a Congolese home. In a Congolese family.
No. Because you happened to be born where you were born and lived where you lived, your access to healthcare was woefully limited. And your days were cut short. This truth haunts me and motivates me nearly every day of my life.
But you know what Elizabeth does know, Congo Mama? She knows love. She knows the love of not one family but two. She knows that you loved her. That you loved your husband and you loved your children and you loved your community so well. We talk about it. We talk about you, Congo Mama. Oh my word, do we talk about you.
Hey Congo Mama, as I stare at your picture and at your face that so resembles our sweet Elizabeth, I want you to know something. I want you to know that I’m doing the very best I can. I want you to know that I do not take this great privilege lightly. I want you to know that I’m far from perfect. That there are days I lose my cool and roll my eyes and rushrushrush through bedtime prayers and kisses, without giving a second thought to the notion that we’re not promised another breath. Another kiss goodnight. But I love this girl of ours with every ounce of love I know to give. Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving her life. I will always reject the notion that Elizabeth “grew in our hearts” because, sweet Congo Mama, she was yours first.
She’ll always be yours.
Till we meet in person, Congo Mama. With our redeemed bodies and our precious daughter and voices lifted up to the one true Giver of Life.
Happy Mother’s Day, Congo Mama. We honor you, and we love you so much.