he surgeon looks at my right thumb and inspects the range of motion. He stands back and observes me going through the familiar hand exercises and picks up my medical chart. “We’re done here, Dixil,” he says. “The X-rays look wonderful. Do me a favor and keep the splint on for another six weeks, and I will see you then. I know you’ll be traveling soon, so let me remind you: no writing, no lifting, and very limited computer use.”
Standing 10 feet above ground, anchored between two “questionably sturdy” mango tree limbs, I think about my conversation with the surgeon, but only for a fleeting moment. He didn’t actually say I couldn’t climb trees.
From below, Jon, my translator for the day, encourages me to stretch a little farther to grab a beautiful red mango. As I stand suspended between the tree branches, I am in awe of creation, not only of nature but of people as well: “How will we share these with your friend Abram?” Jon asks.
I am back where I started several weeks ago: in a private orphanage in Rwanda, spending time with the children. I cannot leave without visiting one last time.
Today I came to spend time with one child: 8-year-old Abram. Introduced to Abram during my initial visit, he was sleeping, wearing striped pajamas one size bigger than his small frame. The nurse told us that in the past, Abram would literally run toward the trees and climb with effortless agility. He would always bring a beautiful bounty of mangoes for everyone.
That was two years ago. Now, with 14 malignant tumors spanning from his legs to his torso, Abram can no longer climb trees. Now he waits for someone to bring him mangoes. I wonder how difficult it must have been for this child to learn he could no longer climb trees.
Jon carefully picks up Abram, and we take the short walk to the orphanage. Placing the mangoes on the kitchen table, I notice that Abram is holding the last mango I plucked from the tree. The mango is ripe, ready to be eaten.
While the other children play outside, Jon and I place Abram in his bed. He’s still holding the mango. He wants to eat it!
I glance at Jon who immediately leaves the room and returns with a small knife. Removing my splint, I carefully begin to peel a mango. Abram points at my hand and asks, “Hurt?”
I shake my head no. It’s true. At this moment all that makes my heart hurt is to see Abram smiling through his own pain.
I had never fed children who could feed themselves. Cutting the mango, the obvious
was no longer sought out: I am my brother’s keeper, helping at this very moment.
With just one good hand I can use a knife. Therefore, it seemed only fitting to extend my hand a little farther and place the fruit on his lips, so that Abram would not have to move from his comfortable spot. As I do this, an unexpected surprise is granted to me: a smile. It was not a smile of gratitude alone; it was a smile of joy,
Regardless of all that is growing inside Abram, he still has joy to share.
When Abram is finished eating and we have wiped his face clean, he says there is a surprise for us. Sitting under the mosquito nets, Jon and I hear Abram sing “God Is So Good” in the most broken, beautiful English. When Abram gets to the second verse, I recognize a slight change in lyrics. Instead of “He answers
prayers,” Abram has changed it to “He hears
our prayers.” I ask him why the change. Abram smiles. God listens, and God’s compassion has no limits.
Then he closes his eyes and sleeps.
We recognize that a child has just reminded us that for all the tangible mission work we complete, there must be room for the Holy Spirit to remain among us, inspiring us to engage in selfless acts built on the rock of amazing grace.
Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in North Texas. Join the conversation at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was published February 14, 2013.