The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This week I fell in love with Rana. It took me by surprise one day, like noticing the lateness of the hour; like the proverbial arrow in the heart. I was looking around the comedor for a place to sit at dinner, and I saw her slightly oblong head sitting with the other chiquitos at their little table. I went over and sat down beside her and her eyes lit up. “Rana!” she said, which is what she does when she’s happy. “Sapo no, rana sí!” she said, and I knew I was welcome at her table. She leaned up next to me, and stuck her tongue out. When I mimed her, she burst into giggles and I just hugged her. I felt at that moment like I could have hugged her forever and it wouldn’t have been enough. She was so happy sitting beside me, and I was so happy sitting beside her. We were both so happy. Our presence was a blessing, one to the other.
Rana means frog in Spanish, and it's the name I'm using here to refer to the special needs student I work with one-on-one each day. Her behavior is still very difficult, sometimes heart breaking. Just when I think we're making progress, we'll have a morning where she refuses to do any of the activities, like this morning for instance where I had to end by carrying her as she pounded my back with her little fists and cried, to her dormitory. But no matter how challenging she is in class, or how rewarding, I'm not going to be able to stop loving her. The moments like yesterday morning when I walked into class and her face lit up and she called out my name fill me with too much joy. Where does that come from? What has Rana done to elicit that love from me? And what have I done to elicit it from her? Forced her to sit still in class for two hours a day? Taught her how to trace? The answer is nothing, I've done nothing to deserve her loving me. The quote from my favorite musical of all times hangs on the cabinet in our bathroom: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Maybe that's the only way to understand.
Rana will not remember me for very long after I leave in a year from now. Her mind alights on concepts like a bee does on a flower, pausing for a moment, then moving on to the next bright blossom, sometimes slowly, lazily, sometimes with frenetic activity. If I visit, she may be glad to see me, for the first couple of months after I leave. But I’ll fade from her life. She is different from the other children, of course, but she helps puts my time here in perspective. The others may remember a little longer, but for all of them the reality is that I will leave and our lives will go on apart from one another. We’ll have this year to love each other, and then our love will need to take on a very different form, one I haven’t yet learned to recognize. So has it done us any good?
All of us volunteers talk about how we don't know how we'll be able to leave, but I mostly just don't let myself think about it. I did, though, this past weekend with one of my wonderful fellow volunteers, Emma. I said at one point how I couldn't stand the thought of us coming here and working our way into the life of this place for a year and then just going. "To these kids, we're going to be just one more person who left," I said. She corrected me: "One more person who loved."
I re-read one of my favorite books of all times this past weekend on our vacation while I was doing a lot of processing on this topic. The quote above is from the book but it doesn't make a lot of sense without the context. Here's the chapter if you want to check it out.