This post has been lingering in the draft box for a very long time while I wrote the others leading up to it. I took it out, looked at it, and put it back almost every day. Then the other three were done, and I still just looked at it, changed things, put it back. A dozen times.
I knew from the start that the whole “Heart Pain” series would be a brave but futile attempt to condense an experience that can’t really be condensed. Even though the stories are incomplete, I got through the first few — mostly in the middle of the night– because I knew how to tell them, how to convey some fraction of the impact. I lost my courage on the fourth. You can’t type tears, you can’t type love, and you sure can’t type heart pain.
But I don’t want to put it back again.
I swept my belongings off the shelf, tugged bangles onto my wrists, and zipped shut the cherry-red suitcase. Shouldered my backpack and dragged it all down a flight of stairs. Added it to the pile — checked luggage to one side, carry-ons to the other — and entered our meeting room to see all the children gathered, most looking ill or openly sobbing. They looked how I felt.
Such was the scene as we prepared to leave Semmandakuppam early on the eighteenth of January.
A few days earlier, I had left the kids for a little while to briefly reflect and sort out some thoughts. I hadn’t been alone for very long before I missed the rest of India again.
A nauseating thought dawned. You can barely leave them for half an hour. What are you going to do when …?
I climbed the stairs to the roof and looked in all directions. The coconut trees and sugarcane crops were more beautiful than the architectural feats I once dreamed of traveling the world to find. The mountains sloped and faded into haze. The brilliant sunlight, so different from the kind we know in the west, overwhelmed brand new eyes.
This was not on the map. I was not supposed to look out on a remote Tamil village and see home. This was supposed to be a change of scenery, nothing drastic. It was not supposed to change my vision or trajectory. My heart was not supposed to be invaded, emptied out, divided, and made whole.
Suppositions are fragile things.
I began to understand what was behind Peter’s desperate “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If You wish, I will put up three shelters.”
If You wish … But He did not wish. Not yet.
Everything in me shuddered, and I clung to the hope that His love is strong.
And then, the luggage was being piled into the bus and we had to say goodbye to all those children. Goodbyes are among my numerous weaknesses and I had little to say, only children to embrace. Tears did not fall even as I said goodbye to Pavi who stood stoic, hands behind his back.
I looked over and saw a familiar pair of purple polka-dotted pants. Nithya had wandered in while I was with the others. She gave me her crinkly-nosed smile, but with questioning eyes. I picked her up, hugged her tightly, and lost whatever fragment of bravery remained.
Moments later, everything was packed and the students clustered to the side for our departure. Pavi didn’t even move to brush away the tears as we said our final farewell.
We boarded and I looked back at dozens of faces etched with expressions ranging from smiling nostalgia to the throes of grief. Fortitude did not avail itself; a plurality of tears did.
There are no words for what that moment felt like, except that it surpassed, but was not unlike, everything I ever learned the hard way about reckless love.
A boy in an orange shirt and gray beanie, a boy particularly small in stature but particularly tall in courage, looked at me and put his hand over his chest as if to hold back whatever welled inside.
He does know something about heart pain.