ROME, 1:30 AM, 18 JAN 2010 — It’s too early to call this day tomorrow, and too late to say that it is still yesterday. Outside, in the eternal city the sky is draped by a dark curtain decorated with bright stars. The darkness of the night, like dense pouring paint, has swallowed the colors—slowly turning everything into black. Except for an alarm, screaming for attention that no one wants to give, there is no other sound. In my room with only a dim light, I’m on my bed in front of a blank and bright white page trying to summarize my experiences in India. In the back of my mind, an incomplete equation looms—the answer out of reach.
Where to begin?
I dig into the jumble of memories from the week. At the moment, all I have is a stack of mental snapshots, so I decide to go though them once again. I close my eyes and pick randomly from this dusty album’s most recent pages.
This one is a close-up of the little boy abandoned by his father in front of the door of an orphanage with the promise that he would come back soon. He never returned. The boy is smiling, covering his white teeth with his fragile fingers. His eyes are bright and black like onyx. The background is blurred, but I can see he is surrounded by the sisters who care of him and have dedicated their lives to children like him.
In this one, a young girl wrapped in a light pink sari—a novice’s uniform—is bursting with enthusiasm while talking with Bill about her choice to leave her wealthy family and prosperous future for a life of service in the Congregation of the Holy Family. She will profess next August and can’t wait for that moment! Her hands are gesticulating with passion. Her mouth is where her heart is.
I turn the page and I see an old, cloistered nun who has dedicated her life to silent prayer since she professed 56 years ago. She is seated behind a white grate and looks at the camera through her glasses which slipped almost to the end of the nose. Her dark skin is wrinkled like a used cloth. Her aging body shows signs of weakness. Then I look deeper where no zoom lens can reach. Her faith is more solid than a rock. When she speaks, she speaks softly. It is her silence that is loud.
This next picture makes me smile. Bill, a friend and donor of CNEWA, so far the most serious of the group, unexpectedly shows up on the soccer field with a doti, the typical piece of cloth Indian men wear around their waist, similar to a kilt. He was caught on the camera while kicking the soccer ball, surrounded by ecstatic kids. His outfit is a combination of cultures. He coupled the doti with a bright blue silky soccer jersey. On the back of the shirt I can clearly see his name printed in white: DOTY. Yes, that is his last name!
Oh! I’m glad I found this one. Julie, the Catholic Digest managing editor, is looking intensely at a young girl while holding her notepad on one hand and a pen on the other. This little girl is dancing—a miracle earned by a prosthesis below her knee that a CNEWA donor provided for her. She’s happy, and Julie’s gaze softens to a sweet smile. Her brown, passionate eyes seem to go beyond what she is seeing. Her ears are not listening only to words. She is connecting to a creature of God and shuffling words in her mind, like an expert poker player does with a deck of cards he knows well. She is composing in her mind a story that will connect many to that child. You will be able to read these stories at CatholicDigest.com.
In this one, there is a man leaning on the door of his mud house. His white beard covers the creased bony face only partially. The details are stunning. Each wrinkle on his skin seems to tell a story of his life. He is looking up in the sky hoping that it stops raining soon. Every drop leaking from the gray sky of India washes away a piece of his house. Thomas, our regional director, beside him reassures him. CNEWA will build a new solid home soon.
From the voluminous deck of virtual pictures in the repository of my mind, I pick my last photograph. It’s a picture of you whom I don’t know. You are seated next to me looking at these photos. You are smiling with great satisfaction looking at what your generosity is accomplishing. You and all the other friends of CNEWA made all this possible.
By the time I close this album of memories, I realize that the night has turned into dawn and that tomorrow has arrived. My page is no longer blank. There is also the solution to my equation scribbled at the bottom of my note… the missing variable I need to solve the formula is… YOU.