It was the day I stopped crying. What happened in this video is why.
Less than a month after the earthquake happened in Haiti, I went with a team from AIM and unexpectedly met a woman whose story of loss and whose husband’s grief was more than my body could handle. All systems halt.
Two months after Haiti, I went to Moldova on an undercover trip and saw innocence bought and sold as easy as if it was something you could get off a shelf at a grocer. Walk up to a taxi.
“I want a girl.”
He would take you to where you could find one. Or, you could just have coffee on the streets and watch a girl get sold as you brunched, like we saw.
I did not shed one tear.
One. Single. Tear.
Have you ever seen the movie The Holiday where Cameron Diaz’s character tries to make herself cry? I did that. For six months I demanded my eyes to water. Nothing. Six months later, whatever was blocking my ability to cry left and the tears came and went appropriately.
Last year, I lost three friends: one very sweet man my age in a hiking accident in Japan, one young mom and wife to aggressive cancer, and my friend Jay, who fell through a roof to his death a year ago on June 30. I cycled across America with him. This year, one of my Compassion International Uganda trip companions, David, passed away after battling a decade-long fight with a brain tumor.
With each death, I cried. I mourned. But deep within, I had a strange peace that also frightened me.
Today, I am in the Philippines for a variety of reasons: one of which is to be an assistant to a small film crew made up of my husband and his cohort Matt. I change out lenses and run audio and take production stills. I make sure nobody steals our gear if the guys step away for a minute (as much as a scrawny Southern girl with zero upper body strength can fight off anyone, anyway).
On our first day of filming, we went to Malabon, one of the most dangerous parts of the city. Don’t believe me? Google “Malabon Crime” and you’ll read about lots of killings and how police turn the other way. Under the protection of both God and the murderer who governs the slum, we made our way to feed children and sing and film.
We were asked to step in a small house – about 6’x6′ – for a wake for a fourteen year old girl who passed away. She used to live in the orphanage for a time and had a variety of health issues, but with help, she got better. She was returned to her family (as without their permission, children can only stay here for so long). Three weeks later, she was dead.
I ducked into the cinderblock home not realizing the casket was open and the family wanted photographs. I read about her life and saw a picture and then saw her face, her soft features and closed eyes and bright pink lipstick.
And yet I did not cry.
The rest of the day, and even until now, I chastise myself wondering, “At what point is it okay not to cry when you see a girl who shouldn’t be dead; who is dead for reasons that should not even be?” All I remember is her face and her bright pink lipstick. She should be laughing and thinking about cute boys and admiring how sassy she looks in that lipstick. She should not be dead.
Word Association: Orphanage. I see children. Bunk beds. Teddy bears. White people coming in and out waiting to finally take a child home. Hugs. Toddlers.
My word association and my visual composition have changed, at least here and now, at Gentle Hands in metro Manila. It is a rough part of town but we are safe. A white girl with tattoos makes me an easy target, I’m told. Every time I walk out of the front door, one of the guards keeps a hand close to his hip should anyone so much as looks at me in the wrong way. I walk in between Tim and Matt like a sandwich if we go two blocks to the market.
Yes, there are orphans at the orphanage. It started with seven. Then thirteen. Now there are seventy here, but not all of them without parents or families. Some are here so they can go to school. Some are here so they can get medical attention they can’t find anywhere else. Some are months old. Most are young.
One is not. Her name is Lola, which is the traditional name for Grandmother here. Nobody knows her real name as there is nobody old enough to have earned the respect to call her by it. She is 96 years old, and she is an orphan.
Lola is not in any pain. This could possibly be the first time. When she was in her early twenties, her family hid in the caves as the Japanese occupied and took over the government in World War II. She had a husband and seven children. She thought it was silly for her to change her last name when she got married. Her husband was brutally murdered in front of her with a machete. She struggled to provide but did everything she could to take care of her family. As she got older, that family began to abuse her – in what ways, I don’t know. She only talks in generalities and I know better than to ask.
As Charity, the director of Gentle Hands, was out visiting the children in the communities where they work, she saw Lola sitting in a corner, alone, in her own excrement. When I hear this, I can’t help but to remember the stories in the Bible of those who were considered unclean, untouchable, forgotten…and their faith.
…Your faith has made you well.
Charity saw Lola and knew she deserved more. She deserved dignity. Respect. Love. Safety. Charity picked her up. And that is how Lola came to rest at Gentle Hands.
“We accept people unconditionally,” she tells me.
The Philippines does not have a system or a desire to care for the elderly. Even as we rode in a van on the way from one place to another, a woman not much younger than Lola sat on the curb in a busy intersection, her arm reaching to the cars and motorcycles and bikes and trikes that pass by. I overhear there is no organization, governmental or otherwise, that looks out for the Lolas and the Lolos, who history tells me have experienced too much pain already. The orphanage is already over capacity. There needs to be more.
It is unlikely Lola will be alive by the time our team leaves. As I held her hand last night, I thought it would be the last time, but she is alive and awake this morning. Her eyes are gone, however. If you’ve ever held someone close to passing on, you know the slight changes in a face, a chest, the shoulders. She wants to pass in her sleep peacefully. We pray God gives her that grace.
I walked around the corner and out of sight from Lola when I left her last night, hiding behind her oxygen tanks and leaning against the doorframe, watching some of the older girls cover her with a blanket and hold her hand and tell her things in Tagalog, the native language.
This should make me cry.
It does not make me cry, but I do sense a sadness. I am sad about the girl with the pink lipstick and I am sad about the pain Lola has walked through in her long life. I am sad each of these women have felt the pain and neglect and abuse and were forgotten.
Charity walks over to me and I tell her I think Lola will pass away soon. She agrees with me. I confess how I didn’t cry when I saw the girl with the pink lipstick or knowing Lola’s time is short. She tells me how her young daughter once lost someone and didn’t cry and when she was asked why she didn’t, she replied,
“I’m wise enough to know when to cry.”
Could that be it?
God has everyone’s days numbered, Charity reminds me. The girl with the pink lipstick. Lola. You. Me. And though it was just for a short time for both the young girl and this older woman, we know they both had respite from a life full of pain. We know they both felt love. We know they both encountered God and saw hope. The girl with the pink lipstick sang and danced around the walls of the orphanage before she had to return home. Lola sat in her bed and wove baskets like she did all the days of her life and tells stories and laughs at how different she remembers the Japanese invaders looked compared to her and the Americans she knew in her youth.
And while all of the terrible things exist in the lives of both Lola and the young girl, perhaps it is knowing they found love and joy and God and peace even for a little while is what reminds me of God’s sovereignty and mercy and provision. No, there is no excuse for the brutalities and injustices that happen everyday and all around and we should do everything we can to end them. We should be fueled by a compassion for all and a passion for justice. But we should also stand firm in the same faith that the untouchables had in Christ, the same faith Lola had, and the same faith the girl with the pink lipstick had as we remember nobody is every truly forgotten and there is a love that comforts all.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
~ Psalm 34:18