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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Of humor and poverty

Kabasunguzi Grace continues to be one of my all time favorite patients.  Partly that is due to the treasure and heart principle—over the last year I poured a considerable amount of energy and angst, prayer and money, emails and consults, research and hope into finding her a diagnosis and cure.  I failed, at least mostly.  She is a 12 year old who remains blind and paralyzed, but her wasted frame has filled out into a healthy roundness, her cheeks glow, her ulcers have healed into smooth skin.  Her dedicated mother perseveres.  Yesterday she was on my mind and heart, so today I biked out to see her in her mud home.  I found her lying in bed as usual, in her dark little room with a pocked foam mattress and tattered sheets, a clutter of dishes and scraps of bags on the dirt floor.  Since she’s blind the darkness of the room only bothers me, not her.  Her mother told me yesterday they had managed to get her outside to sit in the sunshine.  The radio stopped talking, they told me, my attempt at aural stimulation in her bleak environment now failing.  I opened the back to demonstrate that there were no batteries inside, which did not seem to diminish their faith in the return of its function.  Sigh.  

One of the surprises and delights about Kabasunguzi is her sense of humor.  Once I was carrying her from the car and she made a joke about how I was not strong, she just didn’t weigh much.  Today when I greeted her in her room I could see from the bowl of matoke on the floor that they had been eating, though I did not see any sauce, just plain lumpy starch.  As soon as I ran out of Lubwisi conversation (which is sadly quick) Kabasunguzi smiled mischievously in the silence and asked her mom loudly, is my doctor eating my food??  We all laughed.

How can this little girl who can not see or walk or sit, who lives with about ten dollars worth of material possessions, who has no schooling or music or books or treats, make jokes?  

I ponder this as I ride home, refreshed strangely by the beaming of her face and the cheerfulness of her heart.  I do not idealize poverty—being poor does not make a person necessarily wise, or strong, or holy.  Poverty is a symptom of our deeply broken world.  In the New Heavens and New Earth there will not be people who struggle to feed their children no matter how charming their spirit may be to the casual observer.  Yet I do see some truth in the concept that we who are rich benefit from interaction with the poor, from coming face to face with a little girl who wants to make me laugh instead of cry over her condition.  I think the Spirit put her in my mind, not because she needed a few shillings for food which I usually press into her hand when I visit.  No, because I needed to remember that joy is not based in circumstances, that being able to walk and see are not prerequisites for making a joke.

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