Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I am not enough

My friend looks like a skeleton, like she’s barely alive. And it’s true, in so many ways.

My Indonesian friend may have Parkinson’s which makes her look like she’s 100, though she might be just 60 or so.  On this tiny island with limited health care, she’s never been diagnosed, probably never will be.

She sees me and my three kids and calls out to me while we’re still on the road. I can’t hear her words, of course. Her voice is weak. Her body hunched and sitting in the same hard-backed chair in which she is always sitting.

I’m relieved.

This is the first time I’ve seen her since my eight-month visit to the States. And I was worried before I left that she wouldn’t make it, that our goodbye then was final. But my relief quickly turns into concern. From her increasingly skinny frame and her tired eyes, it looks like she just barely is. Just barely lives.

The first thing out of her mouth is an apology for her smell, for not having showered yet that day. Every day, she has to wait for her daughter--who just got home from work when I arrived--to carry her and bathe her and I just can’t imagine.

I tell her not to worry. Tell her that I’m all sweaty from the walk up her road in the heat of this tropical day. That I smell too.

Then she asks me if I’m real. If I’m really there. And when did I return to Indonesia? And why was I away so long? She tells me I’m her only friend. That no one else visits her. She is crying. And I guess I should be honored.

But I’m not. I’m mainly just sad.

Because I know I am not enough.

She says she aches and so I rub her bony shoulder. Her hands rest on her legs, the disease pressing her hand into a fist that I haven’t seen unfolded in years. She tells me that now that I’m back, I can massage her all the time and maybe she’ll get better.

I know it’s not true. That even if I was there 24-7, which just isn’t possible, that it wouldn’t heal her from all that makes her sick.

I know I’m not enough.

I try to unfold her fingers, to rub her hands, and it’s hard and I worry that I’m hurting her. And then I do smell her. That sweaty, clenched hand that never gets clean. And in the heat of the day, it reeks and soon my own hands reek and I fight the nausea.

We chat about my kids and her grandkids who are playing all around us. Sometimes it’s awkward and sometimes we're interrupted by a child or a neighbor or a motorbike roaring by. Sometimes my friend and I go deeper about stuff I won’t share here. And sometimes she reminds me of my grandma back in the States, the one with Alzeimer's, the one I may never see again because I am here. But soon it’s time for me to get home and finish dinner and I tell her I’ll be back in a week.

“Tomorrow?” she begs. “Why not tomorrow?”

I don’t explain to her that many days my other responsibilities and my life as a mom of young kids is so busy I feel like I’m drowning. That I’ve learned after nine years in Indonesia that I have to pace myself, that I have to leave some margin.  

That every day, I see needs and even when I respond in the tiny ways that I can, people still hurt. People still die. People still need.

That no matter what I do or how hard I try or what I’ve sacrificed to be here, I’m just not enough.

I don’t tell her that this gap between the needs I see and the small, mistakes-filled things I do is one of the hardest things I face here. That I fight guilt and inadequacy and exhaustion when I listen to the lie that maybe I could fix everything if I could just figure out how.

And with a few of her family members around, the time is not right for me to tell her again what I’ve told her dozens of times. What I tell myself almost every day. What I must remind myself so that I can live.

That I am not enough. That what I do will never be enough. Not for their sake. Not for mine.

That I, too, would be dying in so many ways without Him. That I, too, would struggle with the guilt from a lifetime of broken relationships and regrets if it weren't for Him.

That what she most needs deep down is something that no human-sized good work--hers or mine--can fill.

That though I can’t always be there with her all the time, I pray to Him for her, trust Him to watch over her. That it is Him who is Everything and who loves me and that love is so consuming that it covers all my own messiness, my stench, turns all this into beauty, and into joy, if I let it. That anything I do right or say right is not me. But Him through me.

That I don't have to carry her burdens, my burdens, your burdens because He already has.

That though I am not enough, never will be, I hope to be back again to visit her next week, to offer for the one-hundredth time, One who is.

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