two weeks removed from liberia, i still feel as if i’m carrying the country with me. memories rise up at the most random times, and i’m instantly transported back to a different time, a different place, and yet it still seems so very real. a photograph of one of my girls can bring me instantly to tears, and there are a few articles of clothing that i’ve yet to run through the laundry because i want to remember the smell of sticky air and pungent dust, a scent so uniquely liberian, so heavy that it settles not only in the fibers of your clothing but also your pores, your heart.
part of me doesn’t know what to do with all of this, with the memories, with its weight that i still carry on my shoulders, with the broad spectrum of emotion that i go through in any given day–any given moment, really.
i shared with someone recently that it feels like i’m wearing a backpack, stuffed full with children’s names and faces, their stories, their dreams. the backpack contains experiences, both good and bad, and all the intricate details of which i’m still working through. it’s filled with worries and fears, with guilt and tears, with triumphs and praises and prayers without words. my backpack is busting at the seams with four years of a life lived elsewhere, and it’s still so close, still too soon, that i just don’t know how to let it go.
so this person challenged me to take a backpack, an actual one–the one i’ve carried through airports and on roadtrips, across oceans and countries–and actually fill it with everything i have that makes me think of, makes me remember liberia.
and i did it. pictures of me and the kids went in the backpack. so did letters from the girls, begging me to stay, pouring out their hearts with ink. in went books and gifts, pieces of fabric bought for me as a goodbye from a 19-year old who spent the little money she barely had on the auntie who was leaving her. i filled up the backpack, and i put it on.
and it hardly weighed a thing.
‘how can that be?’ i wondered. so often, it feels so much heavier, a pressing force on my shoulders that makes me want to collapse beneath it.
i thought about all the things i couldn’t put in the backpack: the way Lamie looked when i first saw him, crippled and dirty, sleeping in a garbage pile. the way it feels to have no idea where they put his body. the turning in my stomach when i think about where Lucky is and if we’ll ever see her again. the way i want to give the world to Janet, how i want her every dream to come true. the way bodies look broken and bloody on the road after an accident. the way mothers grieve the loss of their babies. the way i love Mercy so much that it hurts, and how i’ve always felt like she was mine, and now i don’t have her.
i wrote all those things out and stuck them to a pair of free weights, five pounds a piece. and i cried over them, cried so deeply i felt like i’d never stop. and then i put them in the backpack.
even with the added weight of ten pounds and countless tears, the backpack was nowhere near as heavy as i felt like it should be.
which made me realize: sometimes, things hurt us so much that we feel like we’ll never be able to move on from them. but rarely is it as bad as we think it is. yes, it’s heavy and painful, and yes, maybe we’ll always carry around a piece of it. but all of the mess, all of the questions and tear, brokenness and heavy hearts, are not our lot in life forever. they’re merely a few short chapters in a greater story that is still being told.