During my junior year of college I spent my Fall semester studying at Daystar University, just outside of Nairobi, Kenya, as part of a study-abroad program. Four short months in Africa will leave anyone with a lifetime of memories. In my 20-year-old state of mind, life was much harder–washing my clothes in a bucket from water drawn from a well outside my dorm; sharing my room with three noisy roommates; popping malaria prophylaxis that gave me disturbing dreams; taking bucket baths; and carrying my friend’s stool sample to the local clinic to test for typhoid.
Life was, however, also much richer. For reasons I don’t remember specifically, I was the first of the small group of exchange students from the States to lose it. Overwhelmed by culture shock, homesick and fatigued, I had a first-world meltdown. The romance of the experience had passed; by then we’d all had our first, second and third rounds of diarrhea, and I had just about had it. Looking me over, Mama Sophie, the director of our program, must have thought I looked pretty dreary because she invited me to her home for a week with her family to recover. One week of home-cooked meals, quiet nights in a comfy bed, and long baths in a tub seemed to do the trick. Before I knew it, life felt manageable again in the dusty countryside of Athi River. Changing my malaria medicine, I might add, also helped.
Had I not had that meltdown, I would never have been touched by the warmth of Mama Sophie’s family who took me in and loved me back to health. Had I not hit hard the wall of culture shock myself, I would not have had as much compassion on the students who followed in my footsteps and ended up at Mama Sophie’s dinner table just like I had. While I swallowed my pride in what felt like an embarrassing show of vulnerability to a group of people I didn’t know very well , someone else had the opportunity to fill me back up again by loving me through a rough spot with no questions asked. And I would not necessarily have recovered to not merely survive but thoroughly enjoy the remainder of my stay in Kenya.
Sometimes it’s our moments of deepest need that open us up to living more of life than we knew was imaginable. But are we able to stop trying to appear competent enough to handle it long enough to allow someone else to get close enough to love us through it? After all, isn’t that what friends are for? And if we can’t be so open with those we deem friends, then what’s the use in having friends at all? In my case, the love and care I needed came from a family I barely knew but was discovered by bearing my greatest weakness at the time. How comfortable are you with your vulnerabilities? Where and with whom do you feel most able to drop your guard? And how often do you do so?
Loving is a risk. Being loved, however, is perhaps a riskier venture.