Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The human face of God

She weighed 1.3kg when she died. When she was born, she weighed 0.8kg and was only slightly longer than the palm of my hand. The nursing staff had already given up the baby as dead and, obeying local traditions rather than their training, didn’t bother to ensure that she was fed. Her mother, desperately ill with TB and AIDS (thanks to the husband) crawled to her daughter and struggled to give her what little milk she had. That baby refused to die, regardless of the staff’s indifference. She clung to life for one whole month, determined to survive whilst her mother and I continued to fight for her. It didn’t cost much to keep her alive: only daily love and one or two teaspoonsful of glucose. That was all. But gradually the struggle was too much for her tiny body. Her mother and I were the only ones who cried at her death.

Then there was the young woman who gave birth in the village and who bled. Her elderly parents hired a wheelbarrow because its owner refused to lend it to them. For five hours through the night, not stopping to rest, they pushed their daughter along swampy tracks and through the bush to our mission hospital. My attempts to remove the placenta, the cause of the bleeding were unsuccessful. The young woman was still bleeding. That meant an emergency two-hour drive to the provincial hospital, along a nightmare dirt road, full of corrugations and potholes. When we reached the hospital the doctor was having his siesta and refused to come. When he emerged from his bed, almost two hours after our arrival, because of the roughness of the roads we’d travelled, the placenta had already delivered itself. The young woman lived because of her parents’ love.

Don’t forget the parents whose 10 year-old had very severe malaria. They walked for eight hours, carrying the child, not even stopping for a drink of water although it was the hot season. By the time they reached us, the parents were too exhausted to speak. The father sat on a chair and slept. The mother also sat beside the bed. She struggled to stay awake, holding her son’s hand, but even she put her head down on the mattress and slept. The little boy lived, not because of the medication he received, but because of his parents’ love.

We look at the Crucifix, but how often do we see the human face of God in the people around us? Mary is the mother with AIDS who forgets her own sickness in order to fight for her baby’s life. Mary is the couple who ignore their own advanced old age and push their daughter, in a wheelbarrow, through the bush. Mary is the mother who was oblivious of her own needs in her concern for her son’s survival.

The world has a human face, and in our midst is the human face of God.

God bless,
Sr. Janet