Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Goodbye songs

The news turned into a dull, deep ache when I looked into Tiago's tired, red eyes. Though generally fueled on one meal a day, he is a tireless man, but today a tired man was standing before me. He shook my hand with the same grip and affection as always, then he told me it was true, what I had heard. His little Julia lost her life to malaria the night before. She was three years old and the symptoms came all at once leaving her little chance to fight back. He held my hand as he told me the news, yet it was as if I was on the other side of the ocean. I felt sad yet so far away from the pain I saw in his eyes.

Nobody said anything we all just hopped into the jeep and started driving to a village on the outskirts of Nampula. Tiago broke the silence a few times commenting that the roads were really bad now because of the rain, but other then that we just sat and listened to the hum of the Land Rover. Once we arrived we were all respectfully greeted and shown where to sit under the shade. I sat with the men outside in silence listening to the undulating sound of the women singing from inside the house. The dull deep ache, within me, grew with each chorus, reminding me of the family's sudden pain.

It came time to "say goodbye" so everyone huddled near the doorway of the small adobe house as Julia's uncle encouraged everyone to be courageous while leading the group in singing. He was inside singing at the top of his lungs in perfect harmony with the women in the house. He would start the chorus and the others would follow at a regular beat then he would suddenly pick up the beat and sing with all the strength he could muster. The strength and beauty of his voice, as he sang goodbye to Julia, pierced my heart in a way that no sound ever has. It collapased the ocean of distance wrapping my heart in the same loss he and the family felt.

There wasn't a single dry eye as we huddled there listening to the "goodbye". Then Julia's uncle came out inviting everyone to say "goodbye," so one after another we all made our way into the house to say "goodbye". I walked in behind my colleagues circling around to where Tiago and his family were singing, then around to where Julia's little figure lay.

To say "goodbye," some bent down to kiss her forehead. Others could barely look through the tears; most bowed respectfully whispering "goodbye". Just as I got near her body the family began to sing with such strength and beauty that even my bones seemed to be listening. I don't know that I have ever heard a sound like it, neither could I justly describe its painful beauty. The little adobe house was nearly shaking from the power with which the family sang.

After we all had said goodbye we followed the family as they took Julia's body to the nearby cemetry, which was a cleared field about 400 meters away. It was a normal field littered with small trees, mounds of dirt, and bushes; but most distinguishingly little crosses marked its rugged terrain.

Coming to the spot where they were going to lay Julia, everyone gathered in a wide circle as Julia's uncle encouraged everyone to be courageous in this time of loss. Then all the men filled in the grave as they sang goodbye. Close friends took control in the end making sure that it was marked properly and that the dirt was neatly gathered to make a little dome. At this very moment, I was struck with such a deep sorrow that I could barely move, for as I looked around that field I saw 8 other mound's of fresh dirt which had been shaped with the same care that I was seeing before me. I could only think about how many mounds there were and how tiny that village was.

How many times did this village have to say "goodbye" this month? This thought tore my heart then and even now, as I write, I keep getting this lump in my throat and watery eyes.

I have learned that saying "goodbye" is one of the hardest things we have to do. Being separated from the ones you love makes a hole inside you that only you feel and even those close to you can't see the hole. Moving away for a time because of school or work or whatever other reason is hard, but Losing a loved one makes a heart ache with the emptiness of loss.

I pray to my God that those we lose here on earth would have the hope of listening to the powerful and beautiful songs of welcome as He welcomes us into His arms. Knowing that I am wrapped in God's lasting love gives me such hope that I can't keep it to myself. I pray that those I love would know the songs of welcome to be coming in the wake of "goodbye songs". The fear that we will only sing goodbye and no angels will welcome the ones I love is unbearable.

Love you, Jer.