Love is Being Present

It’s February; a day after overglorified Valentine’s.
And here I am: alive and in love (with life)!

To be honest, though, I don’t understand love very well. Most days I feel cornered by it – love is like a thief that demands that I empty my pockets, but ends up disappointed because I’ve nothing to give. Love is too complex, multi-faceted, and nuanced. I don’t have the patience nor the energy for it. Maybe you do, and I salute you. ;)

I’ve also never been one to subscribe to the old adage “All you need is love~”. I mean, thank you, but I would rather eat, be warm, and work than hear about how much you love me. Romanticized notions of love tend to put me off, and I’m always ready to refashion it and make it look a bit more sensible. (Because, honestly, sometimes love looks like it just walked out of the house without checking the mirror.)

One day, I visited a community in a dumpsite with a friend. The trip took hours, the visit took 45 minutes. The ground I stepped on was gravel hardened with garbage. I thought it would reek, but it didn’t smell that bad. It was a bigger community than I expected, with makeshift houses lined up. I was led into an area which looked like an activity center. Kids were everywhere. There were four teenaged volunteers, and they were teaching the children how to make paper pinwheels, and after I overcame the initial shyness of being with new children, I sat myself beside a young girl and introduced myself to her. I think her name was Audrey, but there were too many children, and too many names. She also overcame her initial shyness and smiled back at me, and asked if I could help her with her paper pinwheel.

I remember meeting another little girl that skinned her knee with a thumbtack, and she was bleeding from a fleshwound. Before I even had time to panic and ask her if she was in pain and look for a first-aid kit, she quickly wipes her bloodied knee with a hand towel, brushes me off, and focuses on her paper pinwheel. I’m fazed by how much it doesn’t faze her. I was taken aback, because she made me feel like I was overreacting. Are you so used to wounds, little girl? Am I not?

I learned that afternoon that love is about being present, and I don’t usually get it on the first try.

I was being overwhelmed by questions such as, “How do we get you out of here? Are they studying? What’re these paper pinwheels going to do? How is this helping? Does the government know that you’re here? How can I love you when I can’t give you anything but a functioning paper pinwheel?” I keep thinking that loving people is about fixing them, giving them the best shot at life, and how can I even tell you how immature that sort of thinking can be? I have so much to learn. (There’s so much I need to unlearn, too.)

My friend Christin helped talk me through the mental war happening inside me, when we were on our way back to the city. “Najee,” she starts, “it means a lot to these children when we spend time with them. The photos you took of them, it makes them feel special.”

“Yeah, but what’re we doing? How are we helping? I don’t know if we did anything.”

“We focus on the now.”

Love is about being present.

I want to get it right next time, because I’m so prone to focusing on other things I deem more important. I am worried and upset over many things, but only one thing is needed. Christin sent me a message after our trip, and during that time, my mind was still too clouded to think straight, but now that I go back to it, I wish to be as wise as my friends are one day.

Hi Naj!

Though we had to go through a lot of haste today, thanks for coming to Kalayaan Ministries. I share your frustration and heart break of how-can-this-be-I-want-to-help-them-all-get-out-of-this-they-should-not-be-here when I first went to Smokey Mountain (the other side, the small hill I pointed out to you) but it also taught me that as much as I want to help and change these people’s lives, I can’t. But with that ambition, it helps me give a good perspective on how God can use me even in wee little ways. Because at the end of the day, it’s Him who manages everything. Every person in that community is at His charge and I dare not be god and try to change things with my own might. Always His might and not mine.

To quote my favorite quote of all time,

“I am only one but still I AM ONE.

I CANNOT do everything but I CAN DO something.

And I WILL NOT REFUSE to do that something I CAN DO.” ~Helen Keller

If you have a friend as wise and as lovely as Christin, take the time to treat them out to lunch. :)

I believe in love. I esteem it so highly. And even though there are still days when I think that it just isn’t worth the effort, the fatigue, and the heartache, I am brought back to the truth that I’ve been the undeserving recipient of perfect love, and simultaneously its broken channel.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of my clumsy, broken, unsatisfactory love – I’m sorry, and thank you for sticking around anyway. :)

Belated happy Valentine’s, friend.
Only the realest love to you.

Have a happy day! ♥


Kalayaan Community Ministries‘ mission is to bring the
love, hope, and faith of Jesus along with practical support
to those affected by the injustice of poverty in the Philippines.
The founding missionaries are Ron and Joanna Domingo.
If you are moved to help, contact them. I’ve never met them personally,
but I’ve been able to speak to Joanna via Facebook, thanks to Christin. :)

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