So many days I find myself wrapped up in my own struggle, my own issues, my overwhelmingly meaningless whatever problem of the moment. It's natural, because it's real, it's immediate, it's what's in front of me. But in the midst of my mess, I can usually find a single moment where for a brief second I can close my eyes, step out of my own shoes with all the muck they carry, and fill the soles of someone else's.
For the life of me I can't remember this boy’s name, all I remember his story. We trekked for hours down a winding, pothole ridden Rwandan road to hear it. We drove and drove until we finally ran out of road, then stepped out, loaded up all the food we could carry on our shoulders and hiked out on foot for another hour into the bush. It felt like an eternity, but once it felt like nowhere was the closest thing I could imagine, we stumbled across this old beaten down hut.
A young stood at the mud thatched doorway, his clothes torn and dirty. With a smile that hid a thousand horrors he welcomed us inside. It was damp, dark, no water, no lights, just him and his story. He cried as he told it. During the Genocide his parents, like so many others, met their end at the chiseled curve of the Panga. The same African machete that haunts my nightmares to this day. He was young, he saw it, watched as they were butchered before fleeing into the bush with his two younger siblings.
Without even a moment to mourn, this young boy was forced into manhood. To be a father. To provide, protect, to feed and make the best decisions he could. I remember one decision distinctly, it struck me for some reason. He had to choose which sibling would walk alone miles to school every day for the hope of a better future, and which sibling would stay home to help them survive. I remember admiring him for that decision. How hard it must've been to make and stand beside.
I wept him that day. This stranger in the dark hut, hidden away in the Rwandan mountains, a thousand miles from anywhere. I felt ashamed. At the clothes I was wearing, at the food we had brought, at the shoes on my feet. I could've given that young man the clothes off my back, but I wasn't even tough enough to endure the trek back barefoot. Suddenly all my problems seemed insignificant.
Occasionally, when I'm struggling I'll pull this pic back up and remember that dark hut, remember his amazing strength laminated with tears, and wonder where he is now. If his little sister ever made it through school. Wonder if she became a doctor or nurse and finally pulled their family out of the hell they had known. Maybe. Or maybe they're still in that hut and I can't even count the number of shoes I've worn since that day.
I've long since grasped the reality that I can't change the world, I can barely change the daily frustrations at my fingertips. But maybe, that's all any of us are meant to do. Just work on ourselves, day by day. Change ourselves for the better, one selfish menial struggle and desire at a time. To be a constant work in progress, that light on a hill. Shinning and constantly shinning. So the next time we find ourselves in someone else's dark hut, that light inside of us might bring more hope to their path than any pair of shoes ever could.