“No, Mom, sit down. I will cook the dinner.”
“Today, I wash the dishes.”
“How can we help you?”
Music to a mother’s ears, those words. But alas, they were but fleeting phrases, for they came from the mouths of the Children of Uganda, who danced in and out of our lives this week.
They arrived in the middle of a blizzard with flimsy shoes, ragged gloves and happy hearts. They were 11 days into their two-month cross-country Tour of Light (touroflight.blogspot.com) and were greeted with record-breaking temperatures that their equator-born bones had never known.
They came with drums and xylophones, costumes and courage. They told their tales of pain and poverty with dimpled smiles and thankful souls. They had so little and gave so much.
Our family was blessed with housing four 15-21 year-old boys; Julius, Karim, Rogers and Vincent. They fell in love with our dog, Griffey, and we fell in love with them. As they politely picked at my prized beef stew, they told us of their meals of maize and beans. The next day they cooked – teaching me how to make authentic rice and beans and demonstrating the delicious difference between my dried-up fried eggs and theirs, which were cooked with care in a pan of oil. As my son, Leo, waltzed in and out of the house during mid-terms week, they talked about their nine-and-a-half hour school days. When I apologized that they had to get up at 8 am, they shrugged it off, explaining that in Uganda they woke up at 5 am and went to bed at midnight.
They loved the iPad and we had to charge it at least once a day. A couple of them had Facebook accounts and e-mail addresses, but little access to computers at home. They got hooked on Netflix and were surprised when the movie they were watching was really a television series that went on and on and on.
They made their beds every morning, called us Mom and Dad and hung out with Leo and his buddies in the basement. They protested me doing their laundry until they realized I wasn’t hand-washing and that all I had to do was push a button. When I took the four boys to Target and bought them all boots, you would have thought I had handed them keys to a Porsche.
We got and gave multiple hugs a day.
On Wednesday, the Children of Uganda and their host families were treated to a pizza lunch at Dante’s Restaurant in Leonia (dantesplace.com). At the end of the meal, the children stood up and broke into song:
We are grateful,
we are grateful,
we are grateful
for all you do for us.
The restaurant went silent as we choked back tears.
All that gratitude motivated me to want to do more. I wanted to adopt them all and make sure every last one of them got to college. I wanted to buy them cell phones and Nikes and laptops. Until I saw them perform.
Now, I have seen my own children perform thousands of times. Ice hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball, football, cheerleading – I have sat in the stands with bated breath. I’ve seen them score, I’ve seen them soar. I’ve seen them earn awards and accolades, win competitions and championships. But, I’ve never seen a one of them perform with the pure passion and joy that the Children of Uganda brought to the stage.
As they danced and drummed, sang and stomped, the pride on their faces, the love in their souls, the happiness in their hearts was real. It was genuine. It radiated from the stage.
Leo, my child of few words, said it best, “They are better people than we are.”
They didn’t come for fame or fortune. They didn’t come for jewels and jeans. They simply came to shed their light and share their spirit.
They left our little church in Leonia this morning in a flurry of hugs and tears. As we stood outside in the frigid air, waving goodbye to our newfound friends, I found myself humming, “We are grateful, we are grateful, we are grateful for all you did for us.”
This week, we gave the best of ourselves to each other, leaving us all better people than we were before.
And isn’t that the best gift of all?