There she is, clutching her purse, dressed professionally and quickly walking towards my car. I’m leaving the hospital at the end of my shift. My feet ache. I have to pee. I want sugar. And fresh air.
She asks me if I am driving back down towards Nyahuka, towards home. I am, but I don’t want to give her a ride. I covet the 15 minutes of alone time I get in the car. It helps me process all the hard situations of the hospital and it helps me feel balanced and sane. It centers me before I see my kids and husband. It refreshes me for the visits from neighbors at our front door. It is the only alone time I get nowadays.
There is a line of boda bodas (motorcycles) waiting to give her a ride. I almost say no and redirect her to them, but something about the way she asks, and my big empty van, cause me to relent.
I turn the car on, she hoists her small frame up into the front seat, and we go.
The day had been full of sick premature babies whom were not getting the medications they needed because the local pharmacies were out of stock. There were two babies who needed oxygen, but only enough oxygen for one. I am new to the NICU, trying to learn the processes and what it looks like to care for babies well in this environment. All this to say, I wasn’t really in the mood to make small talk with my passenger, so I decided that for this ride I was going to skip it altogether and cut straight to the heart.
“Do you have a religion?” I asked her.
“I am a born-again Christian.” She said.
“How do you see God showing up in your life?” I asked.
“I see Him in all things. He is the one that puts the breath in my body. He is the one that allowed me to see this day.”
I look up at the mountains and think about what she says. It doesn’t sound cliche to me, and I am surprised by this. I silently share in her wonder and gratitude that God has us alive, today.
Breath in the body, the ability to take air in, use it and dispel it appropriately is not within our control (ultimately). I had spent the day watching the tiniest baby hovering in that liminal space, between life and death. Between breathing and not. Watching his chest as thin as a cracker heave and ho- working to correct some internal imbalance. I could do nothing.
The passenger and I keep talking. My heart is opening from it’s self-protective shell as I quickly learn a little more about her. She’s in her late 30’s. We both work at the hospital, in different departments. The same questions I would have asked as small-talk, I now find myself wanting to know out of general curiosity. Where before I just saw another request coming at me, now I see a person. Where is she from? Is she married? Does she have children?
She tells me where she’s from, but for the other two questions she just shakes her head. She doesn’t have a husband or children. I can’t quite read a facial expression behind her face mask, but if I make an assumption based off cultural norms here, than this information may be incredibly shame-inducing to share. In Bundibugyo, having children is valued almost above anything else. Being a mother means everything here. Not having children by her age is considered a tragedy.
“I’m sorry.” I say. “I have heard that in your culture there is a lot of shame in not having a husband or children.”
“A lot.” She says.
We talk a little bit about what that is like for her. She is weighted down by these unmet desires. She wants me to brainstorm any nice single men I know. All of them are like 12 years old. I tell her sorry I’m not much help.
“Did you know…” I said “that where I am from, some women choose to not marry and not have children?”
“Really?” she says, perplexed.
We talk about different ways women live out their womanhood without the roles of wife or mother. The conversation eventually comes full-circle, back to seeing God in all things.
“Do you see him in your story?” I asked her. “In the way that He has designed your life?”
She seems doubtful in this particular moment.
If I’m honest with myself, I often am the same way. I can see God in so much- out there. I can even thank him for the breath in my lungs, when I remember. But it can be difficult to see him in the parts of my life that I think should look differently or that I wish were crafted more to my liking. I spent nine years waiting for God to call my husband into missions, wondering how I could feel so intensely about a life that he had very little desire for. I’ve shared a due date with a friend and then miscarried, and instead of becoming mothers together I became her doula and watched as she birthed her perfect baby boy into the world.
Unmet desires can bring you to your knees, make you feel like you are lost wading through thick brush. He is there, but it's too hard to see Him. It's why we need each other.
I pull up to my gate. The ride with her is over. This woman may not be getting out of my car with a husband or kids, but I felt strongly about reminding her of one of her primary identities.
“You are the daughter of a King.” I say. “He loves you. He sees you. He delights in your life.”
“Thank you.” She says.
Then we leave each other.
It was a surprisingly sweet connection. A glimpse into another’s heart, and a reminder that the Spirit moves in unexpectant places.