"If you can't feed a hundred people, just feed one"
I almost can't put words to this photograph. This image still moves me to tears, even years after the event. See, the hand on the bottom, with the bright red fingernails is my own. And the other is that of a very under-loved, elderly lady, who touched my heart and changed my life.
Another dear lady, whom I never had the privilege to know, but had touched my life profoundly is Mother Teresa. Writing about her life and its impact on mine would be an entirely different blog. But the impact statement this woman lived her life under vividly haunted me during my time in Ukraine.
The day was warm and cheery, just as a crisp, autumn day should be. As we walked along the cracked sidewalk toward the orphanage, I thought to myself I could be back in my home state, walking down my own street. The weather was so similar to that of back home, it almost made me homesick.
But this trip was too short, and there was too much to process to have time for homesickness. Or anything really, but action. As it was on this day.
We made our way to the orphanage door, and were admitted entry into the establishment. They called it an orphanage, as they called all their institutions that house those that society deemed "less than" or "not normal". This was, however, no ordinary orphanage filled with cute babies and tiny children. This was a home for adults and elderly.
I had no idea what to expect as we were ushered in; I had no skill set to speak to any of these dear people. I spoke nothing close to Ukrainian, Russian, or Hungarian, and my limited Spanish was no help to me here. I had to rely on something more meaningful as I began meeting the most wonderful individuals that day. We broke through the language barrier by relying upon love, and it was spoken loud and clear. These people, just as all people, yearned for attention and affection. And that we had in spades.
This elderly lady in particular, kept seeking out my attention. They had given us all Ukrainian sounding names right away, because they were easier to pronounce to those we were visiting. They deemed me "Anya", which translates to Anna in my mind. This lady soon realized that they were calling me by her given name as well, and took to me like a duck to water. She spoke to me in her language fluently, as though we were old friends and I understood every syllable she uttered. She patted me on the shoulder, and took my hand often.
Through our translator we learned that the women were asking if we had brought nail polish to paint their nails. Which we had, but hadn't been sure how receptive they would be to the concept. Also, those we were visiting kept asking, in their own way, for us to take their pictures with our cameras and phones. They were giddy with excitement to see themselves on the screen. We had no way to print out the photos, but just seeing themselves brought excitement and value to them.
So here I was, standing in an Eastern European nation, in an institution of people deemed "unworthy" or "unlovable" by their government and families, painting nails and taking photographs. This was the plan to lavish love? So strange, and nothing I would have come up with. But here I was, doing what many would call silly or impractical. And everyone around me was loving it, and loving each other, and themselves.
There was so much joy in the air, I could almost box it up. But back to the lady in the photo. Earlier she had pointed to me, said something I could not understand, pointed to my nails, pointed to her nails, and smiled quizzically. And my heart heard what my brain could not. She wanted me to paint her nails like mine. This Anya wanted to look like me, Anya. I confirmed with my translator, and her old, weathered face lit up when I motioned for her to sit down on the concrete bench beside us. I knelt down and did what I was asked: I painted Ukraine Anya's nails bright, bold, red.
And she smiled, and clucked, and cooed. It seems almost too simple. But this undivided attention, along with the human contact of touching her hands while painting her nails, was almost too much for her. I am not sure of her story, but for many of these beautiful people in the orphanage, they have spent most of their life behind these gated walls. Out of contact with the rest of the world, and almost everyone else but the other residents. And for us to be there, in that moment, brought joy and color and love to everyone involved.
when I was finished painting her nails, she gave me the largest hug her frail body could handle. And I just held on until she let go first. I have no idea how much love she needed, but I was going to let it all drain out of me if I had to. The strangest thing happened though, instead of being completely emptied, I was filled to the brim myself!
After our embrace, we took several pictures together, at her urging. Then this Anya grabbed the interpreter and spoke directly to my heart. She said that she had felt more love in these moments with me than she had most of her life. She was so very grateful that this "Amerikana" Anya came all the way to her just to deliver a package of love.
Yep, I cried. I still cry when I think about it too much. Nail polish and a camera. And a big bucket of love. This is what flying thousands of miles around the globe had culminated to. And the lessons I learned that day I almost can't put into words. But Mother Teresa did: "If you can't feed a hundred people, just feed one."
So I challenge you: wherever you are, with whatever you have, how can you pour your bucket of love over someone today? It might be a smile, it might be nail polish, it might be something completely unconventional our out of the box. It might also be absolutely very ordinary. But whatever it is, do it. Feed that one what they truly need. And you will be filled as well. I guarantee it.
Photo taken with iPhone 4, October 2013, Ukraine. Copyrighted Reflections of Revelation. www.reflectionsofrevelation.com