If I was ever asked to make a list of things I do not like, hospitals would be near the top. They are the frigid, sterile backdrop to some of my worst memories. When I found myself visiting a hospital in Togo, I put my brave face on. I pretended not to be uncomfortable, and forged ahead as I've learned to do. I ended up in the pediatric ward, and that's where I met Florence.
Florence had those trademark big, brown eyes. Like the ones in the pictures that called me to Honduras when I was younger and even more clueless than I am now. They are eyes that hold years of wisdom from a life of trials, and seem out of place on the face of a young child. After my now vivid memories of Togo have started to fade around the edges, those eyes are what will stay etched in my mind. My meeting with her was brief, I said an awkward prayer as her mother held her. I assured her mother that I would continue to pray for Florence, and then I moved on to the next child.
On the plane ride home, there were two Muslim women seated in the row next to me. For whatever reason, maybe because I watch the news to much, maybe because the I have allowed the biased ideas of other people to take root in my own mind, sitting beside these particular women on an airplane made me uneasy. I am not proud of that, but it is the truth. Their faces were covered completely except for their eyes, and I found myself subconsciously glancing at them every few minutes to see what they were up to.
Eventually, I settled down to watch of a movie and the women sitting beside me faded from my mind as I watched a nun endear herself to seven children and a captain with her musical antics, completely oblivious to the tense political events unfolding around them. Somewhere around the time Maria was learning to climb every mountain, I jumped when I felt someone tapping on my shoulder. I turned around and found myself face to face with the woman sitting closest to me. Her eyes were the only feature not covered, and I noticed that they were brown.
Brown eyes, just like Florence.
Two sets of brown eyes that my own blue eyes encountered, within the span of a few weeks. One set I met with love and compassion, the other I met with suspicion and fear. Call it justified, call me a smart traveler being aware of my surroundings. Call it what you will, and I will pretend it doesn't bother me.
Don't misunderstand me, I am not saying that I decided to accept the Muslim woman's beliefs as the truth. There was no discussion of our beliefs, perhaps that is a failure on my part if I wish to call myself a missionary. My interaction with her was brief, she offered me a cookie and I politely declined. Hours later the plane landed and we went our separate ways. For what it's worth, If I had it to do over again, I believe I would have accepted that cookie.
It's quite remarkable that you're reading this story. Remarkable because it is one I almost didn't tell, at least in part. Florence's story is safe, she is an innocent child. Looking at her picture will most likely stir up feelings of compassion, not fear. I went to Africa to meet people and hear their stories, and to share those stories so that others can hear them also.
To quote one of my favorite books, "People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for." I don't know what you're looking for as you read this, and it's not important that I find out. I am simply telling a story, and I wouldn't be much of a storyteller if I decided to leave one of the characters out.