This I Believe - 2008 and 2015

Seven years ago, I wrote and read a "This I Believe" essay at The Rudyard Kipling. Today, I wrote one for tonight's Finding Our Voices event. What has changed in seven years? Only that I continue to know less and less. I can't wait to see what I write (i.e. learn) in another seven years.

The face of my savior is the face of a young girl I met in Haiti when I was fifteen years old. Her eyes were warm and wide-set above a shy, genuine smile, her head crowned with springy dark braids that glistened in the tropical sun. I knew her for only a few days. I cannot remember her name, but I will never forget her shining face, nor the way her voice stirred me as she whispered my name in her beautiful lilting Creole, calling me to a moment of transcendence that revealed to me the deepest truth I’ve come to understand in my short life. As we gazed into one another’s eyes, the barriers of division put in place by the world melted away: we were neither white nor black, poor nor rich, young nor old. We spoke not the same language, except that poetry that now danced between us, the wordless expression of commonality, of shared humanity, of belonging to the world and to one another. She smiled at me, and I smiled back, knowing that we both understood. In that moment, I felt that I could sense every heartbeat on the planet, every pulsation of every creature in the air and the sea, each breath of every tree, the stars swirling in the cosmos. I would feel this way almost exactly a year later as I hugged a homeless man at the St. Vincent de Paul shelter right down the street as he cried that he couldn’t express the gratitude he felt knowing that someone saw him as more than a bum, a nobody. I sensed this as I fed a paraplegic man at Active Day two summers ago and he grasped my hand, looked into my eyes and said, “You are a very beautiful girl,” and I realized he saw his own beauty reflected in our simple act of taking time to be present to one another. I am liberated in the same way as I sit quietly under a canopy of trees or dig my feet into the sand and gaze out across the ocean, recognizing that I and my sisters and brothers of every species belong to this earth, and it is all one.
This I believe: we are here for one another. Dissimilarity is an illusion. We must come to grasp our unity through short lives lived in a world into which we are seemingly born apart; it is our deepest and greatest spiritual challenge. Thomas Merton once said, “In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.” I am ever grateful for the gift my Haiti-sister and savior gave to me: a life of ever-present redemption through relationship, a life lived in reverence of the oneness that connects us all."
- Mandy Zoeller, "This I Believe" Essay         The Rudyard Kipling, 4 June 2008


The face of my savior looks back at me with my own brown eyes and smiles with his father's chin. He came into the world because his father and I longed to be as close to one another as two humans can be. He originated in mystery; he grew in secret; all the while, I felt him as myself. By stretching the most vulnerable places in me so far I did not think I could hold together, he opened a doorway to the infinite. I did not hold together. His birth caused me to die...and be born anew.
My body and soul expand as he grows. My breasts and belly are carved by a tracery of sacrifice and surrender. My breath, my pulse, my life rhythms no longer belong to me. They never belonged to me; they were given from an ancient lineage of ancestors who hurt and bled and birthed and loved. Now, I give to him. Because I carry my son in my heart, I am reminded each moment that life comes from death comes from life. His arms around my neck, his breathing "Mama" in my ear - an inhale. His little feet carrying him away to some new adventure - an exhale. Every day is an end and a beginning in the story we write on the cosmic tablet of time.
This I believe: only our children, the Life that comes from and continues beyond us, can save us from ourselves. Each beguiled giggle, each sharp tear of knowing pain, each wonder at the complex art of the world unfolding marks a stage in his journey of becoming something I will never know. My son belongs to a world I cannot inhabit and can only cultivate in his tending. I have known no greater teacher, no more humbling master, than the little one who looks at me with my own brown eyes.
The only response to his lessons is to change my life. My being is heavier because I cradle the question: What will his world be like? How can I prepare the way for what he is meant to be? Loving him has compelled me closer to everyone. In such radical intimacy, our collective destinies come together in the simple commandment: Hold on to one another. Walk through the infinite doorway. Give up your life for love.
- Mandy Olivam, "This I Believe" Essay                    The Loft, 28 August 2015