10 days ago at 4:15pm a little boy name Dickens died in a small clinic in a poor city in a country called Uganda.
I’ve scarcely been able to write since that day.
I got the news on a text on the very iPhone that had dazzled the little boy a month earlier. I let go an involuntary and guttural yell.
One of the reasons I’ve had such trouble writing is that I haven’t known what to write. What do I write about another child dying? He was just one of thousands of poor children who died that day. I happened to know his name because a friend had given us the chance to help him last fall.
Our friend found him in a town north of Kampala. He was blind. Something was causing his eyes to be pushed out of their sockets and so he spent his days rocking back and forth alone in darkness. No one knew what the problem was and there was not doctor in his town so his prognosis was poor.
As it turned out the problem was lymphoma and our friend took him for treatment at a local hospital, not knowing where else to turn. He spent time there and got intermittent treatments and bone marrow tests and he never cried. Not once.
Over time one eye improved and sight returned. Over time the other eye grew more and more infected and bled. Over time he seemed to be getting stronger in no small part because our friend basically adopted him. She would leave work and go to the hospital and drive him to her house and cook for him and bathe him and introduce him to luxuries like a shower and to even greater luxuries like a warm shower (when the electricity had been on long enough to heat the water). He smiled and he said, “What is such a thing?”
Easter Sunday the text messages started coming. He had taken a turn for the worse. His liver was failing. He had fallen into a coma. In his coma he screamed out in pain.
He lingered and then one afternoon, in the arms of our friend, he died.
Every morning when I walk into our bathroom I see the suitcase, still mostly packed, that I took to Uganda. I keep it there as a sort of reminder that the trip was real; that the trip wasn’t some dream. Because day by day the more distant and surreal it becomes. The suitcase keeps reminding me that it was real and that everything I saw was true and that life there continues as I saw it….
I need that suitcase visible or else I risk putting Dickens and the other people I saw in Kampala into that suitcase and into some closet where it will be tucked out of sight.
I have no more clue tonight about what to do or how to do it than I did on the first night I arrived in Uganda. I just know that I am required to do something. That means money and time and words and life. And it means remembering this little boy and finding the strength to believe that I will see him again one day and when I do I will not recognize him because he will not be poor and he will not be sick and he will have no tears and no disease.
Dickens, I look forward to that day.