I was searching for a moment, a transcendent moment, where belief meets action, action meet conviction, and I changed the world.
I was in India last year, wandering the streets of Kolkata with a group of friends as we attempted to "change the world" or ourselves, hopefully both, but quite possibly neither. We saw and experienced some amazing things, in this beautiful city, but one moment stood out to me. This moment, I have never quite managed to resolve, or understand, and to this day, look back and wonder.
Her name was Sainu
Her name was Sainu, and she wandered so effortlessly down the street. She held a graceful joy that I could only begin to comprehend by the fact that she was trying to sell me balloons. She called me Uncle, and instantly I was charmed. I knew deep down that we were connected; I noticed that we were not so different. I became incredibly charmed, charmed by the charm that can only be found within the cheeky smile of a seven year old. I held this moment, as I attempted to sleep in our gated hostel, which could protect us from everything except the sadness we all were attempting to escape. I looked at this moment of purity, in a city of pain.
A few days later the city changed. As we were exploring the city the wind swept through, and in a moment something happened. A torrent of rain, which seemed to explode from the heavens with the most intense amount of water that I had ever seen, washed through the streets of Kolkata. The streets were knee deep with a river that was washing the city clean. And in this moment, as our plans of exploration were put on hold. In this moment we purchased umbrellas.
This umbrella became significant. Not for the fact that it sheltered me from the rain, but because of the fact that I ran into her again. In a city of four and a half million people again I encountered again Sainu. But this time she carried herself differently, the rain was falling, and I could tell for her the rain had been falling for some time now. Being born into the storm which is Kolkata, living a life where the flood waters just kept on rising, accustomed to life on the brink of drowning.
For her, the rain may never stop. For her the only sunshine she has ever known shines in a culture whose cognition never developed in such a way as not to notice the fact that we hold the same humanity. Whose swings of violence justified by the fact that she is woman.
Who values you in-so-much as your appearance retains its cuteness. So in this moment as she reached out her hand, my heart overcame my head and I gave her my umbrella. This was my foolish attempt to stop the rain; because for some the rain may never stop.
I couldn't help but reflect on this moment. To wonder what my response should have been. As a Christian, who believes in the word, and actions of Jesus, what I have done. I was torn between my belief that I was your uncle; while knowing that if I was, things would have looked very differently.
My umbrella wouldn't have given me a second thought, and everything would have been inadequate in my attempt to save you. My coat, and shoes, and everything contained within my wallet would have been yours, and in failure to save you, I would join you, letting the world know that you are not alone… but I didn't.
I walked into the fancy cafÃ©, which although she wandered past have never entered. I stepped out of the harsh reality that was life in Kolkata, and into a world that I knew, a safe place, warm, and friendly to a white face.
I wonder about my response. Was I right in giving, and leaving? Or was more required of me? Was this a moment where I was required to change the world? Or was this a moment, that appeared on my journey to change me? And more importantly what is Sainu doing now? Is the rain still falling, or has it become more than her seven year old bones could bear? Or does she now have hope; did that umbrella stop the rain for long enough to help her find shelter?
I will never have answers to these questions, so I must hold onto a hope. A hope in a God, who loves his people, and by nature is interacting with his creation in love. Drawing all things towards himself; reconciling, and redeeming creation. Because all I will ever have in this situation is hope. I hope that Sainu, somewhere on the journey, has found this hope.
Tim Shallard is a part owner of a pretty cool CafÃ© in Auckland City. He studies theology at Carey Baptist College, runs a poetry collective, and is passionate about coffee, community, and living the dream.
Tim Shallard's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-shallard.html