Aspen, CO Colorado
Eight years ago, my wife, Lu, took on financial support for a young boy in Kenya. Her act of charity answered a strong desire for giving back to someone in need.
At the time, my wife’s generosity seemed to me like an insignificant drop in a vast ocean of need. By occasionally wiring money to Nairobi, we made a small contribution to spreading the wealth of our privileged lives in America.
Vincent was about 10 when Lu saw his photograph at the Basalt Community Church. His picture, a small snapshot, was among many other pictures of African children needing help. Out of all those children, Lu chose Vincent.
So began a relationship between our family and the distant developing world. We’ve been in correspondence with Vincent ever since, sending money, exchanging e-mails, supporting his high school education, and getting to know him as he grew into manhood.
Last Wednesday we received this e-mail from his aunt:”Mum, halo, hope all are fine. Vincent went to the countryside visited the family and came back safely on Sun.
Today at 8pm he was stabbed and died on the spot. We have just transferred the body to the morgue. The assailant is still at large. We are so devastated. Helen is affected most, but because she’s born again she will overcome in Jesus name. Regards to all, love Grace.”
Lu was heading out the door for work as I was reading the e-mail, so I didn’t mention it, preferring to break the news that night when she would have time to deal with the emotional blow.
I spent the rest of that day feeling an indescribable sorrow, wondering why it sometimes seems that the world was made for human suffering. Each day the news reports that people are dying in distant parts of the world, but Vincent’s death hits particularly hard.
Vincent’s e-mails to us described a young man apprehensive about his future and about the future of Kenya during its recent unrest. Vincent wrote that he was employed as a security guard and that he feared for his safety. He said he was hoping to start an internet cafe, and Lu and I were trying to figure out how to help fund his new business.
We never spoke to Vincent on the phone. We never met him. But over the years of our contact a parental bond developed. He addressed us in a familial manner as “Mum” and “Dad.” He addressed our son, Tait, with the universal “brother.”
I’m reminded of the John Donne poem: “No man is an island, entire of itself/Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main/If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,/As well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were/Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind/And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
The bell tolls for Vincent in the church were his service is held. The bell tolls for our family as we mourn him. The reverberations roll across the sea, across the continents, across the heavens. The death knell brings a universal clamor that no walls can close out.
Our relationship with Vincent was a kind of long-distance adoption, and what we realize now is that giving makes one vulnerable to the receiver. A caregiver feels responsible to a recipient. A grantor becomes linked to a grantee. Emotional reciprocity reaches far when charity enriches the world.
Vincent was a seed, a sprout, a young sapling. He is gone, but his life touched our lives and changed them forever. Vincent is gone, but not his memory. The ethereal thread of connectivity ” person-to-person ” wraps the Earth in a gossamer cocoon.
Now we focus on Vincent’s sister, Helen. We are talking about having her visit us, perhaps sponsoring her at a college, a nursing school ” something to keep the giving going ” something to brighten our collective future and soothe the ache of loss.
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