“Today we didn’t have classes because one of our classmates died yesterday. He tripped over a gun and shot himself.”
“My husband didn’t know how to swim and he drowned in the lake.”
“One of our members from Christian Women’s Fellowship lost her husband last week.”
“Our house was attacked by thieves. They came in and forced my son to drink kerosene because they wanted to kill him.”
“Ah, Sister, the day after you left some thieves came and broke the bars on the doors and stole money I had for the children’s school fees.”
“Last week our friends where held at gun point while the thieves went through their house.”
I heard these statements from various friends this past week. Statements that remind me how hard and short life can be in Cameroon. Statements that evoke the same feelings I felt when I was here before and came flooding back so strongly right before I came that I almost didn’t return to Cameroon. As I deepen relationships with friends in Cameroon I am reminded that sharing in their life means opening myself up to their sorrow and pain. I don’t want to. I want to just experience the joys of a shared hug, smile, meal, song, dance, safety-- the beautiful moments I have had the past two months. I want to go around or run away from the pain, the sorrows, the fear. I want to live a safe life in my house doing my research and believe that I can make a difference through scholarly achievements alone. But I know that in doing so I’m not really living or being helpful to my friends. As Henri Nouwen says, “We want to be professionals: heal the sick, help the poor, teach the ignorant, and organize the scattered. But the temptation is that we use our expertise to keep a safe distance from that which really matters and forge that in the long run, cure without care is more harmful than helpful. Let us therefore first ask ourselves what care really means and then see how care can become the basis of community.”
I was thinking about this again this morning, Palm Sunday, and realized that when I returned to Cameroon it was a joyful, triumphal re-entry. It was great to be back, to renew friendships, to eat the food again. Now I am called to move through the other emotions that Holy Week evoke—pain, separation, grief, sorrow, and stay with and care for my friends, not run away, not try to cure them, and patiently wait the promise of Easter.
For many of us, the life we need to lose is life lived in the image of the autonomous self, and the life we shall then find is that of the self embedded in community—a community that connects us not only to other people but to the natural world as well. No wonder resurrection is so threatening; it forces us to abandon any illusion we may have that we are in charge of our own lives, able to do whatever we want accountable to no one but ourselves, free of responsibility to others.