By Jessica Anderson, on mission in Senegal
"Jessica, I’m thirsty! Give me a cup of water!" demanded 7 year-old Celestine while hugging my side after evening mass at our house, after which we tell all of the children, "See you later!"so that they can be with their families for the evening, and for us to eat dinner and finish the day.
"Celestine! It is ’Jessica, PLEASE may I have a cup of water?’ We have to be polite," I replied, slightly frustrated because I was tired after having been with the children most of the day, still having a lot of other things to finish after they all left.
"Okay okay, Jessica...Please may I have a cup of water?" "Yes, Celestine... you may," I said as I handed her the small blue plastic cup and rubbed her head a little, still frustrated.
She stayed attached to my side as she held the little cup to her lips with her eyes fixed upon me. After a bit, Celestine sighed a happy sigh, placed the cup on the counter, smiled at me with her whole face and said, "Merci, Jessica!" and made her way to the door. "Okay Celestine, it’s nothing. See you tomorrow," I replied as I started to clean up in the kitchen. I reached for the cup Celestine had just drunk from and noticed that the cup was still full of water. Annoyed at what seemed to have been a pointless 5 minute exchange, I drank the water myself and went on with the other tasks of the evening.
Later that night as I was lying in my bed unable to sleep, I started to pray, holding my rosary, and started thinking about all of the things that had happened in the day, asking Mary to shed light upon them. After some time, I began to recall the encounter with Celestine in the kitchen. The first thing I remembered was the full cup of water, but as I prayed more I started to remember the gaze in her full eyes and the way her body was totally embracing my side. I remembered the smile she gave me as she thanked me and started to walk away... and then I sat up in my bed, my tired eyes widened. It hit me: when Celestine thanked me, she wasn’t thanking me for water. She was thanking me for being with her, for my presence. My eyes filled with tears, as I really started to understand. I began to understand why I am here, I began to understand what this mission is all about, what life is about. How easily the memory of what had seemed to be this meaningless encounter, an exchange so normal in our house, could have slipped away from me! It is so easy to get caught up in doing things that we forget the real purpose: to be. To be present. I could give water like an assembly line to every child in Grand-Yoff Arafat, but most of those children would leave still thirsty. It’s not about giving away water, it’s about giving away my heart.