Saving Graces: Endezih New-a!

Sometimes, it is the uncomplicated wisdom of a teenager that saves you. I was squatting on the floor of the hospital bathroom, willing my three year old to go ‘pee pee.’ The chickenpox we were waiting for him to get from his sister was severe enough to land him in the hospital for five days where my life took on a pause. I left his sister with my mother and spent every minute wiping away tears and massaging small swollen feet. I wasn’t tired but the magnitude of single motherhood suddenly seemed insurmountable. Leeben is only three and his sister Rekka is six years old. By my calculation, that’s another fifteen years of responsibility, of my heart swelling open and shut with love but also worry. It is little sleep and a lot of prayer. It is not having the right to get sick or feeling guilty for a nap. It is a physical exhaustion I did not know I had in me.

So that early evening, I wondered aloud to Aman who is helping me transport Lee to and from the bathroom of our comfortable hospital  room, ‘How am I going to make it?’ Aman answered without much thought and with his easy tone, ‘Endezih Newa!’

I looked up at this beautiful, brilliant young man in a slight shock and I said nothing but my eyes stung. I don’t know how an 18-year old knows the answer but he was raised by a single mother and perhaps in that fact lies the answer. I know he meant ‘you do it by doing it’ and of course that is good advice. You just get on with it and deal with challenges as they arise, but the Aha! Moment in that small phrase was for me this: ‘Sehin, you do this incredibly beautiful but hard, hard work with us, the Graces that God has put in your path, to prop you up, to inspire you, and when you can’t move, to lift and to carry you.’

Let me start with Aman himself. I first met him when he was Leeben’s age and I take much pride in having been part and witness of his childhood. His mother who is only a few years older than me and who has a life-threatening medical condition and a 6th grade education has somehow managed to raise a loving, polite future engineer who cut short a summer trip to help me care for my kids. I have no guilt leaving Aman to watch the kids in the playground I took him and his sister to a decade ago and he engages with Rekka with a sensitivity she appreciates. Leeben adores him.

The other Graces in my life come through for me just as I need them to. My wonderful friend came to the hospital every morning, bringing Leeben breakfast and a macchiato to start my day bearable. Beyond our recent scare, many Graces helped lighten the load of the last six months where our lives transitioned in difficult but necessary ways. People can be so very kind. The many words of wisdom from women who have been ‘there’ has for me been pure Grace. My cousin gave me a cute pair of slippers and when I went to her shop to thank her, she spread her arms wide and said, ‘Min Tihognalesh?’ Indeed Min Ehonalew?

A friend’s husband quietly drove me and my belongings out of the only home my children knew, and another  friend cheerfully packed away their toys. Other friends offer a much-needed ‘Ayzosh’ and ‘Berchi’ and a fellow mother at the school that I did not even know a year ago gives me much comfort every day. My brother and lovely sister-in-law give us love and their kids are the best friends of mine. The nanny who raised me moved back to my mother’s household to help us. And of course, the biggest Grace of all is my mother who completely cleared her household, schedule and closet to take care of my kids and I. She turned her porch into Cafe Rekka where we drink our Sunday Bunna surrounded by teddy bears.

Other Graces work in more subtle gentle ways in my life and I am sure in your life too – if we humble ourselves long enough to pay attention. The woman who cleans your floors and uses her precious phone credit to call and check on you if you come late for work, or the stranger who stops you to ask ‘Be’Selam New?’ If you are wearing all black. Living in Addis can be so much fun what with the smiley face in the macchiato that the waitress brings you, or the guy who changes your tires who tells you he can’t let you go with that long face. There is Grace strewn all over our unclean streets.

Trying to explain the concept of Grace to a six year old led me to a journey of exploration. In the Biblical Tradition, human beings are saved from themselves through Grace, the will of God as manifested by Jesus Christ. I understand Grace to be that gift or blessing that you could not have paid for or earned – it is undeserved but freely given. Accounting for Grace is futile, it would be like paying back our parents for raising us or trying to pay Mother Nature for her bounty. The best we can hope for is to live in Conscious Gratitude for the Grace in our lives.

There will be nearly unbearable days in our lives, for sure. Maybe the test takes the form of an illness or betrayal or the loss of a job or of a loved one. Will they be hard? Yes. Would we want life the other way? Often. But if you ask me how you will overcome or at the very least, survive yours, I will say, echoing Aman, ‘Endezih – Newa!’ With the life-saving support of infinite Graces.