To Give Fully of Oneself

By Ali Kenny, Amigos de Jesus

This particular experience took place five nights before my return from Amigos de Jesus to the United States, during my last night of turno (the term we used for the shift when the caretaking staff had to spend a night sleeping with the kids in their dorm).
“Ok ladies,” I started. “I want to make sure that you all know what these next few days are going to look like. Tonight is my last night of turno. On Saturday, the hogar (home) is having a going away party for us volunteers. Monday will be my last night here and then on Tuesday morning, I’ll be leaving…for a long time.” There was a titter of disapproval as a few girls began processing out loud.
“Girls, girls,” I called out, “we can talk more about this tomorrow morning. And remember what I said about crying? We can’t do it yet because we have so many fun things to do before I go.”
“When can we start crying Ali?” asked Savana.
I smiled and said, “On Monday Susie Q. We can all cry on Monday.”
I walked to each of the girls’ beds, handing out the gummy vitamins that I brought each time I had turno. “And because it’s my last turno,” I announced, “everyone gets two vitamins tonight!” A cheer of tiny voices rang out against the cement walls of the dorm.
Once everyone had their second gummy vitamin in hand or mouth, I proceeded to read a bedtime story. Girls started drifting off to sleep, with the sounds of whispers and giggles fading into the night. I began the second book only to see less and less heads peep out of the bunk beds to look at each page’s pictures. I finished reading, turned off the dorm lights, and laid down with a sigh. Within seconds, four girls approached the bed. Elena literally jumped on top of me, snuggling into my right side, Ariana slipped into the bed on my left, Francisca started stroking my hair, with Natasha next her, leaning into my face with a goofy smile. Four seconds flat.

My mind started racing. I just got rid of my last bout of lice…Elena and Ariana definitely have it. I don’t want lice again! I’m not going to get any sleep. Shoot. Tomorrow is going to be a very long day. Ariana could wet the bed, she hasn’t been doing very well with the pee chart lately. Oh Francisca, your hands are so dirty. I hope they all don’t make too much noise and wake the other girls. Then suddenly, all those thoughts simply stopped. I felt like God had given me the energy and the desire to take it all on; to let these girls have me in the way that they needed me in that moment. I did make Elena and Ariana scoot down so they wouldn’t be sleeping on my pillow, and I did ask Ariana to use the bathroom. But then after that, I just laid there, on my back with both arms around these two girls I had given my life to for the past year, crying as Francisca caressed my face and as Natasha rested her head on my shoulder.
I felt like a gaping chasm, so vulnerable in its openness, but so free in it too, as if I could swallow anything with my self and manage it just fine; thinking that the selfish ways by which I had guarded myself against these girls seemed so foolish. I wanted all of them in this moment, I wanted these girls to fall into me and land safely in the special place that I had been preparing for them all year.
Francisca left fairly quickly. I was surprised she had even shown me that much affection as we weren’t particularly close. Elena immediately fell asleep; she must have been even more tired than I was! Natasha darted around the bed every few minutes, only to spring up right next to my face again. At one point she circled the bed with her arm touching my body, outlining me with her little fingers. After a few minutes I beckoned Natasha close and told her that I love her. She told me that she loved me too, and then quietly climbed into her own bed.

That left me with Ariana, who was clearly still awake, as she was cooing and wriggling around next to me. I pulled her in close, this little girl who taught me the importance of sensitivity, affection, and patience; this little girl who showed me what kind of mother I wanted to be for my own children; this little girl who God made perfect.

“Usted es mi mami,” Ariana murmured as she fell into her own dreamland, as she fell into her own place within me. And for the first time, I felt like I could, perhaps, be worthy of the name.

To learn more about service opportunities through Amigos de Jesus, please click here.
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