On Sunday, June 13, Zambia Nkrumah, a long-time friend of my parents and an equally long-time artist and activist in the Louisville community, passed away. At a celebration of life service held in her memory several days later, I was reminded that showing love changes lives.
One of Zambia’s 16 godchildren described how someone would become her godchild: She would meet a young person, and at the end of a conversation with that young person, she would say something like, “I love you. You are mine. Whatever you need, you can call me, and I mean that.” And with that, you were family. The godchild who spoke even thanked Zambia’s husband, blood children and mother for sharing her.
Days later, I found myself asking, “Who still loves like that?” We are human beings, and our survival depends on one another. Our world depends on community, but selfishness, materialism, short-sightedness, greed and, ironically, our survival instinct, suction us into a tug-of-war between our own needs or desires and our compassion for others.
I’m guilty of letting the wrong side in the war win. Lately, I’ve blamed it on my profession; writing is a solitary profession that consumes my time and taxes my brain, and doing it on a freelance basis adds the burdens of hunting for the work, overseeing an admin team of one and managing an unsteady cash flow. My workout—about the only time during the day that I get to stand up, other than when I cook or clean—takes priority over almost anything else in the hours that I’m not working. Sleep is a close third. I’m more selective than I used to be about my charitable gifts, and as tempting as it is to tithe my time and talent instead of my treasure—and as much I sincerely would like to help everyone who needs my help, irrespective of ability to pay—giving time and talent away for free to everyone who asks for it borders on insanity for a business owner.
My profession and finances set their own limitations, but what about giving my heart? I’m routinely described as a nice person, but I don’t know anyone who would say I have a big heart.
After the celebration of Zambia’s life, I prayed about my lack of a loving spirit. I started to chalk it up to hospitality just not being my gift, but then I had to admit that if I’m made in God’s image and am to imitate Christ, then I am not only required to be a better servant, but I am also fully capable of doing so–freely, fully and unconditionally.
This means I can get beyond both the desensitization to the problems facing people in our society and the problems’ ability to overwhelm those who have the means to help into throw-up-both-my-hands-what’s-the-point subjugation. I predict it will be a gradual shift; it could be years before I’m able to open my heart or home the way Zambia did, and I might find that I have a different way of showing love all together. But at least I can be a little more patient. The population that tugs at my heart may not be the same one that tugged at hers, but at least I can acknowledge that I am part of a community and that some members of my community are hurting. I can listen a little more closely to someone who needs an attentive ear. And I can be more alert to the fact that I need to take more opportunities to show love to others.