Thursday, June 27, 2013
What Was the Spark?: Moments That Created an Agent for Change
My friend, Jon Warden, recently asked me what the catalyst was that got me started in my anti-poverty work. I gave him a true and well-documented answer about how my faith inspired me to volunteer with my local soup kitchen and how my church introduced me to advocacy at a time when I couldn't do hands-on service while caring for a newborn.
Yet on a dark, solo cross-country drive, a song shuffled up on my ipod that I hadn't heard in years. It brought back a flood of memories that reminded me that what I told Jon wasn't quite right. I told him about my path to becoming an advocate, but not about what set me on the path. A few weeks later, Holly Pavlika came along and asked me the question a different way:
"What was the spark that started you on this path for change?"
I knew then what my answer should have been. Jon, this post is for you.
There’s a wordless lullaby I used to listen to while feeding my new baby. I found it on a CD of world music for mothers. Some of the songs on it are in English, others are in languages I don't understand. One special song - which I can't even recall the name of to find it in the mess that is my ipod - has no words, but just a simple melody in a round. It begins with one woman who sounds like a mother humming intimately to a baby. She is joined by other women, like other mothers wrapping the first in a loving blanket of support. More and more people join – men and women – in a round to create a rich tapestry of sound and then it all peels back to the first voice alone and sweet.
In the deepest hours of the cold winter Chicago nights, I used to breastfeed my baby girl alone in the dark. I was beset with irrational fears about whether I could feed my baby well or care for her adequately. (Likely, some post-partum chemistry was at work here as well as sleep deprivation) I worried about whether she would continue breathing through the night and whether I would be a good mother to her. The song comforted me when I reflected that all mothers have these same worries, but we are not alone. I felt a connection with all mothers across distances and throughout time. In those moments of heightened vulnerability and empathy, I understood in my heart how horrible it is that mothers in extreme poverty cannot meet the basic needs of their children. In those moments, I knew there was a mother feeling exactly what I was feeling - except her fears were her reality. Clean water, food, heat, doctors, medicines, a safe place to sleep free of war and violence...I had all of these things. How was that at all fair when others were lacking so much? Over the course of that winter, I decided I should lift my voice to support mothers who love their children as much as I love mine.
Nine years later, I found myself meeting moms and babies in rural provinces of Uganda with the UN Foundation's Shot@Life campaign. It was a long journey to that point, but seeing the love of those mothers so similar to my own showed me that I'd managed to turn my own fears into positive actions for a next generation of new mothers. Who knows? Perhaps my activism might even inspire a new generation of parents to be change agents, too.