In class, we were talking about emotions. I teach English to refugees from East Africa. Per usual, they were quick to talk about what makes them feel joyous, but were silent when it came to the negative emotions.
What makes you feel sad? I asked, not thinking about the great chasms of human experience that separate me from the class. A man who comes every day and sits in the front, quiet and smart and well read, speaks up. His eyes are wide, and his voice is low.
I am sad when I think about my country, he says, and everyone nods along. But he goes further. I am sad when I think about how we have everything we need to thrive—this he says with great urgency in his voice, emphasizing the word—we have mountains and oceans and farms. Everything in my country is beautiful; it is the best life you could ever want. Except, he says, for the people fighting each other. Except, he says, for the war.
Inside a small classroom, inside a large high-rise of low-income apartments, sheltered from the snow blowing outside, we contemplate this together. Behind his sadness I see anger, and it lifts the shroud from my soul.
He does not want to be here, filling out the worksheets I give him on the past tense, smiling politely and nodding his head with every interaction with an American. Living a calm, quiet, peaceful life on the outside, pressured to act grateful for it all.
But he, and everyone else in the class, knows the truth. It was never supposed to be like this at all. They were never supposed to be here, in front of me. And they are tired of pretending otherwise.
Another day, we are talking about bank accounts and all of the vocabulary associated with it. I tell them credit cards are bad. They explain how money orders work to me. And then, I discover that not a single student has a savings account. As any good American would, I go on to explain the benefits of careful planning and budgeting, of saving for emergencies or travel or education.
They stare at politely, nodding their heads. Finally, a woman in the back speaks ups. She is severe, highly devout, she always kisses me on both cheeks when she comes and goes.
Every Friday, she tells me, waving her arms at the class, we all get phone calls. On Friday, it is a day off in Somalia. On Friday, our phones never stop ringing. I need money, I need food, I need water. Every Friday, she says, and everyone mutters their affirmations. Me too, me too, me too. All the sad stories converge on Friday, all the stories of the fighting and the killing and the starvation and devastation.
I do not make the connection quickly, but when it comes it knocks me over hard. Who can have a savings account when every week there are more people asking for your help? When you and your money are the difference between a baby getting her bottle or not? A family member being able to pay rent? An auntie getting medical care?
Every Friday, my students listen to their friends and family half a world away, and then they go to and take out money orders and send whatever they have left. They give it all; they hold nothing back. They are not careful, cautious, frugal. They are extravagant in their grief and in their despair and in their giving.
They spend it all in this life, because they have seen how frail and fragile it is, and how we are all bound up in it together.
This is not a post about advent. I can’t stand to be told to wait patiently. I can’t wait anymore for the kingdom to come. We need peace, and we need it now. We needed it years ago; we needed it from the beginning. I am so tired of being told it is coming.
I am tired of holding back. I am tired of being careful in my expectation, of being frugal in my waiting. It is time to experience the full extent of brokenness in our world, and to realize that the darkness has not overcome the great light.
It is time for true peace to come, for justice to be given to the least of these. It is time to take stock of how much I have hoarded my carefully laid beliefs and theologies, how I have let the world tell me this is how it will always be.
Those students, who give of themselves so freely every week, they are the ones bringing the kingdom. They have given everything, and will continue to do so. Just like Christ who came and spent it all: extravagant hope and forgiveness and reconciliation, extravagant anger and impatience too.
And I know it is time for me as well. It is time to spend it all, in this one wild and devastating life.
D.L. Mayfield lives and writes in the Midwest, where she currently is a part of a Christian order among the poor. Mayfield’s writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Image, Christianity Today, Books and Culture, and The Other Journal. Her book of essays is forthcoming from HarperOne in 2016. Her website is dlmayfield.com. Photo taken by HaMoreh Ministries.