How far would you stretch your comfort level, and commit your life to helping another woman? … another mother?
Could you greet a woman you’d never met before…in a public park? (Ask: would I be present, open, willing to pause ruminating over my to-do list, my ‘stuff’)?
Could you have a conversation with this woman? (Ask: would you feel constrained, willing to exchange pleasantries but only for a few moments because of all other responsibilities)?
Let’s say something tells you to just take that pause and visit with this woman for a bit.
Could you further engage and actually brave sitting down next to her — on the same bench–and share more depth? heart to heart? woman to woman?
If you’re shaking your head no, doubtful, just ’cause you know you only would have a half hour, what if you noticed the woman was upset and sad?
Would that make a difference?
Could you do so peacefully, free from guilt about pausing your day’s agenda, and fully engage? and listen….and listen…..and listen?
And what if, in engaging with her story — as you ponder her choices and sacrifices — you sense you’re hearing the story of enduring survival in a way you’ve not quite ever heard–or known– before?
And maybe as this ‘aha’ floods your heart with compassion…the kind that lifts you out of simply using her story’s impact for self gain, to edit your life for a season, make some changes, live a bit more ‘aware’….though that would seem and appear perfectly normal..the natural, expected ways we all come to accept the impact of one life on another…
But…what if the compassion you’re flooded with, as you ponder this woman’s journey, actually nudges engaging with her even more? the kind that might lead to several afternoon visits on that bench, opening up one another’s homes and sharings meals and more gatherings? you know? the kind of engaging that extends your life with hers?
Can you fathom that possibility?
And more…That in weaving one another’s lives, you discern you must devote your whole being to help your friend, not as charity one stop dole out well meaning but finite kinda help, but really invest your life for the long haul to advocate and actualize her right to reunite with her children?
Welcome to the story of friendship between Odette and Jen…a tapestry of uniquely woven experiences of two mothers, homemakers, business owners, educators–from different continents and cultures– whose survival strategies unite them to acquaint, befriend, and eventually align endeavors to ensure thriving for their children, for themselves.
If you gain anything from this story it’s my hope that you underscore this: Mother-love seldom gives up when it comes to ensuring the well being of its own.
Here’s what I know:
A couple years ago, Jen Lemen–from the US (who I knew from Blogher ’07, Chicago, as an artist, writer, and soulful-story weaver) met a woman named Odette–from Rwanda– in a city park in DC.
In one afternoon, Odette’s story planted a seed within Jen’s heart.
You see, Odette was a mother.
So was Jen.
Odette was working and earning a living to help support her children.
So was Jen.
But Odette had not seen her daughters for three years, separated by a huge ocean, a couple of continents, and immigration bureaucracy, a choice she’d made convinced that she’d create a better life for them if able to send her earnings month after month, wages which were higher than what she’d earn had she stayed in her home country.
That sacrifice and numerous others triggered Jen’s compassion.
I don’t have all the specifics and why’s and how comes or what made immigration doable for Odette but not her daughters.
But when they met, just after a few hours of conversation, 2 mothers from opposite hemispheres and histories, united in their love and conviction of motherhood, began a friendship that would transform their lives and countless others.
And throughout the span of the next several months, park visits blossomed into dinners and other gatherings. And with each, stories and more stories, explanations of why Odette chose to come to the States to earn money to send home to her daughters, retellings of her early years raising them, sharing the quality of life in her village and socio / economic challenges to mothers, helping Jen see what survival means in Rwanda.
And as Jen listened, she wanted to help, uninhibited by this unmapped journey of how to tackle the abyss of unknowns to enable a mother, her newfound friend, to reunite with her daughters.
It would mean braving the oceans of international law, bureaucracy, cultural traditions, language, way of living.
It would mean leaving her home and sometimes her own family to pioneer this bridge.
It would mean time and again seeking to know what was hers to do and how to do it…..
It would mean create the business plan, draw the map, invent the way you right the wrongs, even when questioned by her own….
But Jen is the kind of woman that knows when the nudge of the heart beckons, you follow through. And while her efforts have been inconceivable to many, she’s sculpted a new norm for possibility.
She’s found ways using social media tools (blogs, twitter, flickr, chip-in), published books, held fundraisers–to promote her commitment to help Odette reunite with her daughters–in order to build a collaborative community willing to help.
All the while, Jen and Odette grew a flourishing friendship and continued the story of how mothers’ love for their children, for all children, unite their efforts to right so many wrongs.
In following this story and participating through the blogosphere and twitter, I’ve tuned in each time Jen visited Rwanda as a messenger of hope and love, each time she wrote about her journey, imagining the step by stepping how to cooperate with so many countless industries and systems to reunite a family.
I met Odette at Blogher San Francisco, in July 2008, just after receiving my copy of one of the books Jen and Odette wrote together sharing Odette’s story.
And now, so many miles and stories shared between them, the final stretch is under way. As of this writing, Jen’s flying to the US with Grace and Lilian home to Odette.
And there’s an opportunity for all of us, for you, to celebrate and support this homecoming:
To thank Odette for braving sharing her story with Jen in the park so many years ago…and allowing herself to build this connection, and through sharing her stories, helping so many of us learn a deeper sense of what a mother will do to ensure the wellbeing of her children.
To thank Jen for braving and all the oceans of unknowns and to engage the support of so many of us in helping this reuniting.
To stand with both of these mothers, nod our heads and hearts agreeing in principle and practicality, children should be allowed to live with their mothers and thrive with them.
That opportunity is to contribute whatever you are able to help support this last stretch.
I can so deeply relate to the compassion that seeks to annul injustice and right wrongs.
But to actually take such concerted action as a team of two, really, and navigate the how to maneuver all the footsteps and maze of bureaucracy and systems obstructing families between continents, I stand in awe and deep respect of Jen and Odette.
Forgive me in that I’m leaving out so very many details in hopes of encouraging your contribution to this journey….
I will surely come back here to add more information and edit as more updates become available.
If you do nothing more with this post, please consider something: regardless if you are yet a mother or afather, at one point you were a child…
And while all of our upbringings vastly differ as much as our beliefs, consider what it may have felt like to be separated from your mother, your primary care-giver, because s/he was convinced s/he could create a better life for you in another country, because s/he needed to do so to survive.
Then you might begin to comprehend Odette’s choice to come to the US to earn a living to send home to support her daughters.
And more, if you can’t bare the thought of ever having a forced separation, then you can have compassion for those families whose choices are the best they know of at that moment.
I am not a mother, by the traditional sense…at least not yet.
I do love children and the potential bond between a mother and her child/children, especially between a mother and her daughter/s.
If/when I have children, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.
I know this in my heart.
I know this is why this story so speaks to me.
So join me in pondering what would you do….and then consider donating to help Jen reunite Grace and Lilian with their momma Odette.
It’s a small step to defending the truth we can all do better mothering ourselves, each other, our world.
Deep deep respect and gratitude to you for reading this post…..
And to Jen, Odette, Grace, Lilian and so many others directly involved, this is my now view of the story as I know only bits and pieces of.
My apologies ahead of time for not telling it as fully or broadly as you know it for you’ve lived it.
Yet, here’s my promise to you that when hearts settle a bit and there’s some moments more to pause and reflect, should you have interest in sharing more the story as you know it, as you live it, here’s my pledge to you to share that story…..
Til then, may you feel the warmth, the love, the hope, and exuberance of all who are hugging you upon this homecoming.