Facebook tells me I have 40 friends in the area of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed – at latest count – over 3900 people this weekend. 26 of them have marked they are ‘safe’ on Facebook’s Safety Check, and 14 have not checked in. My News Feed is full of photos documenting the destruction of the already struggling infrastructure of the Kathmandu Valley, news updates on the rising death toll, strangers confirming our mutual friends are safe, notes of love and well-wishes, and endless promises of prayer for those same friends and their beloved country.
The cynic – or maybe more positively, the empathic – finds some of this… complicated. The most human thing in the world, when disaster strikes, is to find out if the people we know, care about, or love are safe. We care about our own. And care less about others. Those closest to me are safe, and I am grateful. Yet 3900 nameless (to me) people have died, and their loved ones aren’t feeling the relief and gratitude I feel.
For all my cynicism, I am actually an idealist in terms of the possibility of humanity to love and care about people they don’t know. je suis HUMANITY. But there is a limit to our general love of humanity – we feel most acutely the pain of those close to us. And maybe that is okay, because love is meant to be incarnated – lived out, day to day with the people around us in tears and laughter, hugs and grasped hands and cups of chai or glasses of wine. Love happens between us.
I care about Nepal right now because I care about my friends. They are the salt of the earth, some of the best of humanity. I’d like to introduce you to a few of those friends living in the valleys of the foothills of the Himalaya, attending now to the rebuilding of their country.
Love, No Glory
Every morning for six months I crossed the small lane separating my tiny room from the home of Jyoti and Shiva Bhattarai, grabbed a mug of steaming Starbucks coffee (for which Jyoti had developed a keen appreciation), and took a seat on a small corn-husk mat on their cement roof. Around me sat a half dozen women with brown leathery skin, lines etched deep into their faces, with shawls wrapped around their body in the morning cool. I sipped my coffee as we all murmured prayers to the sky.
Widows and orphans are the tagline for Christians concerned about those in poverty, left behind and marginalized by society. In reality, there is not much glorious about serving widows. But Jyoti spends her days offering simple acts of love, every morning, afternoon, and night to old women who would otherwise die alone. She cooks, cleans, and cares for women whom she and Shiva have taken into their home. Every day she gives herself to loving others.
This is a Family
A small girl, shivering in the rain on the side of the road changed the lives of Rekha Rai and her husband, Gautam. No girl should be without a mother to keep her warm, she thought, determined to become a mother to girls without mothers.
Over a decade later, their home is bubbling with children singing and teenagers bickering. Any visitor is soon told – quickly sees – that it is not a children’s home, it is a family that has grown from Rekha’s vision into a place of love and struggle, compassion and angst, and a firm commitment to each other amidst it all.
We Don’t Do Great Things
On the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley, where the green land continues up the slopes of the foothills a small community of men live with simplicity and gentleness. Inspired by Mother Teresa and St. Francis, Brother Rakesh founded the order Poor Servants of Jesus the Master. Amidst the chaos of a bustling Kathmandu, the peace in their home is palpable and their joy is infectious. Their life is a rhythm of prayer, attending to the needs of the home, and continual availability to the needs of their community. Several boys have found shelter and support for their studies from the Poor Servants.
Like Mother Teresa, they do not do ‘great things,’ but what they do, they do with great love.
My Nepal, My Pride
Another friend, Palistha Amatya, wrote this of her home while grieving the loss from afar in Minneapolis, MN.
My Nepal, My pride. While dust settles on the rubble and desolation of half of my nation, I’m taking time to be grateful for the solidarity Nepal and her people have shown. After a decade long abrasion of political/economic turmoil, my fellow countrymen have shown that we can rise above the social demarcation and be united as a nation. This brings hope – even amidst the teary overcast. We WILL RISE above this! We can become a nation with unity, of helping hands, of love. My Nepal, My pride – forever and for always!
May my friends be your friends, and may their friends be ours, and may our love extend a little further today.
If you would like to donate to relief efforts, a number of reputable organizations can be researched from here, or you can donate to my friends at Tiny Hands International, who have been serving the most marginalized and under-resourced communities of Nepal for many years. Donations to Tiny Hands will be matched up to $150,000 for earthquake relief and development.