The eyes gazing back at me had a million stories to tell. They were as fierce as her aged, sturdy frame, and yet the wealth of kindness whirling through those deep brown lenses contained a soul-easing peace. She was a “Go-Go,” a South African term for grandmothers raising their grandchildren typically due to tragedies beheld by their own daughters, or daughters in their villages and townships. It isn’t uncommon to see one Go-Go, such as the beautiful woman before me, raising the children of multiple families. I can’t even imagine.
How does one transfer the heart-breaking tragedy of losing their own child to abduction, AIDS, or otherwise, to a resounding strength one in America would have to find in a college athlete, I’d imagine? Their homes are often no larger than a one room shack made of sheath metal. A single bed or mattress bears not only her weight, but three or four children that huddle in close beside her.
They wake up. She prepares a simple meal of pap for breakfast. The kids run outside to play in the freshest air they know. Perhaps they’ll run through fields to find work or some form of education if they’re old enough. Are those fields a risky place? For sure. But they appear delighted to run free, with laughter on their faces and joy in their eyes. A few boys roll a giant tire along the way for entertainment. The babies stay back, swaddled to her grandma as she goes about the daily chores. She’ll go to the communal trough of water to fill her metal bucket, bring it home and begin the wash on a washboard, cleaning the whole family’s clothes one parcel at a time. She prepares dinner—more pap and perhaps some vegetables from the garden at some a nearby garden. I believe this Go-Go had a lightbulb in her house, so they weren’t forced to go to sleep as the darkness rose. Few words were spoken from her lips that day, but perhaps a million thoughts? Maybe internal battles of the grind of life. But she possessed a level of contentment and ownership of her duty, that I tended to doubt the latter.
As she let me peak inside her home, neighbors with another mom who was nearing the end of her battle with AIDS, she seemed proud. The sheets dividing the rooms were immaculate. The patterns of pictures taped from floor to ceiling as if to mimic wallpaper, were flawlessly aligned, and not a dirty dish was exposed. So many emotions flooded my heart in those few moments I had the privilege of standing in her presence. I was impressed beyond belief. I felt heartbroken for the weight she bore on every level. And, still, I walked away inspired.
I was inspired to be steadfast in all I do. I was inspired to do it all without complaining. I was inspired by how well she communicated without moving her lips. And I was inspired by how fiercely she loved and seemed to appreciate its return. Even though she couldn’t tell me she did in English, the joy in those priceless brown eyes and deep, giant smile told me so.