WELL, THEY MADE IT. FROM THE MOMENT THEY were reunited eight years ago, our twins, Abuk and Achan, were destined to have their lives interwoven for the rest of time. Today they turn 14 and will soon be entering high school. Upstairs, in their room, I can hear them giggling over a video Abuk made her sister for her birthday, and I think, history, humanity and God all blessed Jane and me with the charge of bringing them to this point, and farther. The very fact they are now dying of laughter – together – means that we got some things right.
But what must you, their Sudanese mother think, if you can see them now. The last time you saw them together was just a few moments before you were shot in a raid in south Sudan. You were holding four-month-old Abuk in your arms as you breathed your last. Achan and her older brother were recaptured in that moment and dragged back to captivity. Did you, their mother, see that separation and perish with a broken heart at the thought? Did you feel you had attempted to escape slavery with all of them together only to see them torn apart in recapture? We weren’t there, but I can only hope your eyes closed before that moment.
But how I pray that they are wide open right now. Listen to your children, laughing, squealing in delight, together and yet so distinct – just as you would hope they would be. You will never have seen a video or even heard of an iPod, but the images on those screens are of your ultimate accomplishment – children on the verge of exciting maturity. Every Sudanese mother wants education for her children, especially her daughters, more than anything and we understand that. But look at them now. High school beckons, and then university. You never dreamed that was possible in south Sudan did you? But it’s happening because you made a break, risking your life so that your children wouldn’t grow up under the hard hand of a master but under the open air of self-determination and in a land in which they can make their own way.
As far as we know, no photos exist of you. Your two daughters cannot recall what you looked like because you perished when they weren’t even half-a-year old. But I have a hunch what you were like because surely your personality shines through in them today. I bet you laughed like they do, at least before life took away that joy through slavery. When I picture you, having not known you, I see you with a smile.
When they came they were shy and more than just a little intimidated. But only a few months later they displayed a determination that amazed all of us. They didn’t acquire that endurance from us, but you – it’s in them until this day. You must have been remarkable in your bravery because they are too. They are young women, fierce in their gender and determined in their will to succeed. Thank you for giving them that because it sure made bringing them up easier. We are parents who fiercely believe in equality, but they already had that instinct thanks to you.
They believe in family, just as you surely did, or else why would give you life for them? You should see them around your son, Ater. They tease him relentlessly and love him like no one else. The three of them still dance and sing together and I am haunted daily by their sheer joy of being together. How did you instill that in them, because I’ve never seen anything quite like it?
Yes, I think I know you through them. You have endowed womanhood and motherhood with a grace and courage that is affirmed every day through the actions and emotions of those you brought into this world.
We have just concluded Easter, where the phrase, “There is no greater love than that of one who lays down his life for his friends” pretty well sums up its meaning. Well, you represent the apex of that truth. You fought for children – your own and others. You took risks to escape a life of bondage. You gave your life for your children and in the process gave that life to us. You, a marvelous woman, represent the greatness of the human race.
Jane and I have put two pictures in this blog. The first is on the day they first discovered one another in Sudan after they each thought the other was dead. The other is of their grad dresses they’ll be donning in a few weeks. I want you to see them as they are right now – robust, full of life, capable of courage, beautiful in body and spirit, and brimming with potential. They are you. Congratulations.
Tonight, when the girls head off to bed, we’ll pray and thank God for you, as we always do. “Our brave Africa mommy” is now part of our lexicon and in common use in this house. But I’ll remind them of that old African saying that “a single bracelet does not jingle.” Well, believe me, these kids jingle. Having one another has defined them and given them voice.
And then as we kiss them goodnight, I am going to think of another African saying: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” And that is just what Achan and Abuk will do. And as a family, over the years that remain, we choose and demand the right to go with you – their first mom, a genuine hero, a woman of the ages.