The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: birthdays

We Are The Path

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When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?

Will you still need me. Will you still feed me.
When I’m sixty-four?

I’VE KNOW THIS SONG BY THE BEATLES since I was young and it’s finally coming to pass. That’s me – 64 years-old today. “There are two great days in a person’s life,” says William Barclay, “the day we are born and the day we discover why.” I am fortunate enough to know both answers: December 26, 1950, and to seek to make the world better for others.

From the time I was 20, I think my basic philosophy of life was set and I knew the goals I would pursue. The problem was having the kind of character that could live up to them. It’s taken time – years really – and I’ve come to the conclusion that my greatest accomplishment hasn’t been that I have attained them (not yet), but that I’ve never lost them. Like so many others, I often find myself at cross-purposes, or like Walt Whitman put it: “I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” But the main things I have stayed on course, despite my numerous failures.

I don’t suppose any of us are any more human than when we are creating our own path and not merely following someone else’s. All of us were born into our own narratives and only as the plot develops does it become more clear. If we don’t discover it, then life happens to us and we find ourselves confused, with no opportunity to shape our opportunities. Yet the cure for me has never been in finding answers – I’ve known for four decades what to live for – but I’ve discovered that the cure for how to live them has been in continuing to question as opposed to accepting the simple answers.

Everyone has an opinion these days, as do I, but all too often they are easily formed and unless we challenge them, they become deep-set in our consciousness and without realizing it we lose the ability to think originally. Innovations and spontaneity of thought then become almost impossible. When we end up with opinions on everything, it’s almost inevitable that our own path has become closed to us because we have been blinded by our default reasoning. We have to develop the plasticity of mind that Aristotle spoke about: “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without having to accept it.”

I suppose I’m thankful on this birthday because those goals of my youth never abandoned me. They were never based on a person or an opinion, but on transcendent values that existed before I was born and will remain for millennia after. They have shaped me by their sheer durability and comprehensiveness.

I have made one adjustment in my thinking though. Where I felt there was a path I had to follow, I now realize that I am the path itself. Through DNA, nurture, circumstance, God, grief, joy, failure, success, challenge, and community, my life has been formed and I am enjoying watching it unfold the closer I come to the end of it.

So, yes, we are each our own path and we must constantly be reminded that character is more important than direction, that inner purpose is more vital than outward success. Of course, birthdays are important, but the year we came into this world isn’t as significant as all those other years where we proved our birth wasn’t an accident, and that the years we spend building on our inner potential are far more worth celebrating. In such a context, turning 64 is indeed sweet.

Who Knew?

Twins (1)

Achan and Abuk a few moments after meeting one another – 2005

They were violently wrenched apart at only four months of age.  Too young to understand what happened, they likely were terrified by the sound of gunshots and their mother covered in blood.  One was immediately ushered away while the other lay in a tangle of bodies, nestling in the arms of her dead mother.

For years they both lived separate lives, aware that the other had once existed, but believing that death had taken the other.  They were informed they had once had an identical twin but that life and war had conspired to separate them forever.  The one lived and thrived in Canada, aware of her loneliness but surrounded by everything wonderful.  The other fought for life in Darfur, also aware of loneliness but with nothing present that could ease the feeling of alienation and fear.

On a single day in 2005 they bumped into one another beside an airplane on a dirt airstrip in South Sudan.  They looked at each other, fascinated by the resemblance, but too young to understand what was happening.  To the amazement of all, they later grasped hands and walked away from the crowd, holding on to a soccer ball.  Time stood still.  The earth stopped rotating. Destiny was in the making.

It was later that day that the identical twins learned that other had, in fact, survived but half a world apart.  While they kicked the soccer ball in the dirt, forces at play on two continents had already begun to reunite them in Canada. This was Abuk and Achan, our twin girls, and an ever-present reminder that not only do miracles yet occur, but they mature over the years to the amazement of those willing to see.  Today, they become teenagers.  At thirteen years of age they have defied the odds and brought honour to their two mothers – one dead, the other preciously alive.  To this day, they look individually in the mirror and see the other.  They look at each other and see themselves.

For those around them there has been the discovery that there are two things for which we are never fully prepared – twins.  They stand as one of the unique unfoldings of creation and humanity.  They remind all of us that every once in a while two people come into life together, sharing possibilities as they once shared a womb.  And they are an eternal reminder that they share an African mother that lost her life in her pursuit of their freedom and in that reality they will ever be bound to a remarkable woman leaving them with an inspiring legacy.

But there is more.  They share another mother, a Canadian woman, who also risked her life for their freedom.  Only this Mom they get to keep – and what a keeper she is.  In so many ways she is younger in spirit than they are, more capable of spontaneous joy than anyone else in our family.  And as they mature they will ever be captured by the memory and knowledge that this mother lives every waking moment treating the rest of humanity like she treats these precious girls.

I ask you, what were the odds that they would be together for their teenage birthdays?  The war, the famine, death of their mother, in remotest Africa, disease, lack of water, noticed by only a few people in their village willing to care for them – such things conspire to wipe out lives and possibilities.

But not for these two.  They live and are as different as identical twins usually are.  Yet they are the living embodiment of Louisa May Alcott’s observation – “We’re twins, and so we love each other more than other people.”

This is a day of possibilities, of reminders that should we but enter into the pains of humanity we might yet rescue people from their circumstances and unleash their marvelous humanity in our generation – and theirs.

There is a custom in South Sudan that tells of how a mother who has died but whose twins remain separated hovers over the earth in her efforts to reunite them.  If unsuccessful she takes them to heaven to be with her.  If successful, and they come together on earth, she is free.  The village sacrificed a bull in honour of the twins and as they looked on with Jane they could hardly have understood what this meant to the Sudanese.  One mother from Canada had one last slave to free – a weary Sudanese mother of twins attempting to bring them together.  In that one act they were united before the entire village and their African mother could cease from her labours.  Go, then, Sudanese Mom, and rest.  They live.  They thrive.  They love.  And they will ever be reminded that you sacrificed your all so that they might have a shot at living.  If you could only see them now.  It was a sacrifice worth making in every sense of the word.  We thank God for every thought of you – a towering woman.  Just think, your twin girls are thirteen today.  Who knew?

For All Of It

This weekend we celebrate the birthdays of our twin girls Abuk and Achan. I just can’t let that day go by without thinking of another day, in another continent, celebrating another miracle.

We had touched down on the dirt airstrip in Malualkon, South Sudan. It was packed with people wanting to see the little girl. We had adopted Abuk four years earlier and had brought her back to this village from which she departed. Cheering erupted the moment she stepped through the door of the small plane.

I don’t quite remember too much after that, for there on the ground was a little girl playing in the dirt and preoccupied with something she was drawing. Suddenly she looked up directly into my eyes and my world shifted on its axis.

By accident I had stumbled upon Achan, Abuk’s identical twin sister, whom we had been told had been killed in a raid along with the mother and an older brother. The girls had been four months old at the time. Later that day a little boy was brought to us who happened to be Ater – the brother who had been caring for Achan since their mother was killed.

So long ago now (2005) and yet the sight of Achan’s eyes are seared into my brain, likely embedded there forever. I choke up now even thinking about it and you can’t blame me – or Jane for that matter. It was a moment of profound revelation and the ultimate recognition that we had been humbled by the greatness of life in the midst of countless deaths from civil war. We were parents suddenly aware we would never be as great as our children in that moment. They had survived and developed inner strength through hardship and loss.

Suddenly we went from parents of one to triple that in an instant. Over a year later we brought Achan and Ater to Canada to be with their sister they had once believed was in heaven. Well, they were right. Of all the countries they could have arrived in, they landed in a country mighty in spirit, majestic in nature, and meaningful in the way its people choose to carry out their lives.

How to you bring up children like this? The basics were all there – discipline, love, instruction, patience, joy, endurance, endless work that is only exceeded by infinite compassion. To this day they come home from school carrying sticks that they lay on the porch. Why? Because in those brutal years in Darfur they journeyed far and wide for firewood and they still instinctively gather the twigs even though they’re not required. To this day they beam with smiles and a joy that only comes from staring at death when you’re too young to understand it and embrace life in a way that is old before your time. To this day they play together, even with Ater being three years older, because they are a family baptized into a grand narrative that has become the brand new nation of South Sudan. To this day they pray for their “African Mommy” in heaven – aware that her bolt for freedom which ended in such tragic loss nevertheless propelled them into a chance at life. To this day they embrace Jane and I with such vigour, knowing that we scramble every day in our hearts and minds to live up to the honour granted to us of guiding miracles into maturity.

These three children, products of brutal war, are now byproducts of a gentle peace. They’ve come to the best country and by a fate that can only prompt my religious faith, they have latched on to a mother who is a match for their birth mother – proud, majestic in humility, magnificent in service, and joyful in a prolonged youth.

And me? How can I measure up to four such outstanding human beings? It’s simple; I can’t. But I don’t regret it. To be dwarfed by humanity in the form of these remarkable people is to learn humility – not by my failures, of which there are many, but by the miracle of abiding with such marvellous gifts that I neither deserve nor warrant.

The picture above is of Abuk (with the ball) holding Achan just two hours after they discovered one another. With little food over the years, Achan is all that much smaller. But those are the eyes that staggered my soul with their experience. To this day I am a man blessed by the ability to never lose the wonder of it all. In a few hours they turn 12. And in that same span of time I will have turned my face towards the world’s oppressed. After all, if I hadn’t chosen that path in life, I wouldn’t have discovered any member of this remarkable family. A lot of you understand what I’m saying because you love your kids just as much. It’s just that Achan, Abuk and Ater have survived so much and I want to guide them aright, and to learn from them what majestic souls really look like. Happy birthday girls and thank you, God – for all of it.

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