My last day in the UK was especially difficult for me.
2011 was a long and brutal year, and I only got through it with a lot of help from a lot of dearly loved people. To say goodbye to them was proving extremely difficult and I’d woken up early the morning of my departure, inconsolable with sadness and tears.
At the same time, I had a lot of fears. Returning home. What would it be like? How would I feel? Were the dreams that I had swirling in my mind realistic, reachable? I had a lot to contend with that dull grey December morning; and the last thing I needed was to discover that I couldn’t find my tax refund form for a digital camera I had purchased a week before.
The camera had cost me a lot of money and the refund would be very handsome; I couldn’t leave without claiming it. And after having looked everywhere possible for the form, I realised that making a trip back to the shop and getting a new one would probably save me more time than trying to unpack all of my stuff and decode my arranging system from the night before. But I still wasn’t done with getting everything together and I had more than enough last-minute tasks to perform. The last thing I needed was a journey into town.
In the end, there would be no other solution and I had to get on the bus and go. As the double decker wended its way through the narrow streets, I looked at everything it passed; the terracotta pavements, the people, the shops, the lanes; everything I realised would soon fade into a memory I’d carry with me over 10 000 km away. The trip was adding to my melancholy and warm tears were nestled in my eyelids, threatening to dance softly down my face. Somehow, I managed to blink them back in.
And then I got to the camera shop. Its narrows aisles were packed with Christmas shoppers and everywhere, the attendants were busy with helping clients decide between Canons, Nikons, Sonys and many other brands. I remember feeling a twitch of anxiety at the busyness of the place. It was about noon and my landlord would be coming to my place around 2 pm to do a final check of the room. I still hadn’t finished packing and tidying up and I needed to leave town and get back as soon as possible.
And then it got too much for me; the waiting, the thinking, the sadness; the fears. And right there, in the middle of the shop, I let go of what I’d managed to hold back in the bus and began to cry. Soon, a young female assistant materialised at my side. I recalled her face from having seen her before when she worked in another shop; a babies’ store where she’d been very helpful in assisting me to select some adorable stuff for my friend’s newborn daughter. I don’t usually forget people with such a genuine glow of kindness. And I definitely hadn’t forgotten this young woman.
She asked me if I was alright. And behind my veil of tears, for some unknown reason, I began to recite my long story about how long of a year it had been. I told her how I’d lost my dad and how it had made me fear losing my mother; how I had made the most amazing friends and couldn’t imagine leaving them; how I had big dreams and things I wanted to do in Zimbabwe, but how I suffered from fear and uncertainty; how I was leaving for the airport in the next 3 hours and still was not sure how I could possibly say goodbye to my friends who I just loved so much.
What happens next is something that words cannot ever make full comprehension of or give the meaning that it symbolises. Having listened to my story, and offered me some tissue to wipe away the tears that kept cascading from my eyes, this young woman put her hand on my shoulder and amazingly began to cry too.
She said to me, “You have made such a big difference in so many people’s lives. You should be so proud of yourself. Goodbyes are never easy but you have made your impact, and I know that you will continue to do so in Zimbabwe.”
I was more than overwhelmed. She knew absolutely nothing of what I do, or had done in my time in the UK, and yet she was firmly convinced of my impact on people’s lives there and back in Zimbabwe. She didn’t know I blogged or had any accolades to my name. She didn’t know a thing about me except what I had just told her, and somehow she saw something in me that she thought could be of benefit to many people.
And then she continued. “I too lost my father this year,” she said. “And I also worry about my mum and how I can make sure she has the best life possible.” Like me, she had a sister. And amazingly, just like me, her sister was in the US. Her fears, concerns and thoughts were so similar to mine that we seemed kindred spirits.
She told me about having studied a course at university, the same university I’d attended, but that she’d dropped out because she realised that that was not her passion; that what she really wanted to pursue was photography. At that point, she didn’t know how to make it happen, but she was determined. So she took up the job in the babies’ shop, where I first met her. She said she’d hated the job… but you would never have guessed this from her diligence, constant smiles and passion for service. That is, after all, why I had remembered her (and trust me, I don’t remember any and every shop attendant I encounter!).
Eventually, she’d managed to find a way to get the photography shop to hire her. No previous experience in the field, no credentials on her CV matching the job specification. But with faith and belief in her dream, she’d gotten the job. And she was as happy as she could be, she said; she was finally exploring her life’s purpose.
When we’d gotten over our tears and I was finally served, everyone was very empathetic and kind, wishing me well with my trip back home. Clint, one of the assistants (and of South African origin), asked me to say hello to Africa for him and to try to keep smiling. And the young lady also wished me a safe trip. She even asked me to drop her an email when I had time.
Obligingly, I asked her for her name and email address. But then she got busy with a customer and told me to get all the information from Clint. Before she went off, however, I asked to know her name.
“My name’s Faith,” she responded with a smile.
If I’d been attentive enough, I would have noticed that she was wearing a name badge that bore her name. Faith.
And then it all made sense.
How so wonderfully God’s hands work. That He would know that I needed to meet that young woman at that moment in my life is simply profound and beyond the capacity of my understanding. She was just about the only person at that point in time who could comprehend my life and my year in a way that I could gain strength through. And her name was Faith.
This young woman, harbouring fears similar to mine, was subsisting on faith and a cheerful spirit even when everything about her was difficult and the road ahead seemed impassable; even amid her grief and fears for her life.
She had faith… She was Faith.
Being honest with one’s emotions is never failure. It always creates an avenue to learning something new – not just about you; but also about the world around you. It creates a bridge for someone on the other side of the same problem to meet you halfway. It creates vulnerability, something which we all possess as human beings, yet are sometimes fearful to show for fear of being rejected. If I’d have never cried in that shop, I’d never have experienced one of the most important lessons of my life. And the lesson was too beautiful for me to give away for anything; for it was the lesson that living a life of faith and believing, like Faith did, in my dreams would always lead to fulfilment.
They say we are strangers in this life. But a lot of encounters in my life have made me challenge this. I have friends, whom I have never met, who share their lives with me through warm and heartfelt emails. I have friends, who I should classify as strangers since I don’t know them personally, who mail me cards to remind me that they are thinking of me, who commit so many acts of kindness that calling them anything other than friends is simply an act of ingratitude for the blessings of God.
Faith is my friend. I may never speak to her again, but that one encounter was enough for her to take a permanent place in my life story.
She didn’t just help wipe away my tears that day. She helped me wipe away an old self that has clung to me for far too long; a self that doubts and struggles to believe, a self that hides too much light under a blanket of fear; a self that has lost hope in goodness and boldness… and faith.
Faith gave me back my faith.
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Hebrews 11: 1