GCY fellowship is a perspective builder, like the best teachers, parents, and mentors. It is a year for each of us to take on that responsibility, individually, to expand our own worldviews and develop a second sight.
The second sight of a student who has lived in a house without floors and eaten off of leaves and drank water from the stream in the backyard comes not from doing these simple things and getting a small thrill out of it, but from living it, forgetting what is temporal, and watching the way the strong people who surrounded us this year handled themselves.
My host cousin Brigid is 15 years old. Her mother died in a world of medical negligence to the poor. And that is the same world in which she was raised, never to be educated about the process of physical or emotional development that all adolescents undergo.
She walked into the public health clinic where I worked, only a few months after I arrived in Ecuador. She stood in the doorway when I called her case number, and a nurse ushered her into the room. She held her hands clasped in front of her, her head bent slightly downward.
I greeted her happily, “Como te vas, prima?”
She attempted a smile back, but the skin around her eyes stretched in pain.
The nurse left, saying it was better we were alone, and I realized it was something serious.
Brigid turned her face up, finally, sinking into the chair in front of the desk, and said softly, “I am pregnant, I think.”
Her face was rigid, and her clasped hands moved up to rest on her belly.
A strange shot of pain moved through my core. The clinic sees several teen mothers a day, but it hit me that this was too personal. I remembered vaguely that just a week ago, I had visited Brigid’s high school to give a lecture on sex education.
“Okay,” I said softly, sure that there was a professional way to handle this, and that I just had to look at her as though she hadn’t rolled around in the mud with me and my brother two days before, or taken my hand and danced with me at our uncle’s wedding.
I asked her the routine questions, and I measured her belly. I pulled back in shock, staring at the centimeter marking, “Prima, are you eating enough?”
She looked down at her lacy white school socks. “I don’t want it to show. No one can know.”
“You are five months pregnant, Brigid! You have to eat for both you and the baby – it must be healthy!”
I gave her a series of exam references and filed the paperwork to set up her remaining pre-natal visits. She sat silently on the examination table, looking only a little scared. I pulled out the heart monitor.
I ran a hand over the smooth, stretched skin of her young tummy, and she twitched as I applied the clear gel, before setting down the head of the monitor. We listened.
“Do you feel ready?”
I winced. Honesty is harshest when you ask for it wihout really wanting to know the truth.
“You must be.”
Then, as I moved the monitor around the hardest ridge of slightly protruding belly, the heartbeat sounded, rapid and steady. And the mother’s small smile when she moved her hand to rest right below her baby, made me feel as light as air.
Brigid moved forward. She was kicked out of the house by her dad, moved in with us, moved back with him, rearranged her studies, and was forced to finally give up on tracking down the 16 year old father of her child.
Four months later, my beautiful goddaughter, Mercedes Tara, was brought into the world in the arms of my fifteen year old cousin who had no mother of her own to stand by her, who had sewn all of the little pink baby clothes by herself, and was convinced of her capability to handle this life and everything it threw at her.
Second sight is eliminating the space for immediate judgment. It is accounting for the circumstances and not making hasty assumptions. And no one has that perfect perspective. It would take several lifetimes to develop an ideal second sight, but Global Citizen Year pushed us to discover the significance of the second layer. One year later, I don’t see with the same eyes I saw with before. We have been taught the importance of perspective. Of moving beyond seeing, to understanding.