I remember when I was her age. Terrified. Frozen. Mute.
A statue on the sidewalk at recess, hoping if I only sat still no one would see me.
My body ached on the inside to play with the other children. To laugh, be bold, take risks.
I avoided crunchy food in the cafeteria so no one could hear me.
The only freedom I found was in my fenced, suburban backyard, on a swing, where in my imagination I was a star.
On stage for everyone to see. Fearless.
Fast forward 40 years, I am in a slum in Nairobi, still afraid most days, but people call me a badass.
I don’t know why. I guess because when my helpless, vulnerability self meets my Warrior Queen self, a new paradigm emerges. Something mysterious.
Maybe we are all the extremes and every shade in between? Maybe I don’t have to be sentenced to a lifetime of voiceless, little girl? Maybe she could meet my ancient Warrior Queen who gives zero f*cks? Maybe we can all merge the opposing characters inside ourselves? Maybe it is the kindest way? Maybe it is the only way to find healing and change the world?
I met a nine-year-old girl while teaching in a Nairobi slum.
She had gone to school and excelled. She was a leader, curious, connected. Her family could no longer afford the fees, or most days to buy food, which is common around the world.
Even though the school director did everything in his power to keep these children in school, there was only so much he could do.
This nine-year-old little girl went to the director. She asked if she could come for the Mental Health session I was teaching at the school. He said yes. She showed up.
While I was there, the director set up one-on-one counseling sessions with the children who needed it most. She was one of them.
She came in. Bones protruding, as she hadn’t eaten in days. The way she met my gaze, a visceral warrior cry. She also cried real tears, blew snot, begged, raged. She wanted to go to school. She wanted to eat, but more than that, she wanted to learn, to be seen, to be heard.
In that moment, she was my greatest teacher.
Her life circumstances horrific and something I could never imagine, but her spirit was what my little girl always dreamed of becoming. A legendary blend of vulnerability, persistence, shamelessness, mixed with boldness, courage, a formidable, indomitable spirit.
In her presence, my body wanted to bow. Regalness embodied. My soul felt honored to be sharing space with her in a slum across the world from where I live. I met a kindred spirit in a child.
I committed to supporting the rest of her school year.
In early 2024, she passed exams with flying colors but was back at home because her family could not afford her school, especially when they cannot afford food.
I didn’t think twice; I would figure out how to pay it, although the way I’ve chosen to live does not leave me with much disposable income.
I sent a quick text to my immediate family and partner, sharing her story. They paid for another year of her school.
I wish I had the power to change the structures, to find money for every child who can’t eat or go to school. The reality of poverty, war, and injustice in our world can feel debilitating and overwhelming. That said, I am grateful for small moments of connection.
When I can drop in and really believe in my bones that we are all interdependent. My tears are yours. Your fear feels a lot like mine, but together our bravery can create a safety net of love and belonging.
She is my living angel these days whenever I feel not good enough, like I need to do more, or throw the towel in. When I want to give up, or believe nothing is worth it.
Her living audacity is who I want to be in this New Year.
Maybe we were meant to be all the pieces, broken and shiny, hungry and full, desperate and steady, terrified and fearless, lonely and trusting in a net greater than human imagination.
May it all be so. For her. For you. For all of us.