A picture of Viviane hangs on my wall. Every time I see it, I pause. Even if it’s just a mental pause as I rush through life. Because I can’t look into her eyes without remembering the day I met her.
It may seem strange that I would dedicate a “Friend Friday” to an 8-year-old I met once, for a few hot, dusty hours in Togo. But sweet Viviane captivated me. And if I close my eyes, I can remember everything about meeting her.
When I stepped out of the van, she ran to hug me. Like she knew me. Like she had been waiting for me. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t deserve it. That I walk through life with walls and boundaries and space and limits. But I simply rested my palms on the top of her head while she squeezed me around my waist. And tried to will my heart not to explode out of my chest.
She grabbed my hand and led me to the front steps of the abandoned building she lived in with her mother and sister and a few other neighbors. Together we flipped through her picture Bible. She pointed to pictures and babbled in French. She held my hand the entire time.
I can still feel the sun-warmed cement step we sat on. Can see the rip in the waist of her dress, her brown skin peeking through. I can hear the soft breathing of her baby sister who slept a few feet from us.
She asked if she could come home with me. She looked up at me, with those liquid brown eyes, and asked if she could come home with me. And something tore inside of me. Ripped loose, and tears and sadness and confusion poured forth. I knelt down next to her, the rocks in her dusty yard biting into my knees.
I told her I couldn’t bring her home. The words felt thick and sticky in my mouth. But I told her I would always remember her. That I would pray for her. That I loved her. And she laid her head on my chest. Where my heart was cracking apart.
I will never forget her.Each time I see that picture, I remember.
I guess she did come home with me after all.