Unkept Promises

To the Children of Uganda,

I’m sorry.

I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I kept my distance when I should have extended love.

I promise I was doing what I thought was best. I was trying to do the right thing. I didn’t want to treat you like little playthings to be abandoned within 20 minutes of meeting you. I didn’t want to over-glamorize, naturalize or dehumanize the situation you were in. I was determined that you would not become the focal point of my Instagram feed, faces whose names I wouldn’t remember, stories that I would forget…

But in my determination, I deprived you all of the one thing you needed most.

Love.

I was afraid. Afraid of love. Afraid that if I gave you what meager love I could manage, and then ripped it away, that I would leave you worse than I found you. I was afraid of breaking you, because I was so completely broken. I couldn’t look into your deep, dark, soulful eyes, and be strong for you, because I was so weak.

How could I love you unconditionally, when the only love I had ever known had just been deemed so conditional?

It’s been almost a year since I have seen you last. Instead of walking away from your country feeling enlightened and encouraged, there was an inexplicable heaviness weighing on my heart. And now I know what that feeling was. Guilt.

I failed you. Completely and utterly failed you. I was so concerned that I had to do good, that I never realized that to just be is even more powerful. I wasn’t going to change you permanently – for good or bad. I wouldn’t make some major impact on your villages or slums I visited. Ultimately, you would also probably forget my name, and my story.

But…just maybe…one single moment in which I was fully present with you could have made a difference. One small hand in mine. One enveloping embrace. One smile, one giggle, one little memory that allowed you to actually be a kid – even just for a second. Perhaps that would have given you strength to face whatever untold horrors lay ahead. I wish I could go back, and just be with you, in your deepest sorrows and your ultimate euphoria. Because that’s all anyone ever wants – to know that they’re not alone.

I should have extended love…

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