Dear Pain That I'm Feeling,
It’s been 5 months and 1 weeks since I left. I can remember my last day in my slum community in Cambodia as if it were yesterday, and honestly more vividly than I’d like.
I had a plan, you know. I would check into my hotel on that Friday afternoon and then go to a local coffee shop to try and prepare myself for the goodbyes that were to come that evening. I had made plans to go back to the slum around 6 pm for my last dinner with Om (my host mother). I had a plan, and I was going to be prepared for the goodbyes when they came.
However, sometimes your plans aren’t in agreement with you. Even if you feel like you’ve shook on it, pinky promised, and swore that this time it would work out in your favor. Sometimes your plans aren’t in agreement with you.
First it was the rain. Rain in the afternoon in Cambodia wasn’t abnormal for me to see. Rather rain that causes flooding within a few short hours was something I hadn’t experienced yet. On this particular day, it seemed as if the rain decided to throw a going away party for me. Inviting every friendly drop it knew, and they all came pouring down just as I was headed to the slum.
It was dusk when I arrived, both an hour late and soaked from head to toe. As I walked down the alley in knee high water, I began feeling a heaviness I had never experienced before. It was as if my feet became weights of steel and hours seemed to pass with each step I took. Seconds after I reached Om’s doorway, I looked to see Om greeting me, as she did everyday by saying: "Suisiday, Bong Brooke!" It was with this statement that I realized the source of the heaviness. I was reminded that today I was coming home for the last time. As I reflect on the rest of the night, it feels a bit blurry from the pain.
We sat around the table and began eating our last dinner together, and that's when all the "last time" statements began to flood my mind. This is the last time I'll sit down at this table and eat with Om and Andrew. This is the last time that I'll hear Om say "Yom bi?" as she'd ask me if I want more rice, and I will graciously agree, for she'll give it to me regardless of my answer. Last time Tompo, Dali, Daran, Mai Mai, Vegeka, and all the other neighbor children will come in and ask me to play after I finish eating. Last time...it's the last time. Every moment is having its last right now.
I was freed from being held hostage to my thoughts when I heard Om clear her throat and begin to speak. In a mixture of Khmer and broken English, she stated something that I will never forget. She said that tomorrow she will wake up, turn to speak to Andrew, then she would turn to speak to me, but she will look and realize that I am gone. I won't be there to say good morning, I won't be there to laugh with her as I call myself clumsy in Khmer, I won't be in Cambodia tomorrow. With this statement she placed her face in her hands and began to weep. My last time experiences were interrupted by a gut-wrenching first time experience - witnessing Om cry.
After dinner we made small talk, as if for just a moment we were capable of forgetting the goodbyes that were soon to creep in and ruin the night. I looked at the clock and it was 8 pm, and still raining outside. I was surprised that none of the neighborhood children had come by to say goodbye. I knew they were aware that I was leaving tonight, but I began to notice that the flooding had kept them in their homes. Another heavy weight came in with the rain, this time it was accepting the fact that saying goodbye to Om and Andrew would be the only goodbyes I'd be granted. I looked at the clock again, it was 8:15. If this was a normal night for me in Cambodia, I would be getting up, saying goodnight to Andrew and Om, and heading to bed. But not tonight. Tonight I would get up, and say goodbye to Andrew and Om. I stood up, and with this motion, Om joined me.
I must be honest and say the details after this moment are very hard for me to state. I haven't walked through the whole memory until right now. I haven't dealt with the pain of it all - until now. The next 10 minutes are a blur from the pain. We hugged goodbye as we both cried. Crying not only tears of sadness, but also tears of joy, tears of thanksgiving for the summer we had been given, and tears of longing - longing that today may not be the last time we saw each other on earth. After saying goodbye, I put on my jacket and walked to the door to see that the water was now nearly waist high. I hugged Om one last time and stepped out the door.
Words cannot express how I felt in that moment. I have felt pain before, no doubt. But the pain of saying goodbye to not only the people you have met, but the person you are in that moment....it is a tragic pain that will wreck you to your core.
I stepped into the now waist high water, looked down the alley to see the rain still falling, and began walking. And just as the rain fell, so fell my spirit. I have never seen the alley that dark before. For not only was it dark by sight, but it also felt dark. It felt heavy. It felt tragic.
When you're a little kid and afraid of heights, you're told not to look down, but being the stubborn children we are, we end up doing it anyway. Similarly, I was tempted to look back even though everything inside of me told me to not to. But I did it anyway. I looked back, and instantly felt deep despair from what I saw. I witnessed Om watching me walk away. If there is anything I remember more clearly than all, it was seeing Om's face and asking God why. "God why did you bring me here? God why am I leaving here? God why does it hurt so much? God, Why?"
But I didn't hear anything. I just kept walking.
I walked without reasoning.
I walked without hope for the future.
And as I walked, I began weeping.
I wept because not only was my heart crying out, but my entire body felt broken for everything I had just lost.This vivid memory is one that replays in my mind often. I dream of it often, and honestly sometimes it feels more like a nightmare than a dream. I relive this moment over and over again, and all I can remember doing is walking in the darkness and uncertainty.
It's been over 5 months since I walked down that alley in the rain. To say God has brought clarity to any my questions from that moment would be a lie. I still to this day do not know why exactly He brought me to nor made me leave Cambodia. But, I do know what I have learned from the experience and that's why it hurts so bad:
It hurts because I loved deeply.
It hurts because I got attached.
But most of all, it hurts because I witnessed, experienced, and saw suffering.
Previously to Cambodia, I thought I knew a lot about pain. I assumed I knew how to relate with those who were suffering. I simply thought I knew what it felt like to suffer with one another.
But in all honesty, I have come to the conclusion that I knew absolutely nothing about suffering until I left Cambodia.
Cambodia has taught me that suffering with one another entails a lot more than holding the hand of a friend while their heart is breaking. Suffering with one another is holding the hand of a friend and reminding them that this is not the end.
Pain is an interesting thing and it has the power to consume you if you allow it to. And if I'm being honest, when I returned from Cambodia, I let the pain consume me like a wildfire. My tired and weary soul began to find walking in the darkness more comforting than fighting for the light. I had become convinced that pain was the only predictable thing I could cling to. I could depend on the pain to come...but joy, joy felt distant and unreliable when I needed it most.
Have you ever lost sight of God when the pain became too deep?
I know that I have. And for the past 5 months, I have found myself pleading with God more than 3 times for Him to take the pain away. To rid me of the ache in my chest that hasn't become any easier to bear.
However, It took me lying on the ground, weeping in the arms of a friend, and crying out in agony from the pain that overwhelmed my heart to learn this simple truth:
I needed to be reminded that this wasn't the end.
At the age of 21, it was easy for me to comfort others and say that the despair they were facing was not going to last. However, when it's your own heart breaking, you begin to realize just how unclear the future seems while you're hurting. I know I am not alone in this. I know the person who is reading this has felt pain and despair too - even though our stories are different.
My question for you is this: Have you been able to walk out of the darkness yet?
For me, it took living in, leaving, and missing Cambodia to realize that I wasn't going to make it out of that alleyway alone. I needed someone to remind me that the pain I was feeling wasn't going to be there at the end.
Pain is an interesting thing, and it has the power to consume you if you allow it to. And though I've allowed it to, last month I sat in my car on a dirt road weeping and began fighting for the light again for the first time in 4 months. It wasn't an easy decision in that moment, and it still isn't easy today. But, I have come to both learn and believe that suffering is not the end. If no one has told you that today, please hear me when I say this: The pain you are feeling is not the end. No matter how many times you might seek comfort in it, no matter how many times you plead with God over it, and no matter how deep or wide it may feel. Please believe me when I say that the pain you are feeling cannot compare to the joy that is coming.