Today was an emotional day.  I knew what I was getting into with a visit to the District Six Museum early this afternoon.  I had been there before, during my first visit to Cape Town nearly four years ago. It was heart wrenching then, as well as now.  The Museum tells the story of the 1966 destruction of this vibrant community of Cape Town by the apartheid government.  It’s a story that contains the multiple stories of each sub community, each family and each individual — their histories, cultures, hopes, and dreams,  all of which intertwined with one another — and  these lives and dreams destroyed. While browsing the small bookstore , the small sparse man with the warm open face behind the counter pointed to a book on the shelf, “Noor’s Story: My life in District Six,” by Noor Ebrahim.  He was Noor!  There was a small essay of his on display in one of the exhibits which became part of his book.  He told me that when well-known people come to the Museum he is often their guide; he pointed to photos of him with Al Gore, Queen Beatrice of the The Netherlands, the King and Queen of Sweden, among others, in his book.  He then showed me a separate photo of him with Michelle Obama.  He was so proud yet said, “They are all very nice people, just regular people like you and me.” Of course I bought his book which he insisted on signing.

Then it was off to JL Zwane, where I was invited to help facilitate a short conversation with two youth groups on issues of HIV/AIDS  There was then to be  a candlelight vigil in memory of all those we have loved and lost to the disease.  Nonkukuleko is the Health and Wellness educator/facilitator for JL Zwane and invited me to co-facilitate with her.  I have met her before but only recently got to spend time with Nonkukuleko last week during Food Parcel Day sponsored by Open Arms.  She was awesome in helping to organize folks and make sure that the process was moving as smoothly as possible — all with a tremendous amount of compassion and energy.

However, tonight when I arrived at the Zwane Centre, the  lead facilitators and youth/assistant pastors wanted to spend time “in reflection,” inviting participants to talk about their expectations for this week long camp with two different youth groups and what’s working and what’s not. (You know, dealing with group dynamics!)  So Nonkukuleko and I had to change our game plan…she told me that after this reflection time she would say a few words and then turn it over to me.  My role became being the bridge from the large group  (of 40 youth and young adults) discussion to the candlelight vigil, including lighting the first candle, in remembrance of those whom I have been close to who died of HIV/AIDS.  As I recited those names, I invited others to name their loved ones, invoking a Jewish saying, “May their memories be only for a blesssing.”   One by one each person then lighted their candle, as many sang in Xhosa. As several young people came forward, tears flowing, they whispered the names of  their mother AND their father, a brother, a sister, an aunt, a friend. Others prayed for those who are still alive yet are living with HIV and AIDS that they may have “many more years yet to live.”

No doubt, future reflection time will be much different. Bonds and relationships that were tentative and fragile now are bound up in shared tears and loss and vulnerable moments of meaning.  In just two hours, these young people taught me so much about love and courage in the face of profound loss.  HIV/AIDS is a daily, no, a moment by moment, reality all of them live with day in and day out.

After some singing and holding of hands in a big circle, our time together ended with big hugs and “I love you” all around. It was an emotional day.

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