Before leaving home for Uganda, I promised Terry I wouldn’t return with an orphaned baby. Frankly, the motherhood gene skipped me completely so it was an easy promise to make.
Until I met Opiyo Martin. I call him Martin for short, but nine times out of ten, I call him son.
He’s a smart boy, loving and warm. Oh, and he’s 19 years old-way past the drooling baby stage. Thank God.
One day I was hen-pecking Martin about something, like taking time to eat or straightening his tie, and in his best teenage boy voice he replied, “Okay, Mum.” “You’re a good son, Martin.” I smiled. And that was it, I was a goner.
As so many unexpectedly sweet things do, it felt natural and right, like I’d been calling him son all his life, like this child was born out of my heart, if not my womb.
He greets me every morning with a “Hi, Mum.” and a hug. He finds me during lunch time to make sure I have food, often times offering me his food if I have yet to get mine. This act may not sound like a big deal, but if Martin gave me his food, it would mean he wouldn’t eat lunch that day. And yet he offers, knowing full well that his offer comes with sacrifice. At the end of the day if Martin knows I’m leaving, I get another hug and an escort to the gate.
Martin devours literature. He sings all of the time and I can’t help but giggle when he sings the wrong words, kind of like someone else I know. Ahem. He writes songs, raps, poetry and anything else he can think to scrawl on a piece of paper. He wants to be a writer or a pastor when he grows up.
He is so obviously my son.
Martin has his own family here in Uganda. Two of his younger cousins attend the academy with him. His uncle teaches literature. He has an older sister who is already married and a nine-year old brother still in primary school. As with so many students here, he is impoverished of his parents, but rich in non-traditional family members and I’m blessed to be folded into his family.
Today I had the pleasure of working one on one with Martin on the story he’s penning for our book. Earlier in the week, Martin mentioned that he wanted my help in writing, so when it came time for us to work, I didn’t hold back. I asked question after question about details he’d left unanswered. He answered each one, painting in gritty details that cut to the heart of who he is.
In the face of evil that threatened to end his life, Martin, my beautiful son, chose to forgive. Typing that word ‘forgive’, it’s the only time I’ve ever felt the word doesn’t adequately describe the depth of forgiveness. Martin didn’t just forgive, but he forgave with utter absolution that I can only begin to fathom.
I’m not writing his story here for many reasons, but the chief reason is that his story pierces such a raw place in my spirit that I physically cannot type it through my tears. I’m profoundly proud of him, proud to know him, proud to be called Mum, proud to call him son.
In this surprising and wonderful mother-son relationship, I’m teaching my son to write with heart while he teaches me to live with heart.