The Elegance of Mangos

As I shuffle through the mail, I casually chat with my husband about things on my list of home improvements. Among the bills and catalogs is a familiar envelope that makes me stop and flush with embarrassment. It’s a letter from Lukas, an eight-year-old boy who lives in a village outside of Entebbe, Uganda, one of the poorest nations in the world.

The envelope includes a sweet picture drawn by Lukas and a letter written in English by a translator. Lukas asks how we are doing and tells us more about himself. We know the names of his brothers and sisters. He likes to read and play soccer with his friends, and his favorite color is green.

Reading the letter out loud, my voice cracks, “Lukas also adds that he appreciates so much his birthday gift of 86,350. With that money, he bought a mattress and a piece of candy.”

We forgot his annual birthday gift of $25 had been automatically withdrawn from our bank account. Lukas didn’t replace an old mattress with a new one. He bought the first mattress he’d ever had to go with the mosquito netting he bought with last year’s Christmas gift.

The little boy’s grateful words tangibly hang in the air next to my greedy ones. The ones about all the things I need in order to sit squarely in the lap of happiness – things Lukas has no idea even exist.

The next part of the letter is something neither Mike nor I can get out of our minds – something incredibly humbling and beautiful. It reads, “The thing that makes Lukas happiest is climbing trees for mangos.” My heart feels simultaneously heavier and lighter.

We love mangos. We buy them at the grocery store when they’re available. Mike is good at picking a perfectly ripe one. He slices through the yellow-red skin and makes neat cuts in the bright yellow flesh to release cubes of the tropical treat. Biting into the fruit brings a burst of floral sweetness with a slight hint of pine. If eaten mindfully, it’s heaven.

I imagine our young friend nimbly skittering up a mango tree in his village. His bright brown eyes spy a ripe fruit. His tiny hand picks it off the limb and stuffs it in his pocket. He climbs back down the tree, laughing. He sits on the ground and leans against the base of the tree. Pulling the golden prize from his pocket, he takes a big bite, juice dripping down his smiling face.

When we find ourselves getting caught up in our first world delusions and disillusions, Mike and I need only say one simple, elegant word. Mangos.§

Hello, friend! Thank you for reading my blog. Starting this coming Wednesday, a second weekly post will come to your email inbox. Just Between Friends is especially for subscribers of The Simple Swan. It’s still all about adding simplicity and elegance to our lives, but I think you’ll find it a little more personal, more conversational, and more practical. Look for Wednesday’s post on my three-month personal spending moratorium. I can hardly wait to read your thoughts and ideas. I’m no longer on social media, but you can comment on the blog or email me at Alicia@thesimpleswan.com. Have a beautiful day!

Under the Same Stars

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight. For as long as I can remember, I’ve made a wish on the first star I see at night. This week, I will make a wish for a ten-year-old boy who lives in a small village in Uganda.

When I was a child, my wishes were those of a child. As I got older, they became less self-centered and foolish. Eventually, most of my wishes turned to prayers for the health and happiness of the people I love. After my children went out on their own, I found it comforting to know they might look up in the sky and wish upon the very same star as I.

Many years ago, my husband and I began sponsoring a little boy named Pascal through Compassion International, a humanitarian aid organization. I love knowing he, too, is under the same blanket of stars.

Pascal lives with his brothers, sisters, and mother, who has been ill for some time. His home has been described as a small shelter cobbled together with discarded materials. Fortunately, Pascal and many of the children in his village are able to attend a church-sponsored school.

I don’t know if Pascal understands he lives in poverty. If so, his smiling school photos and drawings of himself playing soccer, laughing with friends, and helping his mother belie the fact. When I find myself wishing for material things or for even more ease in my life, I think of Pascal and the three billion people on our planet who live in poverty.

There’s a quote I turn to when my life seems inadequate, when I let advertisements, HGTV, and social media make me feel small and envious. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself. Tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches. For to the creator, there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”

Rilke’s words shame me. I keep the quote close at hand, just in case I need to snap out of it.

I sent a birthday card to Pascal, which an interpreter will help him read. I asked him to look up at the night sky. “Remember that you and I are on the same planet, under the same sky, looking up at the same stars,” I wrote. “I am making a special wish upon one of those stars for your birthday and always.”

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight. 

Please Note: About a year after I wrote this essay, we received a letter that Pascal’s mother passed away, and his guardian chose to remove Pascal from the Compassion project. Mike and I could no longer sponsor him. I called Compassion International in Colorado and was told this is a common problem with sponsored children. One of the most important feature of child sponsorship programs is tracking children so that they are not easily sold into slavery or recruited into rebellion armies. I was allowed to write Pascal a final letter and risked sending him our address and phone number, hoping he might contact us on his own at some point. We have not heard from him yet, but I pray he knows I will look up at our same stars this week and make a birthday wish for him. §