Mangoes ~ life-changing words from a child in Africa

The first piece of mail I opened in 2021 was a letter from a 7-year-old boy who lives in a village outside of Entebbe, Uganda. Nothing sets you straight faster than the cheerful words of a child who lives in one of the poorest nations in the world.

I was attending my own pity party when I saw the letter on the kitchen counter. It was from Lukas, a child we sponsor through Compassion International. Just seeing the familiar envelope was enough to make me flush with embarrassment. I stopped whining and opened the letter. On one side was a colorful picture drawn by Lukas, and on the other, a letter written in English by a translator.

Lukas was responding to a letter I’d written to him during the summer. Normally our letter cycle takes about three months, but the pandemic made the process twice as long. Lukas asked how we were doing and told us more about himself. We already knew the names of his brothers and sisters, that he likes to play soccer with his friends, and his favorite color is green.

Reading the letter out loud to my husband, my voice cracked when I read, “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We’d forgotten his annual birthday gift of $25 had been automatically withdrawn from our bank account.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 hung tangibly in the air next to my greedy ones.

I’d just been listing the next bushel of things I needed to happen, needed to do, needed to get in order to sit squarely in the lap of happiness – things Lukas has no idea even exist or would ever believe he was entitled.

Then Lukas told us something neither Mike nor I can get out of our minds – something incredibly simple and utterly life-changing.

The thing that makes him happiest is climbing trees for mangoes.

We love mangoes. 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 then 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 skitter 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 word to remind us of the good life.

Mangoes. §

About Compassion International ~ When you sponsor a child through Compassion International, you become the single sponsor of a specific child. You get updated pictures and profiles of your child, and you can exchange letters. Your donation help your child’s local church provide medical care, education, nutritious meals, and other needs. To find out more about sponsoring a child through Compassion International, go to http://www.compassion.com/Child/Sponsorship.  

A Squirrel’s Guide to Happiness

A squirrel crossed the road slowly due to the heavy load it was carrying. In its gaping mouth was a hickory nut the size of a billiard ball. He stood on his hind legs and bounced his head back to get a better grip on his work. He labored forward again in a precarious balancing act just as a garbage truck came flying around the corner. Making a quick decision, the squirrel dropped the nut and scurried to the other side of the road.

As the truck zoomed by, the nut blew down the street. Running towards it, the squirrel uttered a two-syllable squawk that sounded like a martial artist’s battle cry, “Kiai!” He pounced on the rolling nut, tucked it awkwardly into his little mouth, lumbered across the road and made his way through thick underbrush.

At last, he heaved the giant hickory nut inside a hollowed out tree. The squirrel let out a satisfying sigh, raised his furry paw in a rewarding fist pump and appreciated his cache of nuts. He spent the rest of the morning frolicking in the leaves, swinging from bird feeders, leaping from limb to limb and generally enjoying life.

Watching that tenacious squirrel got me thinking. What would happen if the same squirrel decided collecting nuts was too difficult, boring or unimportant? What if he waited around for someone else to gather nuts for him, tried to steal another squirrel’s hard-earned nuts or devised some greedy plan to gather all the nuts in the woods for himself? What if, in some esoteric philosophical meltdown, he realized he’d be much happier if he wasn’t a squirrel at all?

Okay, that’s a little nutty, but couldn’t we all learn something from that joyful critter as we search for a life of meaning and satisfaction?

The self-help section of our library holds dozens of books with similar titles ~ Happiness, True Happiness, Real Happiness, Stumbling On Happiness, The Happiness Advantage, The Happiness Project, The Art of Happiness, How Happiness Happens and Happiness Now! (The exclamation mark is actually a demanding part of the title.)

Happiness is a hot topic. Yet, statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health are increasingly grim. Maybe we’re putting too much focus on this happiness thing. Maybe the more we humans intellectualize the intangible idea of happiness, the more elusive it becomes.

That squirrel reminds me of a few folks I’ve known who never seem to give much thought to the idea of happiness, yet always seem content. People who do what needs to be done at home, at work and in the community. People who find enjoyment in the simple things ~ hard work, hot soup, cold beer.

People who, at the end of the day, let out a satisfying sigh, raise their hand in a rewarding fist pump and smile at their own cache of nuts. §