It was the day after my daughter returned from her first mission trip to Uganda.
She was unpacking and putting away her belongings. . . or so I thought.
Instead I found her on the bed crying.
“I have so much stuff. I had more in my backpack than most of those people own.”
Those people are the refugees in the settlement she visited, people from Sudan and surrounding countries.
Those people are no longer pictures on some missionary’s website. She has looked in their eyes, held their hands, heard their voices, and seen their poverty.
She will never be the same. None of us will.
Because we can’t unknow.
Now we know that a little girl with a pretty smile wears a dirty, tattered dress, her only one, in a place where everything is scarce, including hope. And she is one of many.
We can’t unknow her or them or the circumstances in which they live.
I’m reminded of that morning early in my nursing career when the OB/GYN nurse from the next floor burst into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit grabbing my fellow nurse and crying, “Come! You have to come help!”
A few minutes later the NICU nurse returned with a tiny baby boy, the result of a failed abortion.
We couldn’t save him. We didn’t even have equipment small enough to try.
It was my job to watch him die and record the process.
But he didn’t want to die. He hung on, clinging desperately to a life he would never live.
I watched and prayed and wept.
I can never unknow him.
I can never unknow abortion, the silent holocaust happening right under our noses.
I’ve seen it. I’ve known the horror of it. I can never forget it or him.
It’s so easy in our comfortable, prosperous world to revert to the American default of complacency when we hear of suffering.
We don’t want these things to be true so we look the other way. We deny. We pretend. We do anything but confront.
It hurts to know. So we choose not to.
But then life throws suffering right onto our path in a way that we can’t miss it.
Then we know.
And we have a choice.
We can act or we can walk away.
But we can never, ever unknow.