“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: that word is love.” ~Sophocles
I can’t believe it was almost four years ago that I met *Holly. Her story is still deeply embedded into my heart. Who would have thought that one can learn so much from a ten-year-old child?
At the time, I was working in Kenya as a children’s rights researcher. Knowing about my psychology background, the principal of a primary school I was working at asked me if I could talk to one of their students. Since I would only be able to meet her for a few shorts months, and I thought I was not qualified enough, I was hesitant at first.
Then I remembered: always ask the question, “How can I serve?” in every situation
I knew it was a place for me to serve. So even though I lacked an official therapist license in my home country, I agreed to meet with Holly.
For that winter I became her volunteer counselor. I gave her my full attention while I listened to her stories, I provided her full support, and most importantly, I gave her my unconditional love. But in the end, she gave me so much more back.
When she was only four years old, Holly was raped by her father, contracting an STD that caused her all sorts of health problems, including visible rashes all over her skin.
It is not only that her rashes were itching and made her feel uncomfortable, but children at school, especially boys, continuously abused her for it.
“Children throw stones at me. They say I have HIV. They say I am not a child anymore but a prostitute. But I am a child. I want to be a child,” she told me once.
At home, her life was not better: living in the slums, she was facing extreme poverty. Her emotionally removed mother neglected her and made her responsible for all home tasks, from cooking to taking care of young siblings. Also, she was afraid of her alcoholic uncle visiting them on a regular basis. The list of her sorrows went on and on.
Holly desperately wanted to be loved and cared for. She was always so thankful for anyone who was there for her, and she radiated kindness and love at all times through her beautiful smile.
Being on the ground as a researcher on the topic of violence against children, I knew that Holly was not alone. She was not the only child that opened her heart to me. But she was one of the youngest, yet one of the most influential among them.
Holly has taught me some life lessons that I believe are universal regardless of our life circumstances.
1. Never give up.
Holly went through so much yet she never gave up hoping, dreaming, and trying. She spoke about her future as if she believed things could get better.
As long as we are alive, we have the choice to keep trying to improve our life.
Sometimes we give up on our dream too early because we don’t believe we can succeed. Giving up guarantees we won’t.
But what if we fail, you may wonder. In my dictionary there is no such thing as failure: only successes and lessons. Even if we don’t accomplish our goal, we will grow and learn throughout the process—and this growth sometimes provides more than a successful end result.
2. Use your imagination.
Holly imagined a better life for herself and she created stories, poetry, and drawings to capture her dreams. She was so clear in her art that it was as if she were already living in her beautiful future.
Children have wild imaginations. As adults we often forget about this wonderful tool, being overwhelmed with work, family, and other responsibilities in life.
If we want to create the life of our dreams it is essential that we use our imagination, because it allows us to experience anything we want. Visualizing new possibilities is a first step to creating our future.
One day Holly showed up with a few pieces of candy that she got from a volunteer at the school. She offered to share them with me. She didn’t have much—in fact, she had very little—yet she wanted to share that little with others.
She also shared her life with me. Sharing her stories, her sadness, her joy, her dreams, and her art meant the world to me. I felt love and I loved her back.
Sharing is caring, sharing creates connection, sharing creates love. You can share so much with the world: you can donate to charities, you can share a meal with your friends and family, you can share your stories through a blog, you can share your experiences over a coffee, you can share your joy, and you can share your love. Show your love—share what you have.
4. Accept support.
Holly recognized that she needed support to get out of her situation, and she accepted any support she could get. She accepted financial support through donations from volunteers. And she accepted emotional support through friendships from anyone who offered it.
She never felt bad about accepting support. She knew in her heart that someday she would pay it forward, helping children in similar situation. For the present moment, she gave back what she could—her love and gratitude.
Accepting support is not a sign of weakness. We can’t always do it alone. Accept support if you need it and be grateful. Karma goes around. You can help out someone the next time around.
5. Be kind.
Holly was a tiny, fragile girl who received pain from every direction in life, yet she always smiled. Often, I was amazed how much kindness she was able to offer.
Kindness was her radical response to suffering. I think she innately believed that if she offered kindness, good karma would come back to her to help her life turn around. I know that being kind also made her incredibly happy because she was able to bring joy to others.
The world needs kindness and there can never be too much of it. It can also be one of the biggest presents to someone because it is a sign of caring, love, and happiness. When you have a choice: always choose kind.
Holly had the biggest heart. I seriously believe that this little girl always came from the perspective of love.
We are all born with enormous amount of love and as children we are more likely to openly share it with the world. Growing up, we close more and more doors in our heart and we get hardened by our experiences. Then we have a difficult time expressing our love as adults.
I urge you to open up those doors. Let your heart shine to the world and express your love.
Expressing love doesn’t have to be difficult: a smile, a hug, a loving note, a kind email, a home-cooked meal, a flower, a small surprise, or similar small actions can work. Of course, the words “I love you” can be the most powerful when lovingly coming from our heart.
There can be never too much love in this world. So choose love, be love, live love, just love, always love.
Due to confidentiality I was not able to follow Holly’s life-story. I am not sure what happened to her. I don’t even know if she is alive. But I will forever remember her story, her smile, her love, and the lessons she taught me.
Holly, wherever you are, you are in my heart and sending you some loving vibes.
*Name changed to protect her privacy. Photo by Sharky