And later, a Gloomy Sunday when I was sitting in my African house, the solitude burning, with no place to go and no one to talk to. With the banana trees shimmying outside the window and the sound of rain beating down the roof drowning my thoughts, I opened up a novel and out of it fell a Polaroid of Alvin, my childhood friend. I was surprised and set off-center by the image falling out like that.
James Baldwin once wrote: "To encounter oneself is to encounter the other: and this is love." It took me a long time to know what he was talking about, but Alvin's picture that day forced me to think about the enormous costs of pushing him away, and that felt like a waste of good love. I took the picture and sat it right where I could see it. It is now, always, right where I can see it.
I know this: It is possible to stumble upon oneself in the process of looking onto and receiving others. I had perhaps come into the world alone, but it was populated with other people when I arrived. People who might love me, see me, teach me things. And so I glimpsed, somehow, in Burundi, the nature of connection, which is to say, the nature of love. And there cannot be, I have come to know, one without the other. Simple sounding, yes, but not actually, and I have traveled quite a long way to understand that.