We wind our way through the dry Balinese mountains to visit Wa Catri, a woman suffering from leprosy that has been thrown out by her family.
“What do you mean thrown out by her family?” I ask Beike, the woman in charge of the philanthropic organization I am donating my time to.
“They saw she had the disease and they drove her to a mountain and left her under a tree.”
“What? How is that even possible?” I ask. I mean don’t get me wrong, I may think of driving some of my family members and leaving them on a mountain top, but I wouldn’t actually do it!
“This happens in our country,” she says. “Someone found her and called me to see if we could do anything. We’ve been helping her with medicines and building her a place to live. Her name is Wa Catri.”
We pull up in front of a concrete building with a small hut on the side. “We built this for her, but because it is concrete, she had trouble. She asked for a hut with a dirt floor so she could crawl around easier. We gave her straw mats to lay over the dirt.”
Beike and I sit on the steps of the large concrete structure, and the woman, abandoned by her family, crawls over to us. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid. I had only heard about leprosy in terms of ancient times, quarantine, and contagion. My lack of knowledge about leprosy fueled my fear. Could I catch it? How contagious was it? Would my limbs start deteriorating immediately or would it be more gradual?
Beike takes out the eye drops and smiles at Wa Catri – a delicate loving intimacy between the two of them. Wa Catri, so trusting, leans her head back and the drops land in her cloudy grey eyes. It’s a beautiful moment to witness – someone loving someone else’s brokenness. Full of love, full of compassion, full of complete acceptance for everything Wa Catri is. They speak lightly in Indonesian. Laughing. Smiling. Beike translates.
“We are asking her how old she is,” says Beike. “She says she is 15. We ask her if she is sure, and she says no, she is 25. She is sure she is 25.”
I look at the woman, her hair white from the experience of the world, her skin wrinkled, her fingers drawn in toward each other like a claw, and her feet misshapen with toes missing – eaten away by the disease. I look at her smiling face.
“Me too,” I say laughing. “ I think everyone wants to be 25.”
“This is common. Most people don’t know how old they are, so we learn to ask them what they were doing when Mt. Agung erupted. This will give us some idea,” Beike explains.
She turns back to Wa Catri and talks some more.
Beike translates “She says she had gotten her menstruation when Mt. Agung erupted. Since we know that was in 1963, we can estimate her age to be around 60 something.”
“There’s nothing wrong with her believing that she’s 25 is there?” I ask.
“No,” Beike says, “She has no concept of years or of age. A few months ago before we had finished her place to live, Wa Catri said she wanted to die. Now, she is happy, and she can cook and care for herself. I reminded her that she said she wanted to die and she said now she does not want to die. Now, she is happy.”
A little love and nurturing, some medicines, along with some straw mats and a fire pit in the ground with a low hanging pot over it – these few things breathed life back into this woman, abandoned by her family, tossed from her home.
“What will happen to the concrete home that you built?” I ask Beike.
“Her daughter is moving into it.”
“Her daughter who abandoned her?” I ask.
Beike nods her head.
“But,” I begin.
Beike shakes her head, silently telling me to stop asking questions.
I look back at Wa Catri as we drive from her hut, the happiest and oldest-looking 25-year-old woman I’ve ever met. Did her external wounds mirror her internal scarring? Would she be glad to have her daughter nearby or would she recognize her as a horrible mooch, coming near to her mother again only to have the opportunity to live in a house? Or was that just my judgment? Had Wa Catri healed enough to let go of being abandoned? The lightness in her being sings out a yes. Is giving forgiveness what allows that lightness to shine through?
Who can I forgive?