Thursday, October 02, 2008

Commitment to Love

"People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle." (Thich Nhat Hanh)

I have always thought that God forgot to put a biological clock in me. But maybe it's because I was brought up in a 'love story family', as my dad calls it... Maybe I was raised to believe that kids are the center of the parents' universe, and that they are the fruit of their love.

Maybe because of that, I have always loved kids and I always wanted to be a teacher when I grow up. Or maybe it's because I can never have my own child?! Or maybe it's just because I am a new aunt, and I am head over heels in love with my nephew.
Who knows? Whatever the reason, children's stories move me anymore...

Last Friday I went to visit an orphanage in the area, and bring the kids a pre-holiday gift bag, with a cd player, a t-shirt, a backpack, and a soft toy.

When I was growing up, to enforce discipline, my dad would threaten me and my sister that he'll "send us to the orphanage if we're not good". We always asked "what is that?", and he would say: it's a cold and dark place like a prison, where you get no toys, people are mean to you, and you never see your parents again, until you're 18. It didn't sound much like fun.

And I have always seen, with the rest of the world, the CNN documentaries that made Romanian orphanages famous around the world for the wrong reason. But I have never been to an orphanage before - until this Friday.

It was everything and nothing like I imagined. This one, was not just one dark and cold building, like my dad's description said, but a whole campus of cottages that looked very "homey". Each cottage had a "parent family", which typically is a married couple with kids of their own, that live in that cottage as their home. With them, in the same cottage, several orphans share the space as well. I am not sure what kind of room arrangement they have, as for our visit, we were welcome to the gym, but I imagine it's more like a dorm?! So maybe a couple of kids share a room?! But a small scale dorm, since each cottage has 7-9 orphans living there and the houses don't look huge. Should I say "students"?!

We met some of the teachers, and they all seem like nice, friendly, very well rounded people. Not some drill sergents that my dad was talking about. They have nice families, and some wear even designer shoes, ahve stylish haircuts and lots of make up. They're friendly. They smile.

And then, we met the orphans and my heart just about stopped. They were teens, between 11 and 17, I would say. They had a look on their faces that will chase me for the rest of my life: it betrayed fear, and sadness, but also trouble, and watchfulness. It told about loneliness and hardships. You could tell. Their hands were coarse, with blunt nails that they have been biting, and their facial features hard. Some of them were absolutely model material gorgeous. Just beautiful, gorgeous kids. But their eyes had the same fear, and they looked around like they were waiting for something bad to happen, or careful not to be struck by surprise, by something that to me was not there.

They behaved in the only way, I think, abandoned kids would: to attract attention to themselves: they were loud, spoke very dirty, and they were pushing each other, and hanging off of basketball baskets instead of playing ball. They were kicking the bleachers instead of walking on them. They had rage. Again, against something that was not there for me. Deeply rooted rage. Untamable.

They looked like beautiful lions stuck in cages at the zoo: smart, quick and gorgeous, and having to be good for the man who feeds them, but not happy with it. There was a sneakiness about them.

We were told that not all the kids were there that weekend: that the orphanage encourages those who have a chance to spend the weekend with their families, to re-develop that relationship. That made me wonder: what would be worse: to know you're an orphan, and to know you were given up, and to know your family, but know that they can't take care of you, and at the end of every weekend they send you away? Or not to know them at all, and always wander what they look like, who they are, and why they left you to no one? I think both predicaments are equally heartbreaking!

Our organization brought a group of little girls who danced for them, and did ballet. The little girls in the dancing group were adorable. They were small, and klutzy, and cute as a bug's ear. We all melted, and laughed because they could not find their place, their props, or their beat. The orphans didn't find all that amusing at all. They were serious. Stern and matter of fact. What was funny to all of us, and endearing, stirred almost no reaction/ emotion in them, it seemed. You felt like in their world fun is measured by completely other dimensions than in ours.

It's heartbreaking for me to see that what comes from what generally is accepted as a love act, is so deprived of love. I felt like the orphans have always been missing just the human touch. The hugs, and tuck-ins that all the kids are getting when they grow up. The kisses in the morning when they go to school, the re-arranging of that curl on the forehead, the heart-felt "I love you"-s when they go to bed, or when they go to school in the morning. The approving and re-assuring smiles of the parents when they do something good.

They looked human. But afraid and cold, like they did something wrong. They looked guilty - but they didn't know what the guilt was?! Is being born a sin?! Their guardians were nice, and friendly, but no matter how much you try, the nurturing love that comes natural to a loving parent the teachers might not have.

I felt for a moment that I want to adopt them all! I felt such an enormous love, and compassion for all of them. Just some innocent souls that have never asked to be brought on this planet, and have been born, and left to the winds, to find their own ways.

Someone said that weeds are flowers devoid of love, I think... It's easy to see how these children can choose to be weeds, as they intrinsically know that they were not loved to be flowers. They have a stubbornness about them that betrays some kind of revenge towards the world. The world that has allowed this to happen to them. This loveless, cold and dark world.

I don't judge the parents who make that choice. I can't. I would not know where to begin to do that . Some parents really don't make it, if they die and have no one left, the choice is made for them, perhaps. There are as many stories of abandoned children as they are abandoned children, I am sure. It is just a sad, sad reality that's around us, and that has moved me beyond tears.

Some people asked me what "funstuff" I did on a Friday night. I would not have traded this visit for the world! Now, I have a clear and distinct picture of what orphans look like and need and want. This visit opened my veins to love, and protect the kids I know.

Yesterday, I got to read the "thank you" notes they sent to our organization for the gifts we gave them. It again made me cry. They can find in their hearts to give back even if the world has not given to them. The depths of human love and compassion are once again leaving me speechless!! This gesture gave me hope. When I saw them on Friday, I was wondering: will they ever be able to give love in return, since they don't even know what it looks like or feels like to get it?!? But the simple gesture of taking the time to write "thank you for my gifts: I could not wait to get out of school to go to my room and listen to my cd player" made me sleep last night, with the hope that they will be different. I hoped that the kindness of teachers, and the kindness of organizations like ours, the ballet representations, the innocence they get exposed to will, hopefully, in the long run, open their hearts to the beauty and the love that this world indeed has. I hope!

I have been watching videos of my nephew all week, and I cannot wait to hold him in my arms again in a couple of weeks. The amount of love I can give him seems endless right now. The amount of hugs and kisses - the same. Such a fragile, innocent blossom, and we, adults, have such responsibility and accountability towards them!

I want him to grow with his eyes full of love and trust. Not fear. With his smile forever cemented on his face. With his heart big, and his eyes curious. I want him to know he is important enough not to ever want to attract attention upon himself. He can just ... be. I want him to give hugs in return, and be compassionate, and loving. I want him to have everything all the unwanted children of the world cannot have: a hug in the morning, and kiss good night on the forehead at night. And a meaningful "I love you" every day of his life!

And, after Friday, I have added a new line to my prayers. I will now also pray for the abandoned souls of the earth, everywhere. May God and Nature take care of and protect what humans could not.

And just to share, the picture of my love, here's my nephew:

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