This is quite beautiful, and a wonderful post with which to begin November, that month of Thanksgiving.
It gives me great pleasure to introduce Laney.
I remember Papa telling stories about the "forgotten ones" overseas. Children with cleft pallets, mental handicaps and deformities dropped at the orphanage door step or left in trash bins. It was as if someone had told the parents that they should be disgusted and ashamed at the sight of such a child. Papa had come the winter prior, traveling all over Kyrgyzstan to sing and play his guitar. He would tell me stories of his fingers nearly freezing off and how funny it was when someone would ask for his autograph. But what he mentioned most were stories of the children that he had to leave behind in the places that they didn't deserve to be.
Growing up in church I got used to hearing missionaries speak of poverty, starvation, and the "less fortunate". I saw commercials begging for donations contributing to the child with the swollen stomach and flies on his face. The phrase "there are starving children in Africa," was common among the parents attempting to creativly get their stubborn kid to eat his green beans. In my mind this was a problem that I couldn't fix in a sad movie that I could turn off and forget about. Their reality and mine had never touched.
I've always had an unquenchable thirst to keep moving. It seems like Papa and I share this desire to see everything there is to see; to understand how others live. When I was younger, friends of ours decided to move overseas as missionaries. Somehow, I came to the conclusion that traveling halfway across the world was the next logical step in my life. Even though I was just 14 at the time, It really didn't take that long for my parents to agree because they saw my passion and understood.
The unsightly two story building should have been condemned with its rooms smelling of urine and roaches scattering up the rotting walls. The blank response of the children upon my arrival seemed to say they didn't understand my look of shock at the sight of them playing on the dirt floor. Were all orphanages like this? Two or three hand me raggedy toys for each room, overcrowded and undermanaged. It was hard to find anyone that looked after the children, because there weren't many.
The moment I stepped through the door, I had touched my new reality. It was almost as if all the commercials and stories I had heard in the past hit me at once, and the sorrow I felt was more than I ever had. After that day I couldn't stop coming back. I began to visit the orphanage often, and dread the day I would have to leave. I played with the most wonderful children I think I will ever meet; showing love and affection they rarely received, singing songs in a language I didn't understand.
Early on at the orphanage, I met a six-year-old girl named Vica, who became my best friend. She gave me the name "Solnyshka" because she said "I make the room sunny". Almost every morning for four months she would go with me to pick flowers by the road while we learned a little of each other's languages. Even with the language barrier, we connected in a way that seemed as though we filled a void in each other's lives - her desire to be cared about, my desire to care for someone.
In the summer the family and others I stayed with coached baseball for the kids at the orphanage and the villages surrounding. Vica was too young to play baseball, but as I would coach with much animation, I would often look over at the sidelines to see her with a smile on her face, mimicking all the movements I made.
I will never forget the day before I left when I took Vica out for a walk. As I tried to explain my departure in broken Russian, she only understood that I was abandoning her and that she would probably never see me again. A friend of mine stepped in to let her know that I cared about her and loved her very much. He told her that I wasn't allowed to stay any longer, but I wanted to. Having all that said, the goodbye was just as hard, but she understood and gave me the last hug while thanking me for being her new big sister.
When I left she told me to write, so I did, but she never responded. I pray that she was adopted, because it scares me to think of anything else for her, the six-year-old girl who taught me so much about myself and my life. She showed me that it didn't matter that I was young, inexperienced, and that I had a serious language barrier. I could show love, and be love to someone who so desperately needed it. To me that is the most beautiful thing, to be love in someone's reality.