Friday, January 15, 2010

The Yellow Orphan

When I was 27 I met my first orphan. She lived in Brazil. She was in a bare room with dank yellow walls. She was in a yellow crib. She had a yellow t-shirt. She had a yellow cloth diaper. She ate yellow milk. She only had yellow.

I never thought that yellow could look sad, but sad it was. The yellow was sobbing quietly because it was conserving it's energy...and, well, it had learned long ago that no one listened if it cried out loud, so it cried quietly.

I was ushered into this clean and yellow orphanage by nuns dressed like Mother Teresa. White robes with two blue lines around the edging. They had, in fact, been trained by Mother Teresa. This orphanage was one of her legacies. It was one of the best run and cared for orphanages in the vast favela of Rio de Janeiro. My shoes, nice ones I had bought in New York City without thinking twice about them, echoed down the cement hallway. I followed the nun to the room with the babies.

That's where I saw her. She was lying in her yellow crib, dressed in yellow and looking at me with more intensity than I thought possible for a eight month old baby. She was quite. Her eyes latched onto my blond hair and I wondered if she'd ever seen that color before, then I smiled at myself, she LIVED in that color. I asked the nun if I could hold her.

The nun paused. She thought. I felt immediately awkward that the answer wasn't a certain "yes". She was hesitant. Why? I wondered why? It was the normal thing to do with babies, isn't it? To want to hold and love and care for them? At least, for me, it's always been like that. I simply adore bringing a child's cheek and resting it on my chest...delicately putting one hand on the back of her head and the other cradles her body. our hearts touching. There's nothing so fully comforting as that.

The nun, still, looked at me. I wondered at the pause. She wanted my money, I knew, and so she didn't want to offend me. She gave me a tiny tin necklace with a patron saint on it when I entered to get God and myself on her side. And yet, she didn't want me to hold the little yellow clad baby either.

It dawned on me.

It would make her job and the baby's life more complicated. Generally, the babies weren't held or cuddled very much. When babies get used to that, they want it, we all would want it. If the babies in the orphanage got use to that...then they would cry more, they'd be dissatisfied more...they would, in a sense, learn what love is and then learn to miss it when it was no longer there.

If I held the baby, she might love it for the hour I got to spend with her, but then what? What about the next month where no one paid attention to her like that. No one sang or rocked her or hugged her or put their heart to hers.

I looked at the nun, "Nevermind, " I said as I made my decision. A hard decision because I desperately wanted to hug this little one. Instead, I leaned over her crib and rubbed her tummy and sang her a song all while making eye contact. I did this for an hour.

Then I never saw her again.

I felt pretty dang useless that day.



Stina said...

Aww, now all I want to do is go pick up and cuddle Theo. (But he's sleeping and I know better than to disturb a sleeping baby!)

JMH said...

I like this. It hurts a little. It's nice that you write with color. I consciously pepper my writing with it because having a full set of senses is not something to be taken for granted.

Ninny Beth said...

and so we do what we can. I'm going to make documentaries about getting babies back to biological families. I'm going to put myself in places where the spirit can direct me to souls who are ready for what I give. You are always doing the same, D and that's what I love about you.

Stella said...

Ninny Beth...Ditto!