I’ve been thinking about moments that define us. Days that change your life and make you part of who you are. I *think* I’m going to do the next couple of posts certain days that have defined me and my life. Unlike some people, I don’t have stories of immense personal pain, or of horrible childhood tragedies. I do however have some days that I look back on and think “Yes this day really did impact my life”.
My best friend and I were sitting in a room with cement floors. It was cold. In the corner there was a square ball pit full of balls.
We had travelled to my “old hometown” of Suceava, Romania by train. An American friend had told us about the volunteer work she did in a handicapped children’s hospital nearby. She had invited us to go with her for the day, and eager for experiences and adventure, we had said yes.
I had been inside the main hospital building many times before, years earlier, but I had never been inside this smaller building. This was a special building, where visitors were not allowed inside, and one of the handicapped children had unlocked the door using a key that was threaded through her earlobe with a thread. (Now that’s an idea for my misplacing key issue!)
There were about six English volunteers who lived close to the orphanage. Every day they would go into the small building, each get one child, bring the child back to the “special volunteer area”, spend an hour with the child, then take the child back to his room. There were two hundred children in this building. Each child received one hour a week with a volunteer.
All the volunteers got their child. They brought a little boy back for Carissa and I to hold and play. They told us to sing, and that the boy liked when people rubbed his feet. We rubbed his feet, they were cold and purplish blue. We sang Jesus Loves Me. We stroked his hair. He was three but he couldn’t walk, we carried him like a baby. He was so sweet. Our forty-five minutes was soon up. He was taken away. The next week somebody else would take him for another hour, and that was all the love he got.
What did these kids do when they weren’t getting one on one time with volunteers? They sat. They lay in cribs. They rocked. They chewed on their sleeves. They ate their own poop. A lot were tied in their chairs. When the volunteers would walk into a room to take out a child, invariably someone would cry out, wanting so badly to be picked.
We got a little tour of the place; there is a face that still haunts me to this day. I can picture her empty eyes. Carissa and I walked into a room lined with cribs, and the volunteer leaned over a crib, and said “This girl is fifteen; she has been laying in this crib her whole life”. I poked Carissa “she’s almost our age”. We shuddered. You know the creepy doll in the Toy Story? That doll best describes how this girl looks.
It was lunchtime soon. We were told to help feed the kids in a certain room. Chunky broth was ladled into bowls. I took a bowl and gently placed the spoon in a boy’s mouth. Waited until he swallowed; caught the soup and drool dribbled out with the spoon, than repeated. I worked against the gag reflex, this stuff looked disgusting. The hospital employees came into the room, and I realized that I was not feeding in the correct fashion. The correct way was to hold the bowl five inches from the kid’s mouth and shovel, shovel, shovel, factory style. Then move onto the next kid. Logistically speaking this does make more sense than the patient spooning I was doing.
I had the opportunity to feed a boy, who we quickly coined “The Old Faithful”. His head was tilted back, and yes, after every bite, he gave a cough, and a geyser of food would erupt into the air. Soon I made Carissa feed him, because I just couldn’t do it anymore. In the time that I fed two kids, two Romanian workers had fed the remaining ten to twelve kids in the room.
After that it was time for us to take a break and eat lunch. We went to a house with the volunteers and ate salami and Laughing Cow cheese. You know the kind of emotion when you are overwhelmed with pain that you know if you let yourself cry you will never stop? That’s how I felt. My chest was so tight and sitting around the table we did the next best thing which was wild laughter. Crude jokes were told. Sometimes the only way to get through the day is to laugh in the face of a very unfunny situation.
After that we went back into the pit. I don’t remember the rest of the day, but I know that when I got back to our lodging, I had stains of poop, and pee on my white Guess sweatshirt. (stupid clothing choice, btw)
That day was the most depressing day of my life. I didn’t know that it changed me, but it stays there in my memory haunting me.
I used to think that only a follower of Christ has actions that have value. Those volunteers were not Christian people but I saw Jesus so clearly that day. I saw him give sloppy kisses and spin laughing kids in circles. I saw him lovingly spread ointment on chapped butt cheeks. I saw him cry tears of frustration because someone’s diaper had not been changed in a week’s time. Mostly I saw him in the face of an unwanted child.
History Lesson & Video
Communism fell in 1989, and soon after reporters from the West ran a lot of news stories on the orphan situation in Romania. Particularly, 20/20 would aired segments of people barging into the orphanage with the camera’s rolling. As I understand it, (cannot confirm however) the hospital Carissa & I we were at was one of those orphanages. I searched the web to see if I could find a video of the place but I couldn’t. I did find this video though.
Again, not the place we were at, but there are elements of the video that take me back. Particularly the meal time. Ummm… how to say.. not for the faint hearted, but maybe for the broken hearted.