Alex and Vera spend a lot of time volunteering at an orphanage for people with special needs. I purposefully say "people" and not "children, because there are many fully grown adults in this orphanage. I don't have photos of this adventure to share with you, so as to protect those who live at the orphanage, but I hope I can evoke images vividly enough with my words so as to be satisfying.
This is the post that I've been thinking about the most. This is the post that is probably not going to satisfy me when I'm done. This is the post that really isn't going to do its job. What happened to me while I was at the orphanage was not so much what I saw, said, or did; what happened to me there was much more about what I felt.
Upon arriving at the orphanage, we dropped off our things in the director's office, and we trooped outside to take some of the more immobile people on a walk. The more volunteers that are there, the better, since there will be more people to push wheelchairs, meaning that more of the residents can go on the walk, which is so good for them - the change of scenery, the sunshine, the fresh air, the movement. I generally preferred to stay in the back of the parade, enjoying the sun as it woke up and warmed up, the steadily rolling mountains, and the general air of peace that radiated from the people who walked in front of me.
There's one moment etched in my mind that features a backdrop of blue-green mountains, back-lit by a still-cold sun, against which I watched as three of our fully-grown walkers joined hands and continued on their walk that way, simply enjoying each other's reaffirmed presence and love. As I saw that, my heart melted and a year and a half of stress washed off me. I couldn't help thinking, "This is what we're supposed to be. This is, as Phil from KiA (Mainz, Germany) would say, Heaven breaking into our world. This is what makes G-d smile."
It may not be incredibly politically correct of me to say this, but I've frequently found myself envying people with special needs, especially people with Down's Syndrome. I envy some of my Autistic friends, but Down's Syndrome takes the cake. I can tell that there is something going on in their perspective of the world that I, by missing out on an "extra" chromosome, am sorely lacking and should regret it. Having never even lived closely with this type of person, I can't say my observations for anything near certain, and I know that everyone has their bad days, but I rarely ever see me friends with Down's with anything less than a smile on their faces. They have a special way of communicating, a special way of seeing people that I regret not having. I am desperately envious of their world-view. So, to throw me into a large group of people in possession of this world view was nothing short of the most relaxing thing I can ever remember doing in my life. This from the girl who once swore she would never be able to handle people with special needs. (A side-note from me to you: Don't test G-d with those kind of statements. I look back on that memory now, and can almost audibly hear the "Oh really?" that He shot in response to me.)
After the morning walk, we sat for a while in the sun, playing with some of the "immobile" people there, although that's not really a good term for it, because they certainly could move when they want to, it's just not in a bi-pedal sort of way. Sitting amongst these people was an experience. In fact, sitting anywhere in the orphanage was an experience - usually one that ended with me finding myself with a pile of children on top of me. This probably contributed to my sense of relaxation. Although I suffer terribly from oversensitive skin due to Sensory Integration Dysfunction that leaves me feeling like I'm literally burning alive, my love language is still touch. I could always tell, when I taught elementary school, when I haven't had enough of it by the overwhelming desire to let my students all pile on top of me, like I knew they wanted to do. G-d is so good; He found a way to answer even that prayer that my soul had been crying out to Him.
After the piling, I followed Vera upstairs to the bedrooms and nurseries of the younger children. It was approaching lunchtime, and we were going to help feed the kids. Again, we came in and sat on the floor, where I was immediately bombarded by two little people, Bobbie and Addie. They're brother and sister: twins, I think. Bobbie, entirely uninhibited, plopped himself in my lap, while Addie, who was much more reserved, preferred to stay a bit further away and assess the situation. I never heard either one of them speak a word, or eve make a noise, come to think of it, but they were quite communicative with me. Bobbie and I played for a while, and I noted that fact that I would soon be inheriting his cold, as he wiped his snot on my arm. I had a gnawing feeling that I needed to be paying attention to Addie, too, though, especially if they were twins. I, being reserved upon meeting new people myself, know the strong desire to bond with people, and the pain of being crippled by your natural inclinations, so I broke the ice and stuck my tongue out at her. She lit up like a Christmas tree, getting off her chair and crawling over to me to return my greeting. I responded by rolling my tongue at her, which she spent the next half hour trying to learn to do. Now worried about Bobbie's need for attention, I started full-palmedly stroking his face, an action that thoroughly amused him, and continued slowly rolling my tongue in on itself over and over for Addie. I must say, I was relieved when lunch arrived, in spite of its gruel-like texture and Bobbie's gaping front teeth. That boy... I think I ended up with more of his lunch on me than on him. At least he was amused.
After lunch, we had to leave for the day, but we returned the next. I thought about Bobbie and Addie all through the walk and ran up to pop in on them as soon as I could. By that time, though, lunch was already over, but the kids weren't phased. By way of greeting, Addie stuck her tongue out at me (she never did learn how to roll it; I think there's a genetic factor involved, poor kid), before beeing hauled off for a nap by her nurse. The other nurses were busily trying to get Bobbie to take some medicine for his cold, something my presence did not help at all. When I walked in, he threw his arms wide and started trembling from head to foot in a way that reminded me so strongly of my brother in his single-digit days that I had to laugh. I eventually figured out that if I stood behind the nurses in just the right way, he would look the correct direction for them to get the medicine in his mouth. Then, I could give him the hug he was looking for and send him off to bed.
If I were in a different circumstance, not having to work and being supported by someone else (a husband, donations, etc.), I would be looking into adopting Bobbie and Addie. Not only have I been unable to stop thinking about them since the moment I met them, but Bulgaria is getting ready to disband its orphanages. It has another program it will implement that I don't fully understand, so it's not like it's abandoning the kids, but it doesn't seem like the kind of thing that is good for the particular people in this specific orphanage. They are going to be assessed according to functionality levels and divvied up to different "homes" (I'm not sure what all that term entails). There's some good in that, since they'll, in theory, be receiving more specialized care, but anyone who thinks this entire group isn't a functioning family unit is kidding themselves. I hate that they're all going to be split up, BUT, if they have to be, I'd rather know that Bobbie and Addie are going to people who are going to love them and care for them according to their very specific needs. Believe it or not, I half-seriously contemplated finding a man to marry me before D-Day (Dissolving-Day... my term, no one else's). But I was only half-serious, so, now I'm just praying, and trying to put the whole situation in G-d's hands. I don't kid myself into thinking that I am the best possible solution for Bobbie and Addie's situation; heck, I'm not even sure I belong on the "best" list at all, but I know I care deeply about them, and I want what's best for them. So I pray, and I pray often, and more often still.
For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.