I met a man named Peter yesterday who was born in Ghana, adopted by a teacher and his wife, and educated in the United States. He has a Ph.D., and has been a professor and educator in the States for decades. Now, in his late 60s, he devotes his life to taking care of orphans in his home country. He will return to live in Ghana in the next year so that he can do even more for the children.
He and I had an interesting discussion in the parking lot after our meeting in the Dillon offices. Peter had spent the morning and part of the afternoon sharing about his work in Ghana, the children, and his passion for making life better for them. I sat riveted in my chair and thought, I should know more things about the world and the people who live there, I really should. These are thoughts that I have quite often and so I try to educate myself, but there is something about sitting across the table from someone over a deli sandwich and chips that teaches you more about another culture than any book, video, or internet search. Here’s something I didn’t know: in Ghana, a newborn isn’t named for the first seven days – just in case. If they die before they are a week old, they are buried without a name. We don’t have any concept of that level of uncertainty about life. We are so sure that not only will our children survive, but thrive and rise to unimaginable heights. In our culture, we are a people of high expectations, no doubt about it, especially when it comes to our kids. But in Ghana parents are in touch with the reality that without an education, their kids are destined to struggle for survival. And the government is so poor that they charge families to send those children to school. And the families are poor, so sometimes they go hungry to pay for the uniforms and books. Not right. Because of this, many parents must turn to someone else to help them raise their children – or make a plan to offer those children a better life with someone else. Again, we have no concept of this. I’d die on a thousand hills before I’d give my child over to be raised by someone else. But, then…I’ve never seen my children suffer from hunger day after day, night after night. I can make loud and bold claims when we are all well-fed, well-dressed, and full of bright hope for the future.
So Peter and I had this conversation in the parking lot about those of us who are adopted (he and I have this in common), and how there is something deep within us that not only identifies with these kids who have been relinquished, but we also feel a need to do something. Peter is doing something, God bless him. I’ve often wondered about my own continual longing for home. I’ve always had a home, and across the decades they’ve been really good ones: loving parents, supportive extended family, and now a soulmate husband and the most incredible children. But once you’ve been relinquished, even if it was when you were 21 days old, you get a funny feeling when you hear about these other children who wear the label “orphan.”(By the way, in most countries this is a crummy label to wear. You get nowhere in life with it. Nowhere.) There is a connection with these children that’s hard to put into words. Peter and I struggled to give voice to it as we stood together, but all we could do was pat our hearts and nod as if to say, “Yeah, this feeling. It’s just there.”
People who are not adopted certainly have deep and real empathy for orphaned children and feel a responsibility to do something. I’m not saying that we have anything on them. We don’t. I think we simply have a desire to wrap our arms around those who have been abandoned, left behind, or relinquished because our own adoption has left us feeling quite blessed. Somewhere, deep in places we don’t even know exist, we know what it is like to long for home. Our stories intersect with theirs somehow, and so kids like us long for home on behalf of kids like them.
Peter invited me to Ghana, so it’s now on my list. Africa, anyone?