Tonight, Thursday the 14th, we left the Bhawani orphanage after spending three days there.
Up until tonight, I was able to rationalize the conditions I’d seen in India with a very cold, logical sense of reason. This is the way it’s always been here, I would tell myself. I’m just another privileged white guy coming to the third world and doing my best to help out for two weeks. How cliché is that?
Tonight, all that changed.
I didn’t let myself go too much because I didn’t want to appear to be culturally arrogant. Sure, if you compare almost any other country to America, especially the orphanage conditions here, you’re going to be mad about what you see. Why isn’t this that way, you keep telling yourself.
I let go of my cold sense of reason and could not help but feel something beyond what my rational mind would allow. I felt something that was strictly a human connection. Something that extended beyond any previous notions or limits my mind had set before. Something beyond, “This is India, deal with it.”
I walked out of dinner tonight at the Bhawani orphanage and strolled down the main hall. As I walked, I passed the classrooms/bedrooms on my right. I came up on a three-year-old child, leaning against the door of his communal room, with tears in his eyes. The look on his face didn’t express sadness over us, the ambassadors, leaving – he hadn’t smiled all trip – but it spoke to something much deeper. He missed his mother. It was an undeniable human emotion I could sense.
Other children had cried over us leaving but this was different. This wasn’t about us.
I walked up to him and tried to cheer him up. Nothing. No reaction. He looked at me and then his eyes went back to that long stare you’ll sometimes see in the kids hurting the most.
He was hurting so bad. He missed his mother. He missed something that he knew he couldn’t have right then. Or possibly ever again.
I immediately grabbed my computer and ran back to him to show him the digital pictures that the Indian kids loved so much. Surely, this would cheer him up.
Nope. Nothing. This kid was too sad to be cheered up.
Unfortunately, the time this was happening was the time we were leaving. It would be a long, long time before I would see this child again.
Over the next five minutes, I said goodbye to a lot of other children and I checked on this boy probably three times. The last time I checked, he had gone back into his bedroom/classroom and was sitting against the wall, with his hands on his head. His head was down. He was crying.
Here was a three-year old child, quietly sobbing by himself. He was completely alone. I kept waving to him to no avail. I grabbed a few older kids and asked them to cheer him up and watch after him. They agreed but to leave a child like that in that condition, almost nothing will make you feel better.
This feeling of helpless was overwhelming. And it had just hit me for the first time five minutes before we left our final orphanage.
I didn’t intensely miss all of the kids I had seen. This morbid feeling of helplessness arose inside of me when I saw this three-year old quietly crying by himself in the doorway. He was totally alone. Physically. Emotionally.
He wasn’t crying for attention. He wasn’t making any noise. No other child was comforting him. The house mothers simply weren’t in that room to help. You had to go out of your way to notice him. He was just sad.
I had to leave that boy crying by himself against the wall.
I was so busy earlier that day that I wasn’t able to get especially close to any one child. But today, when we arrived at 4 PM, one young boy took to me right away. Not the same boy who I had seen that night but another. I hadn’t spent much time with him but, for some reason, from the time I arrived today, he clung to me.
When I sat down, he came right up to me and put his arm around me. For the next five hours, he wasn’t more than ten feet from me. Whenever I sat down, he came up and looked me in the eye and I just knew I had to put my arm around him. He would put his arm around me and we would just sit. No conversation. Just the bond of two people, one of whom needed love so badly.
After seeing the lonely three-year old right before we were to leave, I jumped in the car and rolled the window down to say goodbye to everyone. I sat there for a few minutes while my fellow travelers loaded into the cars, waving to children and saying goodbye.
The boy that had attached himself to me came right up to the car and we held hands the entire time I was shaking hands with everyone else.
Now, this boy hadn’t said much to me before. We had pretty much hugged and held hands and that was the extent of our very silent relationship. In the ten minutes or so it had taken us to leave, he hugged me at least three times. He really, really wanted to be near me.
As we pulled away in the car, I’m still holding this boy’s hand. He grabs my hand even tighter, kisses it twice, looks up at me and says “I love you.” As we drive away, all I can manage is an “I love you!” back. I hope that was enough.
I had not said that to any other child on this trip.
We turn on to the main road of JSG, the small movie screen between the passenger seat and the driver comes down and the girls in the back start watching Indian music videos. I throw my dark sunglasses on (it’s 9 PM mind you) and the tears start to come down.
I’m not a crier by any means. Like I said, until tonight, my rationality and reason helped me avoid getting too close to the kids. Make no mistake, I felt genuine feelings for these children. It was fun playing with them and they sure were cute. I understood the monumental task before us to help these children and I was 100% motivated to accomplish that task.
But it hadn’t truly “hit me” yet.
Until a child looked me in the eyes and said, “I love you” as I drove away from him. Until I had to leave a three-year-old crying by himself.
Think about it. I’m a 25-year old guy who doesn’t even really like children. But on the final day of this trip, I cracked. I genuinely cried for two boys I had met three days before.
Oh my gosh, I never thought this would happen. Ever. The power of this place is absolutely amazing. Those of you who have travelled here know exactly what I mean.