Yesterday I arrived at school to find two new faces. One boy and one girl. I think they are siblings. Sister told me that they had come just that morning. A four hour journey from their old home to Kolkata. They were tired. But more than that, they were scared. The little girl couldn't stop crying. She was wailing, really. Clinging to the grate that separates the classroom from the outside. One of the nuns tried to give her medicine, but she couldn't swallow it and ended up vomiting all over the floor. The little guy was in slightly better shape. He joined my class at the table, but every so often, the tears would well up and then roll down. Big and droppy and fast. I knelt next to him and patted his back, and I began to cry too. He was so little. So vulnerable. So afraid. What kind of life had he come from, I wondered? What happened to his parents? What must it be like to be sat down in the middle of ten happy, loud, yet also pushy kids? Wouldn't I be terrified if I were four years old and had been thrust right into a flock of faces I had never seen before?
The kids in my class have all been at the orphanage long enough to appear well-adjusted. They are happy. They're well-fed. They fight, but all kids fight. It's easy for me to forget that they are orphans, because in the short time I am with them every morning, they seem like normal kids, kids who will go home to families at the end of the school day. I forget that Sishu is their home. I forget that they never get to sit on their daddies' laps. I forget that the reason they live at Sishu now is because they were once living in hell on earth.
That is one story. The story with the setting in which my heart is soft and tender.
Then I step out onto the streets.
Street-walking has been (and still is) one of the very hardest things for me about life in Kolkata. I hate it, if I can be perfectly honest. The worst of it is when I am alone. It's safe during the day, safe as in I'm not going to get mugged or assaulted. And because of our different schedules, I have to walk alone sometimes. But it is really, really hard for me. If I could sum the experience up in one word, that word would be vulnerable. I want to keep a soft heart--I want to be able to smile at people, to stop and make new friends, to try street food and then hang around and chat with the vendor. I want to know the whole world's name, actually! "Let's be friends, okay?"
It can't work that way in India. Men (not all men, but somedays it feels like all) will assume that since I'm white and Western, I'm loose. Vendors might try to rip me off or scam me. I think about these things as I walk. The walls around my heart go up a little more with each step down the sidewalk. Walk faster. Clutch bag tightly to side. Never, ever, ever look men in the eye. Pretty soon, my heart morphs into a bag of rocks. Hard as stone. People have become inconviences. The Indian culture has become inferior to my own. I just want to get where I am going, for goodness sake, so please don't stop me! Yet underneath the clipped pace and set face, I am really a pile of Jello, quivering at all that I don't know how to respond to.
These two stories collided during devotion time this morning. I realized:
I have an orphan's heart.
I am walking the streets of Kolkata with the identity of an orphan. I forget that I have a Father. Every day I forget. I walk around believing that I am alone. I think I am going to get left behind or taken advantage of. I think I have to battle hard for my rights, for my survival, for my protection. I've taken my safety into my own hands, but I know my incompetency, and so I end up scared. I have a Father! We have a Father! Once, a beautiful friend told me that for a season of her life, she woke up every morning and repeated to herself: "I have a Father. I am not an orphan." The fear that she was alone was almost paralyzing. I, also, have met that fear in India. Without a father, without a home, the world is indeed terrifying and frightful. The lie is that we are alone. Orphaned.
The truth is that we are children of God, God who has named Himself the "Everlasting Father." He will never leave us. He's not ditching town. He will give us refuge in His shadow.
Our Father's compassion is beautiful. This morning, my heart found peace in Him. I am praying that this little girl and boy will someday know the Father of the fatherless, that whatever memories of pain or rejection they store will be flooded out of their minds with the force of His love.
I need a Father
I need a Shepherd
I need strong arms that are bigger than mine
I need a Husband
I need a Lover
I need a companion to walk with me forever
It is You
It is You
All of my needs are covered by You
It is You
It is You
All of my dreams are bound up in You
I still don't know exactly how to respond to every situation on the street, but my heart is not so frantic. His presence brings us rest.
Yes. Especially here.