Abandonment. It is a force. A sweeping, unrelenting storm whose winds blow like a gale, terrorizing the soul. I’ve seen it. It is not a pretty sight.
Abandonment is fond of the night. It stalks its prey. It lies in wait until the day’s activities are done. The mind has grown quiet, and the heart is alone. The haunting slowly begins, and the cover of darkness provides fertile ground for those tiny seeds that blossom into a full-grown weed. The weed of “I don’t belong. Anywhere.”
It’s bad enough for an adult to process the cruel assault of physical abandonment. It is worse for a child. Unable to fully understand what those tornadic emotions mean, a child is left with little to battle the elements. Not able to articulate the true nature of these feelings, hot tears and alien cries fill the night as sadness piles on like a blanket.
My son was abandoned once. In a small, cramped hospital across the world, his biological mother climbed those steps, pushed through the front door and signed in for delivery. They had never seen her before; she had not submitted to any prenatal care, and two days after he was born, they would never see her again. There he lay . . . questions about his origin abounded, and even more pressing questions about his health hung in the air. There were no initial answers for either. The first two months of my son’s life were spent in that hospital, lying in a cold, static environment. I’ve been there. I’ve walked the dirty hallways. And although I find little comfort in that fact, I know they cared for him as best they could. However, when most newborns are afforded the warm, swaddled embrace of their mothers and fathers, he was afforded neither. Negotiating the alien nature of the world outside the womb without the presence of a parent, to be helpless in a foreign world, that suffering makes an imprint on the soul.
Early pictures of my boy demonstrate this truth. With a blank stare and expressionless face, he built a tiny wall to protect his tiny heart. Impenetrable, so it seemed, to any earthly force, every visit my husband and I had with him before he legally became ours was characterized by this shared understanding. He was not buying what we were selling. Abandonment had built a prison around his emotions, and fear was the warden. The sinkhole that was his spirit in the orphanage that became his home was only growing deeper with every passing month. The momentum was palpable.
The day we took him as ours we discovered the key to his self-imposed confinement. We happened upon it, in fact. It came in quiet bursts of laughter and giggles, small smiles that curled the corners of his tiny lips, creases that broke the stoic expressionless glare. Tickles and caresses, play time, attention, strokes of reassurance, warm baths with bubbles . . . quite frankly, love. The kind of driving, unrelenting, burning, soul stirring emotion that pushed two people past their comfort zones and their time zones, crazily traveling half way around the world in search of a family. The kind authored by a relentless King bound and determined to re-capture his beloved from a dungeon of sin. Sacrificial, authentic, all-powerful, and captivating. Love with a capital L.
Today, our son is an expressive, boisterous, vocal, imaginative, playful seven year old. He is “normal” in all senses of that word. He is both compassionate and self-serving; he is both generous and selfish; he is both obedient and rebellious. He is both adventurous and cautious. He is both sides of the same coin, sometimes all at once. And yet, there are traces of his former life that surface without warning. Hording pencils, pens, and colors, collecting in abnormally large quantities trinkets and small play things, he seems to act out of an intrinsic anticipation of loss. He enjoys playing “baby,” curling up in my lap and acting out the part of an infant; he loves for me to diagnose his need and move to meet it. He has a symbiotic relationship with the first stuffed animal he attached to upon his arrival at our home. Little Bear is both friend and comforter, and when he combines Little Bear with his thumb, he is soothed from the inside out.
Recently, after a confrontational episode with some friends in our neighborhood, he and I settled down to watch a movie we had been waiting on, Big Hero 6. As the film opens, we meet two orphaned brothers, Tadashi and Hiro. Cue the loss. A few sequences later, Tadashi, ignoring the warning from his younger brother, rushes back into a burning building to save the life of his professor. He loses his instead. Cue the grief. I cut my eyes at my son to gauge his response to the pain, and he quickly asked me to look away. I could feel his emotional temperature rising, but it wouldn’t reach boiling until after bedtime.
A few minutes after I had tucked him in, I heard his padded feet sprinting across the wooden floorboards. “Mommy?” he called, his tone betraying his composure. “Yes,” I answered, waiting for a request for water or Goldfish. Instead, I received into my arms a weeping mess, a heart broken boy, inconsolable and unintelligible. In snatches, I could hear that he missed his old neighbor, Alexander, he wished for a sibling, a Beymax, a constant companion, a trusty friend. He asked me about his grandfather Popeye who passed away nearly two years ago. He wept, and he wept, unable to cry the tears out all at once. I carried him back to his bed, and I crawled in beside him, tucking him into the crook of my body, and holding on for dear life. I soaked the pillow beneath me with my own tears, grief for my son’s pain pouring out of my eyeballs. Fear truly gripped me in that moment. What if this doesn’t stop? What if I’m not saying the right things? What if I fail to meet his inexpressible needs? What if? And in that moment, God silently reminded me of that prison key we found years ago. Love. I gripped him tighter. I stopped talking and let the strength of my embrace speak instead. His body slowly stopped shaking, as we eventually drifted off to sleep.
Truthfully, we all know the sting of abandonment. Traversing a fallen world, we become all too familiar with the peculiar pain that comes with living somewhere short of knowing fully and being fully known. The sinkhole of our spiritual condition grows deeper, despite our attempts to cover it with leaves on the forest floor or fill it in with all manner of available materials. We work hard at putting on a brave face, but at night, when the quiet overtakes our chaos, we can think of little else. And if we listen closely, the eternal whisper reminds us of what we have always secretly suspected. The answer has always been there. It is Love . . . restoring, redeeming, rescuing. May we all feel the embrace of our Father as he grieves with us in our great loss. One day, we will all be whole.