CHAPTER 3 (Part 1)
A stretched hand
My father used to walk through the downtown area of São Paulo city during his lunch break. It was part of his routine to observe the different workers busy in their activities. Construction workers remodeling old buildings that would soon become expensive real estate; executives in their suits and suitcases on hand, speeding by as they had no time to stop and take in the sunny sky or feel the mist splashing from the sprinkling water in the park's fountain.
Even though downtown was packed with people, it was also a very lonely place. The physical distance was not correlated to the psychological distance as you could see people from all walks of life in the same space but not necessarily interacting with each other. The emotional distance decreased the pressure of the physical proximity in a packed space.
The downtown scene was the same day after day, much like my father’s modest middle class life and his routine back and forth to work. He dreamed of owning a home, paying off his debt and upgrading the old car, but he did not have any more dreams of running away from civilization and being self-sufficient in the country, as he had before. When I was born they were living such dreams in a remote region of the country and it didn't take long for them to find out that the reality had been less dreamy than they had expected. So now it was time to leave behind their aspirations to change the world and work hard to keep the family, raise the kids and maybe someday enjoy a decent retirement.
After his lunch break, in a hurry to walk back to his office table filled with documents and obligations, my father had no thoughts of slowing down his pace as a street seller tried to stop him to sell some magazines. But this particular seller was insistent enough and took over my father's time and space as his own. Tired of trying to run away from him, my father decided to give in and allow the seller to make his offer. Aware of his urgency, the seller quickly presented all his magazine collection, assuring that they were worthy every cent. He kept insisting on the idea that a future of happiness awaited those that had access to such quality content reading.
My father wasn't interested in anything that was going to cost him extra bills at the end of the month, but a picture, a peculiar picture, at the cover of one of the magazines, as purposely placed there, called his attention. In the picture a homeless boy, at most five years old, looked for his next meal among a garbage pile. The underweight and sorrowful appearance that the boy carried was not different from many that flash everyday on the news. However, this particular boy, did not looked like a stranger to my father, he seemed to say something without any words. Maybe he carried a message, a message that would reach my father's heart.
The picture touched my father in a different way, it was so strong, alive and real that caused a reaction. A child, a human being full of promises revolving around the putrefying material and death. Surely, this was not the first time the picture of a child in distress had crossed his eyes, but this one went straight inside his being, before it was blocked out by any rationalization.
The insistent seller, trying to talk him into subscribing the magazine, was not the problem anymore. The boy in the picture was now bothering my father much more. The magazine cover was the image of a huge problem, a chronic problem. A problem bigger than all of my father's problems put together.
My father finally gave in and subscribed to the magazine while still taken by the picture of the boy in the cover. As he walked away, the magazine in his hand, he could not stop staring at the picture. On the way back to the office
he read the article about homeless and abandoned children. The
article stated that some of them had no place to live, eat or sleep
and had to fight for their own survival.
He thought about his own kids, my brother and I, giggling as we played, jumping and running around so happily. He surely did not want anything bad to happen to us, ever. We meant everything to him and he could not imagine seeing us around garbage piles looking for our next meal. Nobody deserved that, every boy and girl should have the right to a childhood filled with good memories and not horror scenes.
As the sun gave place to the grayish skies covered in traffic smoke, the bus taking my father back home passed through avenues and bridges and noises and flashing lights. He kept his eyes closed while in his mind a whirlpool of thoughts were inundating his entire brain. Over and over again he asked himself who would make a difference to the children left behind, those who were nobody's problem. Probably someone should do something to help them, he concluded. He knew that there were professionals specialized in helping to bring up a fair society. But, what if he did have a share of responsibility in the problem?
Arriving home he still felt confused, however, when he saw my brother and I running into his arms, he smiled. He hugged us in a special way like if he had spent years away from home, such was his gladness to see us. He knew that he was blessed to experience happy moments with his children and yet he felt guilt at the same time. He felt a wave of relief for being able to care and protect his own kids from the terrible life the boy on the magazine was living, and yet a burden haunted his mind for not caring for the orphan and homeless children living without love and without hope. Even though we had no idea of the things that troubled my dad's thoughts on that day, we gladly received the extra special attention.
As he sat down with my mom after dinner, he shared his worries. He told her everything that had happened during his day and showed the magazine he had kept. She could see that he seemed to be really touched by that, and she understood his point of view. She also felt sorry for children in such terrible situations, but what could they do? They could hardly pay off their own bills, much less solve the problems of the world. She would love to think there was a solution for that, but she had to be realistic and keep at least one foot on the ground.
Talking about it helped him to see where those feelings were coming from. He was being carried by a lot of emotions and it was not rational, thinking like that. It was surely easier to dream day after day, than to face their own hard reality. So he set his mind to look at the problem from a more rational perspective, an intelligent path to produce concrete ways to help, less tears and more results. His first step would be to sleep through it, let the ideas settle down. Maybe tomorrow, when he woke up, he would have found a solution or just be happy to move on with his life, keeping himself apart from problems he could not solve.
However, the next day did not bring the numbness of conscience he expected; it shed more light on the matter, bringing out more ideas and goals. And with a more rational line of thought he saw an idea taking shape. If they could not help all the children in the world, at least they could try to help one, someone that really needed help. They would not be offering anything different than what they were already offering my brother and I: love, care, and food on the table.
The idea would be to adopt a child, but not any child; he thought about adopting someone nobody else wanted. To have one extra child in the family would not add a whole lot more bills to the balance, and my parents would like to have another child anyway, so why not another one through adoption?
Being six years old at the time, I already knew something about adoption. Sometimes Maria, a friend of my parents, stayed at home and would bring with her a boy that was her adopted son. Physically he was very different than her, but he would call her mommy just like we did to our mom. With time, I got used with the idea of them being a family just like mine. However, I never thought about having a brother through adoption. This was a kind of dream I never had as a child.
As my parents thought more seriously about adopting a child, they were constantly faced with doubts. Wouldn’t an adopted child get in conflict with their other children in the future? Wouldn’t the child, when reaching adolescence, have the tendency to rebel against them and get in trouble? Would the child love them as his own parents? Questions and more questions.
There was no easy way out. To adopt a child would be to position themselves under certain risks. However, not to adopt that child would be to ignore someone that was already under risks. My parents knew that any child could become a disgrace to his or her parents, adopted or not. It did not matter if the child was biologic or not. They knew cases of biological kids that had killed their parents, and also cases of adopted children that as adults took great care of their aging adopted parents. There were no certainties, and it was not really about them, it was about the child in need.
The verb “to help” is put in practice by some through opening their wallet and offering money; by others, it is through opening their schedule and offering time; or like happened at my home, by opening our arms and offering ourselves. At first, my parents didn’t give any step in the direction of the needy. They prayed daily to God to show them the way. And then they just waited. It was part faith, part fear, part trust, part doubt. They were afraid of asking for it too much and end up receiving it! But they could not live anymore without asking.
They didn’t stipulate an age frame, gender or race. The child could be anyone, but someone that really needed help. They started praying at morning time, in the afternoon and at night. They would pray by themselves, they would pray as a couple. I prayed too. In the occasion I didn’t know exactly for what, but it seemed to be something worthy of praying for, the right thing to do. We just didn’t tell anybody. It would be our secret and God’s.
In the meanwhile, one day we went to a Bible study. Nobody there knew about our prayers, not even our relatives knew at the time. Someone, during the Bible study, brought up a special subject to be discussed: Adoption. He used the figurative narrative of a child being adopted to exemplify the Bible passage read – “Having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself.” Ephesians 1:5. Someone was aware of the things going on in our home!
Many days passed by, then a few months, and nothing else extraordinary happened. My parents started to ask each other if they should start to actively search for a child. Or would that be lack of faith? The subject of adoption was taking over all our lives. From our family meals to car rides, we would be talking about who would be the chosen one to be added to our family. How would God answer the prayer? Sometimes we would imagine ourselves as heroes helping the one in need, other times we would picture ourselves in the future overwhelmed by problems and worries that would have come with adopting the wrong person. And sometimes we wondered if we would ever even have an answer to our prayers!
That is when Maria steps into the story. She that had already adopted a few children would say, every time she visited us, that she never regretted adopting any of them. Maria, her husband, her six adopted kids and two biological sons looked like a happy family. They were far from a normal family, according to society parameters but I think that every day at their home was like living an adventure. More exciting then watching TV. It would be hard to get bored with so much going on.
They were a highly educated couple, but had adopted a simple lifestyle so that they could be generous towards embracing more kids. At meal times, her husband would bring the pot directly from the stove to the table center. All that you would see was only one pot. Inside it, all the ingredients were cooked together. The method, a little bit simplistic, seemed not to be a problem at all, but the solution to feed so many mouths without taking too long.
Maria and her husband hadn’t adopted Caucasian babies with blue eyes. They chose children that really needed a pair of parents. One boy was mute, other two deaf, and one blind. My parents had met Maria while they were living on a farm located in the center of Brazil. Those were times of adventures and contact with Nature for my parents. From those times remained good memories, a few regrets, and me! I was born at that time. But that is another story.
The example that couple showed to my parents certainly influenced in the adoption decision they were about to take. However, more than from Maria's example, it was from Maria herself that we got the answer to our prayers. Without being aware, she would be the end to our waiting.