In October 1995 I visited friends in Asia. Later, I wrote about an one afternoon with them.
In the crib room of a government home, I see babies and toddlers who can’t toddle. One is hydrocephalic and can’t raise his head. One has frequent convulsions. A newborn is so frail, she probably won’t be here next week. Most lie lethargic. One child shrieks piercingly at intervals, and the others, hearing him, whimper.
I walk from crib to crib and lay a hand on one child and then another. I reach for bare skin – my palm resting on stiffened hair, with fingers caressing forehead or ear or nape of the neck. Tears fall from my eyes, and I pray. For peace for this moment and for God to give this little one happiness she can understand. Each falls silent as I touch her and pray. The room becomes peaceful.
In the midst of them is Wen Qing, a solemn old lady of a toddler, standing on the bare oilcloth of her crib, watching silently. She’s the size of a 9-month-old, but she’s probably 2 or 3. An older child gently lifts her over the crib rail and stands her on the floor.
Holding my finger, Wen Qing wobbles around on stiff, straight, unpracticed legs.
Why is she here? Because she’s a girl? The older child looks up at us, “This is a case to pity, isn’t it?” Wen Qing will remain in this crib room until she dies or is able to walk out and join the children in the next-older house.
The older girl is Qiu Ying – Autumn Hero.“What a handsome name! Were you born in the autumn?” She gives a one-sided smile,exasperated, sad smile:“How should I know?”
She's 13, but looks 10, and walks bent forward because of a growth at the end of her spine. No one is sure what it is. Even if they did know, what could they do about it?
Qiu Ying shows us around the compound, which is neat and fairly well cared-for. Everyone here, from newborns to the very elderly, shares the same surname – Dang – which means “The Party”, telling the world that they have no mothers or fathers to give them a name, and so are wards of the state.
With Qiu Ying and Wen Qing lodging themselves in my heart, I think about adoption. “What good will it do in the midst of the orphan tragedy in this nation,” my American friend asks, “to remove just one or two children? And besides, the children in this small provincial institution are not registered for adoption, and maybe won’t ever be.”
We put Wen Qing back into her crib and Qiu Ying holds our hands as we walk toward the front gate. Just then, the porter runs past us, cradling a cardboard box found at the train station. A newborn lies swaddled inside.
“Will you be back?” Qui Ying asks.
I can’t bear to think or say no, and so I say, “I don’t know.”
In English she says what she must have heard from other visitors, “See – you – tomorrow.”
I have prayed and wept for Wen Qing and Qiu Ying, whom I may never again see on earth. My friends who live near the girls wrote me later. They had accompanied a surgeon when he visited, but Qiu Ying was too scared to let herself be examined. And they didn’t see Wen Qing in her crib. Perhaps she had walked to the next-older house. Perhaps.
I'll try to explain next time how this story is somehow part of our adoption story.
(to be continued)