Monday, January 5, 2009

27 December 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008

It is now 2/3 of the way through the program for me, and it is a good time to reflect upon the goals of the program, what we’ve accomplished for ourselves, for the children and the community we have served.
With our team greatly diminished – Chris, Nicky – the first to leave and last night we said a fond good-bye to Molly as we stayed up late to see her off – and anticipating the loss yet of two more Team members tomorrow – Enid and Miriam – a sadness settles upon us. Thankfully the banter of Harshal and Cynthia, dueling tongues will keep us entertained and in stitches. Stephen is happy because the Team has been a good one, and a great way to end 2008 and welcome in the New Year.
For myself, the story of my being here began a year ago; this is the story I now share:
One year ago, on my first day at Assisi Illam, I spotted one twinkling-eyed boy among the multitude of day-care children. It wasn’t until after most of the day-care children left that I noticed a rather serious boy, isolated and withdrawn. I learned his name was Augustine. I also new Augustine needed to be “tamed” – certainly not in the sense one tames a wild beast, but rather as Antoine de Saint Exupery spoke about “taming” in the Little Prince:

‘Dejected he wandered on until he heard cries from a small fox saying "Tame me." The little prince asked "What is it to tame?" The fox replies, "It is to establish me, you are nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys and I have no need of you. ....But if you tame me, than we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world."

"One only understands the things that one tames...if you want a friend tame me..." Finally the little prince agrees. The fox then details a procedure in which he will come everyday to the spot in the woods and the fox comes also. There they would view each other from a distance of safety for several days. Over time they would draw closer and closer until they had built a bond of trust. Then they would have tamed one another.’

The day I knew I had tamed Augustine, sitting side by side, not saying anything at all, he reached over, tugged my earring and rolled his eyes and looked away. What a tease! From then on I knew I had him eating out of my hand, sitting on my lap, engaged with the other children – playing. We became inseparable. Often I would hear staff and children at Assisi say, “Augustine is a bad boy….” How can anyone at “3” be all that bad? Augustine was an underdog, and I root for the little guys – Obama before he became well known, and now our president to be, Andrew, the ex-con, artist with bad teeth and custodian for the Loaves and Fishes where I serve meals once a month, and the runt of the 6th grade litter who gets picked on at school.
My favorite times with Augustine came in mid-afternoon after lunch had been eaten and the children and Aunties had been “played-out”. We would lie on the bare floor facing each other. Talk gently to each other – he of course in Tamil and I in English, and yet we knew perfectly well what we were saying to one another. He then, knowing my limited Tamil vocabulary would switch into English for my benefit and say, “Shhh, sleeping, sleeping,” and as I would rub his back. He first, then I, would drift into a peaceful sleep.
The day I had to say good-bye to Augustine was among my life’s saddest. How could this one child in three weeks, who I thought I had tamed, actually in the end, tamed me? Would it hurt any more to have a limb ripped from its socket as I was being dragged to the van and as I handed-off a sobbing boy, who, in the end knew that this was a long good-bye? How long would it take for a broken heart to heal - his heart, my heart? I worried for some time about all the disappointments and sadness this little boy would have to face, and was I just another in a series of people who let him down? What could I do for this little boy living so far away?
Once home and after a month of ritualistic crying – early mornings, late evenings I checked into the possibility of adopting Augustine. It seemed on several fronts the answer would be no. No, too old. No, single. No, the boy has a mother. No way. Believing as I do things happen for a reason, I decided then, if Augustine couldn’t come to me, well….then I’d return to Augustine. Almost immediately I began to plan for my next trip to Chennai to do my second Global Volunteers, connect with all the people I grew to love in such a short time and to hold Augustine once more. But as soon as I started planning my return…..I learned the news from Stephen and Sheeba, “Augustine’s mother had come for him and had taken him home.” So then, what do I do – go or stay? I decided that I would go and pleaded with Stephen… there anyway you can find Augustine in the haystack of one-point-six billion people? Stephen’s answer to me, “We will try.”
Somehow I had an odd notion that Augustine would be nestled away in some small back-alley of Chennai. I thought, perhaps if I walk the alleys and call, “Augustine,” or sing “Old MacDonald” long and loud enough he would pop his head out of one of the thatched dwellings and add a “wolf, wolf here, wolf, wolf there….” and the fairy tale would have a happy ending. Not so. It was never meant to be that simple. Stephen and Sister Rose worked for three months trying to discover Augustine’s whereabouts. The good news arrived. Sr. Rose said she knew someone to call who could contact Augustine’s uncle in Pondicherry, and then his mother.
The set-up was decided. Little Stephen would drive me to Pondicherry where we would me Uncle Christopher at the Gandhi statue and he would lead us to a meeting point for the reunion. Anticipation… the day before summer break, like waiting for the first drops of rain following a drought, I waited for the first sighting of “My Little Heart.” And then, I saw him. This was real. He looked so different, yet he was Augustine. His hair shorter, he – taller, but the eyes, well the eyes were his. I worried that he wouldn’t remember me, but as an auntie who wanted to be remembered, plying with gifts of monkey, book, and chocolate seemed to help. When asked if he remembered me….his answer was, “Yes, I do remember.” Still, he wasn’t yet, my Augustine and I knew the “taming” process would have to begin again. With mother’s permission I had the next four hours to spend playing with Augustine at Little Stephen’s in-laws home in Pondicherry. Augustine waved to mom good-bye, blew her a kiss and was glad to go with Auntie. Then, for sure, I knew the veil had been lifted and he was mine once more. How to stretch these four hours into something that will last a lifetime – maybe his, maybe mine? Imprinting the image of a boy, now four, arms opened wide to embrace all the love overflowing from my heart, kisses planted on cheeks and forehead as one might kiss a sacred relic - this I shall not forget. As four o’clock approached, knowing we’d soon be leaving for another hand-off and another good-bye, I steeled myself. This time however, it didn’t seem so difficult because for whatever reason Augustine will be part of my life in the future. Perhaps it will mean that I will again visit him in years to come. Maybe it will mean that I will support him in his education. Perhaps, and this is a long-shot, but maybe, just maybe he will be with me in the States to learn and grow at some future time. You see, this story has no ending. Most true love stories don’t. But this much I know is true: One little boy entered my life. My heart has been “tamed”…..and I shall never be the same.


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