Saturday, March 2, 2013

Day 2 - A Friend For Chetan

Where would a person be without her brothers and sisters? On Day 2 I was missing mine a little - not drastically, but with a nagging ache like a fever of only a degree or two that's enough to make you feel out of sorts while not enough to lay you low.

Fortunately for me, at home in Bangalore I have three brothers, and the first two people I saw on Day 2 were two of them. Raj - faithful Raj, who had moments earlier done an airport run - brought tea to me as I struggled with my computer's internet access first thing in the morning. 

Raj in turn mentioned my troubles to Joh, the resident computer geek, who immediately came up to where I had taken up squatter's residence - his own office! - and over the course of the next hour slowly and patiently unravelled the inner workings of the connectivity as it didn't relate to my computer, and managed to get a dialogue going between computer and internet with the result that I am now enjoying the fastest internet speed I've ever experienced ... 

And my whole day seemed to be charmed from that auspicious start! There are some gaps only a brother can fill; and these two, with their gentle insistence that I am not a complete moron, reassured me that all would be well.

My girls Leah and Hannah came to collect me for a quick pre-breakfast violin and piano practice; we enjoyed breakfast at the civilized hour of 10 a.m.; and at the table I put out my plea: "I need some help getting ready to go to the Children's Home - will any of my Ladybugs be willing to help me?"

It turned out I had seven willing Ladybugs, who came up to my room and filled pencil cases with pens, pencils, sharpeners, erasers and stickers. 

How I love these girls! Clockwise from Chloe:
Julia, Hannah, Becca, Leah, Jada, Faith
They gave the stuffed animals a trial run to make sure they would be friendly to the children about to receive them that afternoon ... 

and they modeled the caps to ensure that they were of suitable size and colour.

There was a slight delay in our departure time so Chloe, my able lieutenant in the morning's execution of duties, took me down to the corner store and bakery to get done what I needed to do.

Early that afternoon Sarah - the wife of my third brother out here, Ed - and I climbed into the College "truck" laden with mattresses, rice, pillows, sheets and various things needed at the Children's Home. Our 45-minute drive took only just over two hours this time under the careful driving of Bipul ...

The road sign that is my perpetual favourite: "Lane indiscipline" - in INDIA?!!

 ... and we arrived in Bagalur mid-afternoon.

The truck pulled up in front of the home to the sound of children cheering; and from the moment I stepped out, I could sense a difference in atmosphere at the place. Last time I was there everything was subdued, sombre, cautious. Now children hung out together, laughing, chattering away nineteen to the dozen - being, well, children.

My eyes instinctively scanned the lively bunch. Where was he? I spotted him against the side of the verandah, standing with a slightly larger boy wearing glasses: our small Chetan, not so much bigger at all than he was the last year. He was still a little bit distant, a little bit shy; and my mind harked back to my first visit. Oh no, I thought to myself, my heart sinking. One year down - are there really two to go before he can be happy? 

I approached him and was relieved to see that the blank shock we saw in his eyes last year had vanished. Before I could really speak to him, Sushila hurried over to me and gave me an enormous hug. 

At that moment I knew what had changed: Sushila was in the house.

First she got the unloading of the truck organized: she called over the big kids and directed them in carrying out the food and the mattresses, and she tossed pillows at the small ones. Everyone pitched in - everyone wanted to.
The truck, ready to be unloaded!

What's more, once she had told them what to do, she left it with them; she stepped aside and let them go about their task unimpeded by hovering or overcorrecting protectiveness. She let them be responsible. She trusted them.

When everything was stashed in her storage room, she swept Sarah, Bipul and me off for the lunch that she had prepared - delicious rice, chicken, dhal, Sarah's favourite potatoes - and proudly pointed out the dining table, covered with a cheerful plastic tablecloth, that dominated the kitchen now.

"We have two big tables," she said with great satisfaction. "Now all of us can sit around this table and eat together. We talk about our day. Sometimes we sit for one, one and a half hours. They don't want to leave! We are becoming a family ..." 

The other table was in a separate room where the kids could have a quiet place, free of distractions, to study. Sushila, bless her, supervises and helps with their homework. Sarah told me off the record that all 14 kids have pulled up their marks and are starting to excel at school. 

Sushila had moved to the Children's home just before Deb and I visited last year. She was still getting her bearings and learning about the children. Now from their response to her and their mutual transparent affection, she had indeed become their de facto mother.

Sushila knows each of her kids. She knows their favourite colours, who likes to eat what, where they need help with homework or when they need a little encouragement. The eldest boy was not there this Saturday: he was off studying for his final exams. She took me to a small room and showed me a table and chair she had set up in there. "This is for him," she said. "He needs to be able to focus in a quiet place and concentrate on his studies. This place helps him to study."

The thing about this wonder woman with the most exquisite smile and the easygoing manner is that she is free to love. She knows what it means to be rejected, what it means to fight back and to make something of yourself. This time I noticed that not one but both of her poor feet are twisted; it doesn't seem to slow her down one whit, however, as she appears to be everywhere her kids need her when they need her.

She knows what's important and she is serious about that; but she knows how to laugh and how to make each day a joyous occasion.

And so she could joke with Bipul, who is from her home place and was trying to set her up with a man "who is like my father, Bipul!" she exclaimed, feigning indignance but twinkling at him with the camaraderie of very old friends all the while and urging him to eat more.

Almost every silver lining has a cloud, however, and there is one here: Sushila is at the Children's home on a two-year contract, and one year is up. Everyone wants her to stay; but her heart is with her own people of Nepal. "They have nothing like this," she said softly. I feel burdened to go back and create a place like this where children in need - my own people's children - can be safe and have a place to know God and to study."

She has already been talking succession planning with Sarah, and they will bring in someone to work closely with Sushila for this second year, seeing her heart and growing to know and love the children as she does. "That way it won't be so hard for the children when I leave," she said, a shadow briefly crossing her face.

She visibly gathered herself together and told us that the next thing on the agenda was giving out the stuff to the kids.

Everyone rushed into the storage room at her bidding. Sarah said a few words, asking if they remembered me from last year. (Of course they all fervently said yes!)

Then Sarah told them about you, all of you who had responded to the need for mattresses, for sheets and pillows and pillow cases. She told how the little TH had been a conduit for collecting the desperately needed funds to supply these things, and how people in Canada love them and are praying for them.

We started with the sheets. "Oh, this one is for you!" Sushila called out in delight to one of the older girls. "Hemalatha loves green - everything green!"

Then we plunged into the bag with the pencil cases. Each child received one. Even the two-sided zippers were fascinating to them! They admired the brightly coloured sharpeners and erasers - their very own sharpener and eraser! - and tried to write on their hands with the pens.

While they did that, Sarah and I arranged the stuffed animals on the hillock of mattresses.

There was one that didn't get put with the others, though, and just before I gave the word to choose an animal, I called Chetan over. I explained to the others that the last time I visited they were busy playing or inside and so I had gotten to know Chetan a little bit more than them. And someone else had seen his picture and had sent a very special, soft bunny rabbit for Chetan because he was the smallest.

His eyes grew enormous. He held back a little bit; but then the little boy with the glasses gently pushed him forward. 

He didn't know quite what to do, standing stiffly next to me as I tried to give him the sweet little toy, until someone - one of the older girls, I think - told him that the rabbit was for him and he could hold it and have it. 

The tiniest of smiles flickered over his face and then he plunged to the back of the group, anonymous once more behind the bigger kids.

There was no hesitation on their parts, though. "Boys first this time!" called out Sushila, and before I could apologetically tell the two elder boys that they didn't have to have a stuffed toy if they didn't want one, they were over there like a flash, claiming their prize. Chinaoyo went for the white rabbit, and Ngaovi reached for the little lion, stroking its tiny mane gently and cradling it in his hands.

The kids quickly followed the two big boys' lead. They all made sure that there was one of everything for Joy-ed, the boy who was off having tutoring for his exams.

Just before they got ready to claim their mattresses, Sushila told them to line up for a photo to show the people in Canada:

Then they happily went off to their rooms to make their new beds up with their mattresses and beautiful sheets:

The littlest boys, unencumbered by the responsibility of new mattresses and not caring that they had no sheets on their beds, wanted to play with their stuff. Chetan and his friend seemed particularly close. Chetan would look to him for confirmation, for encouragement; and the kindly, bespectacled little face never failed him.

"Who are you? What is your name?" I finally asked. 

"My name is Hemanth. I am Chetan's brother. I also live here now," the little fellow said.

Sarah told me the sad story. Their father was dead. He had been murdered. His desperate widow now had real concerns that the perpetrator would come back for her children. Her eldest child, her daughter, had been placed in another home. The broken lady had asked Sarah if Hemanth could be with Chetan, if they at least could be together.

Of course Sarah immediately took him in.

And under the aegis and protection of Hemanth, our little Chetan is finding his feet. He is starting to recover from the horrendous trauma that rocked his whole world; to grow, to be settled, to smile. His brother has his back.

We had been praying that Chetan would make a friend. He couldn't have asked for a better one.

When I showed him the pictures of him and his brother he couldn't stop laughing, a sound that started with a startled squeak and grew and grew until it became a belly laugh that threatened to consume him and he cast himself on his bed in delight.

It was time to leave.

After we gave the kids the caps, Sarah gave them new toothbrushes, and they sang us a farewell song ("Sing Give Thanks," Sushila suggested). I wanted to take a moment to say goodbye to Sushila, this beautiful girl whom I have met only twice but who has carved her name into my heart.

"I will pray for you," I said to her. 

"And I will pray for you and your Daddy," she responded.

Then we climbed back into the truck.

Somehow, the long journey home seemed like mere minutes.

I returned to the College campus with a full heart; it was about to overflow.

Sitting on the benches outside the house were two men, one of whom has been a friend of Dad for years. Rev. McIlveen and his faithful friend Derek greeted us. The former had been the latter's pastor for decades and now Derek provides companionship and help during the arduous travel schedule Rev McIlveen has taken on in his "retirement." Brothers, I exclaimed to myself. Brothers in Christ, in charity, in hope.

It was certainly a day for brothers from start to finish.

It made me miss mine. A lot. Allan.

But as I drifted off for a couple of hours' sleep in anticipation of rising to greet the Sisters (and the Dad, of course!) arriving on the 2 a.m. flight, I remembered the verse, "There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother."

And I closed my eyes, so grateful for the day, for all the brothers.


  1. This was written so beautifully! My prayers are with you and your Dad and sisters, but also with the Children at the Home!! What an angel of mercy you are!!


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