Saturday, June 16, 2007

circle of love

Michael won't look at me. His dark eyes scrunch shut above the white mask and he tenses as I approach. A few minutes and a slit of eye, then a turning of the head. He's furious with me, still, two weeks after I rescued him from certain death and confined him to this lonely room where he must stay until the tuberculosis wracking his lungs is no longer contagious, while he's pumped full of drugs to combat the virus that's destroying him. He hates the mask, he hates the gown, he hates me and this room and he wants his mother and she doesn't want him.

I am angry too. I am angry with this child's mother, a woman dying of AIDS and tuberculosis who refused to give her son the meds he needed to survive. When I took him from her care, it had been 14 months since he'd seen a doctor. His TB was active and he coughed constantly and his T-cells were nonexistent and his viral count sky high. He is five years old and he has AIDS. She says the meds make him feel bad and they do. That's clear in this tiny tiled room on the second floor of a crappy hospital, the only place in the state that would have anything to do with this little boy. Now that he's dosed up, he's lethargic and his tummy hurts and he sleeps all the time.

He doesn't know it, but his mother's in the hospital too. She is refusing treatment and hospice is giving her comfort and care and attention. It's more than her son is getting. I can't be with him all day and the hospital staff can't spare anyone to sit with him all day and this little boy's soul, it seems, is shriveling while his physical health improves and he's watched, but not touched, by the camera in the corner of his room.

I am at my office late that same afternoon when the call comes in from Lisa. That's not her real name; her real name's unique enough that I won't share it here and unique enough that that I am reminded, when I hear it, of a 17 year old permanent foster care child I met in 1989. She was losing her care, her foster parent booting her the day she turned 18. She was an A student, a soft-spoken child who wanted to go to college, to learn to help people as she'd been helped. I spent half a summer with her as I did my practicum in child welfare. We tried to find pre-college housing so she'd have someplace to go. We got her terrible underbite fixed and more work done on her cleft palate. She told me that her mother never wanted her and abandoned her over and over until the state finally kept her. The foster mother's abandonment was just another verse in the tragic song of her life.

I ask this woman on the phone if she's the Lisa I knew from 1989 and she laughs and says yes. She's a social worker now, just finished with her MSW and back from a trip to Africa where she spent two months trying to trace her ancestors. She is full of joy and pride and deservedly so. She tells me she heard about Michael and then she utters words I never imagined hearing: I want him, I want to keep him. I love that child.

Lisa told me that she had provided respite care for Michael through a local agency, then directly, while his mother was in the hospital or was tired of caring for him. She knows about the AIDS, about the TB, and she wants him. Adding to this impossibly good news, she assures me she is an approved foster parent, another gift, as the process of approval takes months. She wants, immediately, to be allowed to see him. I immediately arrange that.

A week later, I am back in Michael's room. Lisa is there. He looks directly at me and smiles. I can see his lips turning up behind the mask and I can see the sparkle in his eyes, the lifting of their corners as the invisible grin rearranges his face. We all look at one another in our hospital gowns with our white masks and we smile and our eyes connect and I feel as if I can exhale for the first time since I met this tiny little boy.

He's working a puzzle with Lisa and I watch them, seeing two children and a miracle in progress. One is a grown up child, a fine young woman, and the other a little boy, desperately ill, but smiling. One is evidence of what hard work and intelligence and resiliency and a little help and a boatload of compassion from a host of social workers can do, and the other is evidence of the immeasurably powerful effect of love.

It's a little trite and certainly a cliche, but that doesn't take away the truth of it: love given freely to others can expand in a huge ever-widening circle, like concentric rings surrounding a single drop of rain in the center of an ocean. One tiny act of love happens and then the waves of it expand and go on and on and on touching others in ways we'll never know. A drop of love, of kindness, compassion, it seems like nothing; yet it was enough to carry one child through a tragic life and into adulthood, buoyed on the tiny waves of love from this social worker and that one, from a teacher, a minister, a therapist, a doctor, even from a summer practicum student. With nothing but rejection from her family, from the pseudo-parent hired by the state, she still thrived on drops, on waves, on the buoyancy and solidity of caring and compassion. In doing so, she preserved her own goodness and the hope that exists in all of us unless it's stamped out by indifference.

She saved herself and turned right around and saved this little boy. Michael is 10 now and he's got T-cells and the TB's gone. He goes to school and he has friends and he has the kind of life every child should have. Five years of neglect and lack and now five years of love and the kind of cherishing that heals and nourishes body and soul. I don't know if one can entirely make up for the other, but looking at Michael's eyes, at his strong young body, at the way he is with Lisa, I can believe.

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18 Comments:

Blogger eric3000 said...

Another amazing story from your fascinating life!

June 16, 2007 8:24 PM  
Blogger Willym said...

Lady I may have travelled around the world but you my love have travelled through life. Thank you.

June 16, 2007 9:47 PM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

Damn. I've got nothing.

Great post.

June 16, 2007 10:08 PM  
Blogger Red7Eric said...

Heartbreaking ... and dangerous, in that it makes me want to run right out and adopt a child right this very minute.

Thanks, Lynette.

June 16, 2007 11:08 PM  
Blogger SubtleKnife said...

Thank you, Lynette. That was beautiful.

June 17, 2007 5:14 AM  
Blogger Tank Montreal said...

Wow. What a story. Thank you.

June 17, 2007 12:02 PM  
Anonymous Charly said...

Thanks for restoring, again, my faith in humanity.

By the way, your blog name should be "Big Hearted Belle".

June 17, 2007 2:17 PM  
Blogger evilganome said...

Thanks Lynette. That was very moving and I am not ashamed to say, brought a tear to an old cynics eye. You're an amazing person, and while your proud of Lisa, I hope you are proud of yourself too.

June 17, 2007 5:47 PM  
Anonymous tater said...

May I echo all the other comments and say thank you?

I needed to read this today. It has helped to restore my faith in humanity, and acts of love. I think that compassion and love are two ingredients that seem to be in the shortest supply nowadays. Amazing what a random act of kindness can do, the ripples it can cause that influence others in ways we never fully realize.

Then there are people like you, that spend years of their lives committed to acts of support and kindness, and who suffer the pain of the people you help almost as fully as the victims themselves. It is so great that you were able to witness this circle of good works that occurred for Lisa and this little boy. What a story of redemption and hope! You are truly an amazing person, and I am so pleased to know you.

This story has in turn helped us by the nature of its message; the ripples just keep expanding. What a lesson to learn. I need to create more positive ripples.

June 17, 2007 7:02 PM  
Anonymous TedBear said...

Thank you Lynette. My gay nephew has his MSW and works in the New Orleans area. MSWs can do amazing things. Thank you for sharing a win. XO.

June 17, 2007 11:10 PM  
Blogger David said...

Wow. Just wow.

June 18, 2007 11:09 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Thanks for this story--I'm so glad it's one with a happy ending.

June 18, 2007 2:29 PM  
Anonymous Michele said...

Lovely - as usual.

June 18, 2007 2:42 PM  
Blogger angelfish24 said...

Thank you for sharing that. Nice to hear of a happy ending for that boy.

June 18, 2007 2:50 PM  
Blogger Beula said...

Miss O'Mara was our social worker. She was homely and no spring chicken and I loved her. And I knew she cared about me. She was the one who ended up placing me in the various homes I lived in as a kid. I did not hold it against her. She knew the last placement was terrible and tried to warn me. I hope from heaven she can see I turned out okay.

I remember her kindness and interest.

June 18, 2007 4:36 PM  
Blogger rodger said...

Beautiful, Lynette. This story should be told over and over again until people begin to realize that each and every one of us can help make a difference for these children and all people.

Compassion can change the world...if we act upon it.

June 18, 2007 6:32 PM  
Anonymous Coach said...

You humble me, Lynette.

June 19, 2007 7:02 AM  
Anonymous Kamrin said...

Wow. I am truly touched at the amazing ability of the human spirit to rebound after such rejection and tragedy. Thank you for this positive touch to my day! May we all be inspired to reach out a hand to someone who needs a hug.

June 19, 2007 11:05 AM  

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