Friday, May 27, 2005

Something to read

This has been a busy, strange week, and I have gotten a lot done. But none of it has been on this page. One of the things we did this week was park the first anniversary of the moment we first took our daughter in our arms. I wrote a column about it, and here it is: ========= Parts of southeast China in May are hazy, humid and so hot that the air seems to be sucked out of you faster than you can inhale. In other words, it’s a lot like Florida. The first time I saw Jiangxi Province, where my daughter was born, was May 23, 2004. We were in a group of 12 families, all on the verge of meeting our daughters. And, except for one family, none of us had been to China before. We were nervous. We were excited. We all had at least a year and a half of soul searching, paperwork and anticipation behind us. We all had opened our homes, psyches, medical records and financial statements to strangers in order to gain approval as parents from the governments of two different countries. We were sweating on our passports as we rumbled down the highway at over 100 miles per hour from the airport to the city where we would finally see our new daughters. Imagine a maternity ward crossed with boot camp, and you get some idea of how we 12 families felt about each other. As we bounced along the highway, I fixed my eyes on the landscape outside the window - partly to burn it all in my memory, and partly to distract myself from the death-defying road trip - and I marveled at how familiar it looked. In many ways, China is as far away from the U.S. as you can get without leaving the planet. Even the air smells different, and like nothing you can readily identify. Yet between the airport and the city of Nanchang, there is a stretch of road flanked by red clay hills and evergreens that could make you swear you were somewhere in Georgia or South Carolina. The difference is that, in South Carolina, you couldn’t go that fast for that long. Or on that many sides of the road. It was beautiful. And I cannot believe that our trip was a *year* ago. It has been a whole year since we checked into the Gloria Plaza Hotel, where the crisp young desk clerks had badges with names like Danny and Susan. It has been a year and six days since we filed up the stairs of the Nanchang Civil Affairs Bureau Building to the sweltering second floor, where we could hear babies - *our* babies - just beyond sight in one of the rooms. We were a breathless clatter of video cameras and diaper bags, dizzy with the heat and anticipation. I clutched a small Winnie the Pooh bear that squeaks when shaken. I must have been squeaking, too. Finally, our facilitator started calling names. We were the second to be called, and we walked toward him like we were walking up the wedding aisle (except that my groom was holding the video camera). When the woman handed Buttercup to me, it was only the sheer maternal desire not to frighten the baby that kept me from crumpling to the floor in sobs of gratitude I held her close, this sweaty bundle of girl with smart eyes and yellow socks. I did the things new parents do. I counted her fingers. I examined a little scab on her nose where she had scratched herself. I realized that the tiny red birthmark on her left cheek looked very much like a dragon. And her breath - her breath smelled just like the China air. There were sobs, but they weren’t mine. There were 36-plus hours of angry, tearless, screaming sobs from our little Buttercup, who was furious at having been taken from her familiar orphanage and handed to these strangers. Strangers who couldn’t understand her and didn’t even smell like China. That is the same girl, now 2, whom I watch in the rearview mirror at a stoplight as she sits in her car seat, quietly surveying the passing traffic. When she catches my eye, she says “Mama.” It’s not a question, or the beginning of some other thought. It’s a self-contained statement. “Mama.” I cannot believe that it was a whole year ago that I first held her. It seems like yesterday. And yet, I can’t believe she has been with us *only* a year. It seems like a lifetime. That’s the way with the truly holy moments in our lives, I suppose. The births, deaths, weddings. The moments when we fall in love, and the experiences that break our hearts. The events that turn us into families. These are sacred things, and they exist outside of our normal experience of time. They seemed to have happened yesterday, and yet it seems they happened at the beginning of time. Sometimes it seems like they are happening again every day. We share these moments because they tell us something about being human. And we celebrate them because they tell us something about the divine.


Blogger PPB said...

oh my goodness. this is so beautiful.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Moreena said...

This is a wonderful post, and so much more sensitive than my husband and I's running joke about our years of marriage. This year we celebrated our 9th year anniversary in Germany. Joerg's family was very excited about wishing us well, and we always responded by looking at each other with puzzlement. "9 years, huh? Feels more like 59." I think I should direct them all here to read this so that they may also see the genuine happiness lurking under that little joke.

8:01 PM  

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