Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Children Without Birthdays

     My childhood was lived with one major reference point. My young life was lived by the standard one day set for me. It was the best day every year. It was the first date I memorized. It told me how I should act, and how I should live in relation to other children and their own spacial date. I counted down from it and up to it. As soon as the day passed I started looking forward and planning for next year’s special date. 
     It was, of course, my birthday. I, like most children, lived life by birthdays. They told me which children were older, and which were younger. My birthdays were markers for things I could and could not do. When I turned a certain age I had certain privileges and responsibilities I didn't have before. My birthday was always the best day of the year. It was a day I was celebrated. It was a day I was reward for being born. For being alive. Celebrating a child’s birthday makes them feel so valued. So loved. Celebrating a child’s birthday tells them their life matters. Their existence is important. There are no happier creatures on earth than children on their birthdays. 

     Which is why, of all the things I’ve seen in India, and all the tragedies I’ve witnessed working with slum children, one of the most inexplicably heartbreaking things I’ve learned about the children’s lives is that almost all of them do not know their birthday, or even their age. At first I couldn’t figure out why it bothered me so much. Of all the poverty, diseases, tragedies, and abuses they have lived through, why did the absence of a recorded birthday step on my heart?
     But imagine growing up with parents who didn’t value you enough to even record the day you were born. It means the beginning of these children’s life wasn’t even significant to their parents. That the day they took their first breath was no more special or sacred than any other day in their slow and tragic trek through life. But in all honesty, and to be fair, their parents don’t know their own birthdays either. They don’t know the current date, and lots of them don’t even know the year. Why does it matter when every day is the same as the one before? 

     But these children without birthdays do matter. They are special. And unique. And valued. They are precious. And they are beautiful. God formed them. He created them. He knows them. He loves them. He yearns for them. They are more than just sad statistics. They are more than the sum of their needs, or their problems. They are more than their circumstances. They are people. And their lives are sacred. 

     The idea of children without birthdays may seem foreign, or tragic, or even difficult to comprehend to you in the West. But we, as Americans, have our own children without birthdays.    
    Nearly 60 million of them. Children who are not valued. Children whose lives are not viewed as sacred, but seen as a burden on society. Children seen only as a problem. Children who are unwanted, unvalued, unplanned. Children who people say would be better off unborn. Better off without a birthday. 

     And so we, as a nation, legally protect the “right” of Doctors to rip these children from their mother’s womb, dismembered and desecrated, because they were not wanted. 

      There are people who believe it’s better this way. Better to stop a life before it gets in the way of someone else’s. People who says it’s better than for them to grow up with needs or in poverty.

      It’s not true. Every person has rights. Every person deserves a chance. My student Guma doesn’t know how old she is, what day she was born, or for certain who her father is, but that doesn’t mean she is not precious. It doesn’t mean it would be better if she never existed. She is learning english and how to clean houses so she can have a fighting chance to escape the Jangpura district slum. And she deserves that chance. Pursuit of happiness is a basic human right. People deserve the chance to fight for happiness. They deserve the chance to rise out of their circumstances. To overcome their weaknesses, and find joy amidst whatever lifestyle they are born into. 

     There’s a line from a Dirty Guv’nahs song that says “I believe in right and wrong. I believe that no one is born to lose.” And it’s true, but what about the people who don’t get to be born at all? 
     The 60 million innocent victims of American abortion aren’t just babies. We haven’t only killed babies, we’ve killed the adults they would’ve become. We’ve killed doctors, and statesmen, and artists, actors, writers, and musicians. We’ve killed architects, we’ve killed philanthropists, we’ve killed teachers, and missionaries, and mothers and fathers. Maybe we’ve killed the future President, or the next great American novelist, or the person who would cure cancer. We denied them the right to live. To make choices. To pursue happiness, even if their circumstances made it difficult.  We didn’t just stop babies from being born, we stopped the from growing up.We stopped them from having birthdays. 

      Every person deserve a chance at life. Every person deserves the chance to face the world. Every child deserves to be remembered. Every life is valuable and sacred. Whether they are a child dreaming the way out of a New Delhi slum, or in the womb of a mother who didn’t ask for them, every child deserves a birthday. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Rend My Heart

This city breaks my heart a thousand ways to Sunday. It’s broken when I see little boys acting out a skit of the Good Samaritan, and knowing all too well what a beating looks like. And when a beautiful teenage girl asks me which brand of whitening cream I use, because society has taught her to despise the color of her own skin. And when people make long barefoot pilgrimages to the temple of the God of death carrying their sick child, so they can pray He will spare them. And when children tap on my car window, intentionally maimed to be more lucrative at begging.  And when impoverished, painfully malnourished people give their last bit of food to a sacred cow for good Karma. And every morning when I hear my neighbor’s emotional prayers sung to a God with no ears. And when the sun begins to set and the homeless begin bedding down on sidewalks and street corners, frail old men, young mothers with small children, and everyone in between. How many times will I have to see the inside of a slum before it becomes normal

I worry that it’s going to take away a piece of me. I worry about my heart being hardened. Because I don’t ever want to get used to this, but I worry there’s only so many times the same things break your heart before eventually it just gets hard. 

I was riding in the car with two girls, one a native of Delhi and the other a foreigner like me. When we stopped at a red light we heard the all too familiar tapping and saw a little boy about six motioning for us to give him money.  “Is it hard to drive with kids like that in the streets?” My foreign friend asked the native. “What kid?” was her only reply.  She had been around tragedy her whole life, and so she simply stopped seeing it

“I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.” -John Steinbeck 

In this vastly over-populated city, I don’t ever want to reach the point where I look at people and stop seeing human beings.I don’t ever want to reach the point where I look at needy people and all I see is their needs. I want to see the image of God in people. Even if they’re poor. Even if they’re ugly, or mean, or sick, or dirty, or different than me. I want to love them like God loves us; in spite of our brokenness. I want to be soft. I want to be naive. I want to be different than the cold, hard, survivalists this city breeds. I don’t ever want to withhold love from someone because I’m afraid of getting my heart broken. I don’t ever want to be afraid of becoming attached to someone or too involved in their life or their problems. I want to love people and not  be afraid to getting my hands dirty. 
I want to give, live, and thrive. I want to love people, and I want to never stop. 

“How can you love ignorant, brutish people whom you don’t even know? Can anyone love filth and squalor? Or lice and rats? Who can love aching weariness and carry on working in spite of it? One cannot love these things. One can only love God, and through His Grace come to love His people.” -Sister Monica Jone, The Midwife by Jennifer Worth 

It’s the Lord who gives me love. It’s the Lord who soften my heart to the breaking point with compassion. The things that break my heart are the very same things that break His. God holds my heart, and if he uses this city to break it, it’s only because He’s going to stitch it back together again into a better shape than before