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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Strube

to reach beyond sight

It figures that, as soon as I miss my own ending, I grow a biological clock. Allow me to explain.

While desperately rushing to register for summer session at my graduate school, of which I was a week late for,  I received an email from the registrar saying I’d tabulated my courses incorrectly. (This will lead somewhere meaningful, I promise).

“I need 12 credits, correct?” I wrote back.

“No, you need 13,” she said. Panic flushed my face. Scorn wrinkled my brows. I just wanted to be done with the endless saga of online degrees. It’s hard enough to battle internet restrictions from the Redlands, let alone BS more papers about psychology while my computer shuts down every three minutes from bad connections. Thirteen credits meant two more semesters, rather than one. But then, another email popped up from her, this time a message straight from heaven.  “You need 13… and you have 14. You are one class over.”

It took a few minutes to sink in. Not that I had counted wrong, because I often suck at math. What took time to drizzle into my frontal lobe was that I WAS DONE.  I always miss my own endings. It’s a deep pattern of mine that shows up in relationships, academia, career choices, and toothpaste tubes.  I never catch when things are done. Even when they are beyond done. I’ve had men tell me we broke up a month ago when I still thought we would had Saturday night plans. I squeeze Crest tubes way longer than is FDA approved.  And apparently, I miss my own graduations at graduate school.

Now, I’ve been a student since I was 4. And I’ve been a grad student for ten years now, which means many a Saturday morning have been spent procrastinating over papers. You think this level of academic prowess would make me a doctor of sorts. Or at least an expert of something. No, it has made me a triple Master of three careers: two of which are fall back options for the one I really desire.  I’m not sure if this level of certification makes me overly qualified or addicted to useless pursuits, but either way, I needed to celebrate my own missed graduation. So I did what any good alumni does on their first free Saturday morning. I bought myself a stiff coffee and hiked myself to the local orphanage…

…And did my best not to steal every child I saw.

It’s hard not to become a clepto when you spend your Saturday morning at Your Love Orphanage.  There are children everywhere, reaching for any open hand they can find.  And while academia teaches you knowledge, keeping your eyes swimming in books and your cortex muddled in theory, it does not teach you how to dance gracefully. But once your hands are free from writing papers, you can experiment with other uses for your palms — such as holding other humans.  Study makes you smart but that’s only a fraction of our existence. And all the books in the world couldn’t have prepared me for Gee Gee.

By some standards, Gee Gee didn’t have much pushing his life forward.  He’s 4 and still in a cribbed room with around 20 other babies who will take any affection offered. His muscles lacked mobility, his shifting eyes struggled to make contact, and he still lacked language. His wrists were the size of my two thumbs and I could have cupped both of my hands around his stomach. He was the first crib I passed, where his miniscule arms were strapped to his sides to prevent him from hurting himself.  The nurses explained to me that he bites his owns hands when left to himself, and I tried to explain back that I, should I be left alone for 4 years, would gnaw my own arm off too.  But despite bleak circumstances, Gee Gee was still waking up each morning. I’m not sure what he dreamed of or what, by exterior purposes, he hoped for, beyond a few hours of human interaction from the short-staffed but kind medical crew.  I think I would have surrendered the ghost long ago if I was him, but this child had a fierce bravery, a warrior spirit that screamed “hell no” to any tie that tried to suppress him. He knew what his birthrights were as a human being.  He knew that, despite his abandonment,  he deserved freedom.

His blind eyes couldn’t see me when I unstrapped the ties that bound his stiffened frame, nor could he see me when I scooped him up in my arms.  I feared that I would scare him, approaching him so quickly as a stranger with a bad American accent.  If a stranger who didn’t speak my language scooped me up, I’d push away and run in fear.

Not Gee Gee. At our first hello, his frail arms wrapped fervently around my neck. His blind eyes couldn’t even see my neck and still, his hands found perfect resting places around my back without panic.  All four years of his body couldn’t have weighed more than 20 pounds by medical standards, but all 1200 days of his tiny soul took up all the space in the room.

The human impulse to reach toward others can be academically explained by neocortical impulses, medically reasoned through muscular testing, and scientifically rationed through evolutionary instincts. But, at the end the day, the human soul has a choice.  Every human that still wakes up each morning does so by choice and, apart from external catastrophies or freak accidents, will continue to live by choice until that choice becomes too disparaging. Gee Gee was choosing to live. And not only to live, but to keep reaching out toward the hope of love. He had lost his eyesight, his muscular tone, his language. He had been left by the very flesh that bore him. And still, he chose to reach. And clasp. And smile.

And together, we shared a little dance in that room that Saturday afternoon.

When we stop fighting the world and start loving it, surrender is the natural response. Surrender doesn’t look externally like anything reputable. It’s not lined in degrees behind our names or in career metals. It’s more a a gentle liberation from pain. As Marriane Williamson writes, “Liberation isn’t about breaking out of anything; it’s a gentle melting into who we really are. We let down our armor and discover the strength of God in us. We melt into another world, a power already within us, where the world changes when we change. The world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world.”

These children, some of whom would spend their whole life in this building, were fighting all right. They believed that the world would love them back, despite most of their historical evidence to the contrary. They weren’t mad at the world; they were desperately in love with it.  Any time I got remotely near the floor, three more children came to crawl — no, more like scale — up my body.  A free inch of arm to wrap up in? They were there.  One little one plopped himself down in my friend Lara’s lap before she even fully sat down, declaring his rights loud and clear, throwing his arms up in the arm to protest — “I am a powerful being that deserves to be here. I knew you’d find me beautiful.”

I do not have this kind of fortitude, and, despite all my whining, I’ve never reaching out to others with such gusto. Every morning, my eyes open, but not every morning when those lids part, do I see as clearly as Gee Gee. I know many people deeply, but the ways I hold back from reaching out fully to them is, frankly, pathetic.  I rationalize away people and places as temporary in my life, and discredit the power of small interactions. I become fearful that if a love isn’t permanent, it’s not worth pouring into.

Yet these children have two hours of outside contact with volunteers every Saturday — and they do not waste a minute holding back.

The red tape on any orphanage is thick and even thicker here in the Redlands. I was fortunate enough to crawl past the tape and crawl around with these young souls this Saturday. They taught me that graduation has nothing to do with being a learned being — but about unlearning all the things that restrict my arms from fearlessly reaching out.

If I could have brought every child home with me, I would have. And if you are reading this and have the financial capacity this country requires to adopt, please contact me at my email and I can help you start the process.  And if you are a male reading this and would like to financially support and adopt me so I can become an over-educated den wife and mother, I will gladly sign my paperwork over to you.

And Gee Gee, thanks for sharing a dance with me. I’ll see you next Saturday.

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