Part Three – Another Personal Story about the Gift of Affection and Physical Touch
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Haiti twice in one year and work with the same handicapped orphanage. My wife and I took a team in early summer and returned in early winter. The second trip was a birthday surprise gift from my wife, which I will always hold as an incredible memory. During the first trip I formed a particular bond with a boy named Evans. His smile and belly laugh could melt your heart. Initially, I thought he was four or five based upon his body size. When he would smile, you could tell he already had his adult teeth, so he must be at least seven or eight. We later learned he was twelve. He showed so much progress during our short times spent with him. We spent several of the following months working with local hospitals and doctors attempting to get a medical visa for Evans and had even contemplated adoption. There was a special connection that was in-explainable.
To this day, there are certain sights, sounds and smells that remind me of those trips to Haiti, and Evans specifically. It is also special to remember my sweet wife in a time and place when life seemed more simple and less complicated. We were young and doing what we loved: serving those who couldn’t help themselves, together. Some days I wonder what our lives would have been like had we stayed and never returned to the States. I think we have a way about life here which makes us captive of our fears and anxieties surrounding finances and keeping up with society. We miss the simple things and miss each other in the process.
While we managed to raise a humanitarian awareness of our friends at the orphanage and raise some funds and send supplies; efforts of bringing Evans to the States were not successful. Although we tried maintaining contact with the orphanage, staff changes, the earthquake, and our busy lives made it difficult. While we started the coffee shop and my wife went to nursing school with the intent to go back to Haiti someday, life has a way of laughing at your good intentions, hopes and dreams. Barely keeping the doors of a business open during a struggling economy while racking up loan debt, and facing medical challenges, definitely has a way of changing the course of your life. Not everything has been lost, and certainly a lot has been gained and learned.
When the team first arrived at the orphanage, the residents had increased by thirty children due to a controversial closure of another orphanage. These children were developmentally or physically handicapped in one form or another. This increase in children in need of care was obviously daunting for the staff. Our team tried to lighten the load during the time we were there. The staff to child ratio wasn’t near the standard of what we would expect in our western civilization. The conditions were too difficult to process all at once, but we all knew the organization was doing the best with what they had. We participated in crafts and various activities with the children. We helped the staff with feeding the children and specifically made sure there wasn’t a child who would get missed in the chaos of mealtimes.
Most of the time was spent holding children who were not mobile and performing basic physical therapy with children whose muscles had atrophied. By the end of the day we smelled of sweat and urine. The tropical rains at the end of the day were refreshing, to say the least. While there was so much happening all at once between acclimating to a different climate and culture, figuring out the best way we could serve while navigating the language barrier, and trying not to show our emotionally overwhelmed side; I was able to witness first-hand the impact of human touch. Many of the children were laying in cots under the palm trees. So when we would hold them, massage their feet and hands, and butcher the language with our failed attempts; they would smile, laugh, and come alive. I have no doubt the greater the physical touch, the more the children came alive physically, mentally and emotionally.
This life experience has confirmed my belief of the positive effect of human interaction and physical touch and affection. I’ve seen children in quite desperate and lonely states come alive when they feel the embrace of another human.
I don’t think one has to go all the way to Haiti to have a similar experience. You may not even need to leave your own community. When appropriate, human interaction and physical touch are gifts to be shared and not to be locked away. Perhaps we get a glimpse of Heaven when we embrace.