I leave the orphanage this afternoon.
Five months to the day after arriving here, I’ll be heading to Delhi, flying to Southern India, and embarking on a ten-day orphanage tour with Clifton in Bangalore and Orissa. It should be an amazing experience and another eye-opening adventure, but it’s going to be hard to leave this place.
I was sick when I got here back in February. I had a massive sinus infection, a raging fever and—after less than two weeks on the road—a real question in my mind as to what I was doing in India. I’d sold my house so I didn’t have a home of my own to return to (or a return ticket for that matter), no job, no marriage, no kids I could see without first traveling to their distant college campuses. After twenty years of parenting, of family life, I was on my own, traveling alone. If I was honest, I was lonely.
But I wasn’t lonely for long.
Without exaggeration, my time here at the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission has been one of the best times of my life, and I cannot thank Rick, Clifton, Eugene, Priscilla, Katie or the rest of the orphanage staff enough for welcoming me into their large sprawling family. As a tonic for my middle-age, divorced, empty nester’s soul, this place and these kids have been just what I’ve needed. For the past 153 days, I have been surrounded by affection from breakfast time in the morning to inside time at night. Seriously, if the drug companies could extract and bottle the love of one hundred orphans, I have no doubt that the whole world would be vibrantly healthy.
The hardest part about leaving is going to be saying goodbye to these children. They’ve already started delivering simple handmade cards, all filled with colorful beautiful sentiments, and they’re each, in their own way, letting me know how sad they are to see me leave.
Last night, I was sitting in Rick’s room with many of the girls, watching Christian music videos on his TV. Mostly, I was goofing around with several of the nursery kids, tickling them, teasing them, watching them dance, laughing along as they laughed. At one point, Sheetal sat on my lap and leaned her head against my chest.
“I will miss you, Uncle,” she said.
I said I would miss her too.
Then she looked at me with her clear six-year-old’s eyes and smiled. “You know my favorite people?” she asked. “First: Jesus. Then: Mother. Then: Uncle John.”
So I’m in some pretty good company.
Sheetal doing her homework after school.
My time here at the mission has reminded me of some valuable lessons. Things like: how much fun it is to be a kid and to be a father; how parenthood doesn’t have to end when your children leave home because the world is so full of children who need parents; how one person really can make a difference; how saving the world can just mean showing up and trying and opening your heart a little wider; how most of the time the world you are actually saving is your own.
Most importantly, though, I have been inspired to continue this work. I cannot think of anything more important or worthwhile to do with my life than to help provide a home for a child who needs one, and I intend to dedicate my energy, time and talent to this cause. I’m not sure exactly what it looks like just yet, but that’s okay. When Clifton and company took over the Mission ten years ago, they had no idea how they would make it work either.
As I sit typing this, a boy steps into the office doorway. He’s not supposed to be in here but he’s risking it to get my attention. “Uncle. Come,” he says. It’s Ram Pal, the boy with the worst teeth and the biggest smile on the Mission. He’s come to say goodbye.[frame style=”modern” image_path=”http://indianorphanage.com/io/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/orphanage-card.jpg” link_to_page=”” target=”” description=”Ram Pal’s card with handmade envelope.” float=”” lightbox=”http://indianorphanage.com/io/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/orphanage-card.jpg” lightbox_group=”” size=”two_col_large”]
Ram Pal’s card with handmade envelope.
“I made for you one card,” he says, beaming. “Come see.” He wants me to lean closer to him and, when I do, he kisses me on the cheek. “Come back, haa?” he asks with a quick tip of his head.
“I’ll definitely be back,” I say.
“Promise?” Ram Pal demands.