Taking the Chance to have a New Life
The boy I am going to tell you about was born to a young woman who already had three children. She was poor and her family were often very hungry. They lived in the Deep South of America. The woman loved her children and wanted to try to feed, clothe and send them to school. When she found she was pregnant for the fourth time she wondered how she could possibly cope with another child.
“God will provide,” the preacher told her.
She thought that that would be the only way the child would survive, if God provided. She did not think that she could feed yet another child. Her milk had run dry with the third child, a little girl. That one, she had hoped would be her last. But Nature has a way of changing things around, and less than twelve months after the birth of Lisa, a boy was born. He was called Abe. As the mother suspected she could not find enough food to feed herself and provide milk for the baby.
Fortunately her sister who lived in the vicinity had milk to spare and she offered to feed the child. This was a great relief to Tam, the mother. At least the child would live for a few months without being a drain on the meagre resources of her family, while she got her strength back. Tam went back to her cleaning job, taking Lisa with her. Little or no money came from Tam’s husband who liked to sit around in the local bars all day. Tam would spend the money she earned on food rather than take it home to be stolen by her man and used for beer.
Life was very hard for Tam and her family. The baby Abe often stayed with Tam’s sister for days at a time. Tam was too tired to pick him up. Tam’s sister was a kind woman who had a little more money than she did, as her husband brought home a wage for his family. After Abe was about six months old and her own child reached 9 months, her milk dried up. Her husband said it was time the baby Abe went back to his mother. He said it was hard enough to keep his own family clothed and fed, without having to feed little Abe, who after all was her sister’s child, not hers, and certainly not his.
Her sister felt very uncomfortable about approaching Tam with the problem. In truth she knew that Tam was hoping that she would be able to keep the child for a year or two ‘just until she got herself straight’. Tam’s sister didn’t think that would ever happen.
“Just get rid of that useless man, then you’ll have a chance to get straight.”
But Tam didn’t think she could do that, after all he was the daddy of her children and she had married him. In her marriage vows she had agreed to take him for richer and for poorer. Poorer they were, but the promise still held.
Tam begged her sister to keep the child. Her other children sometimes went to bed hungry and crying. She prayed to God asking what she should do.
In her dream she saw herself taking the child to the mission house. They would take him and she would vow never to have any more children.
The people at the mission tried to persuade Tam to keep her child, but she said it might die if she did. At least the child would have a chance with them. Nothing they could say would persuade her otherwise. They could see how thin she was and they knew about her other children so they agreed to take Abe on one condition. She must never try to ask for the baby again. They would change the child’s name and hopefully another family would adopt him. Tam agreed and feeling very heavy hearted left the baby in their care.
There was an orphanage at the mission; there were ten children of various ages. People would come and adopt the younger ones sometimes, but somehow Abe, now called Michael, never found parents as a baby. He stayed at the orphanage and grew up with the gossip of the other children and the carers moving round his mind. He learnt that his mother did not want him and that because of him his brothers and sisters were starving. The carers were not very good at keeping the news from the villages to themselves. They heard that Abe’s sister had died, and of course this news travelled to Abe who was now seven years old. In his young mind he thought it must be his fault that his family were hungry and his sister had died. He wished he had never been born.
Fortunately there was plenty of food in the orphanage and Abe grew up to be a strong young lad. He was taught how to read and write, and he helped in the garden to grow fruit and vegetables for the orphanage.
A man and his wife appeared one day saying they were looking to foster a young lad. They had lost their own son and wanted to give another child a chance in life. They did not want a baby but a boy of ten or eleven who would enjoy working with the animals on their farm. Abe, now Michael was the only boy of that age in the orphanage. He had grown used to his life there, used to feeling guilty, knowing that everything was his fault and that he was worthless, or why would he have been left by his own mother? When he heard that the couple were looking for a child of his age to foster he did not want to go with them. He did not feel he could trust them. They too might decide he was not good enough, then where would he be?
The matron of the orphanage knew Abe well enough to understand what was going through his head.
She said to him, “Sometimes we have great difficulties in this life, and the only way to get over them is to face up to them. We have to grab our chances and make the most of them because they may not come again. You have a chance here of having a loving family. For some reason it has not been offered to you before, I don’t know why but it certainly is not your fault. It was not your fault that your mother could not keep you. It is not your fault that your sister died. Bad things happen in life, but so do good things and I believe that this is one of them. You are not stupid. You have the chance of a good education now. I’m telling you to take it. Yes, you’ll be scared. It is hard to trust sometimes when you have been hurt in the past, but unless we try to trust others, nothing good can happen with new people in our lives. You don’t want to be stuck here with us for the rest of your young life now, do you?”
Abe thought about what had been offered to him. He realised maybe for the first time that matron knew how he felt and what he was thinking; it was the first time that he thought that maybe he had been thinking wrongly. He understood enough about life now to know that it is not a child’s fault that it comes into the world. The child is not to blame if his parents cannot look after him for whatever reason.
He began to realise that from his experience in the orphanage usually children do not know the reasons their parents give them away, sometimes they guess and guess wrongly. It doesn’t do any good blaming anyone, the parents or the child. What happened, happened. The question is how to deal with it.
In Abe’s case he took the chance and after a wobbly start he became a member of a proper family. He let go of his feelings of guilt and his foster parents explained that his mother had been told that she must never try to contact him again. But she had not abandoned him in her heart even if she was never to see him again. She had moved away to another town and Abe thought that maybe when he was older he would try to find her to tell her he had forgiven her. That thought made him feel better. The solid tightness in his chest loosened and he was able to look people fully in the face and know he was a worthwhile person, even if bad things had happened to him in the past.
Abe grew up and became a teacher. He always paid extra attention to any children in his class whom he knew had been fostered. There were always one or two. He helped them to value themselves and their talents and to be the best that they could be. He did a good job.
1. Does this story remind you of anything in your life?
2. Why do you think little Abe felt guilty, as if he had done something wrong?
3. Do you think a baby or young child can ever be blamed for becoming an orphan or needing foster care?
4. Why do you think that Abe was unsure about going with the family who offered to adopt him?
5. Do you think Abe worthless, or did he manage to overcome his early difficulties and become able to help others?
6. How did the story make you feel? Why?
A woman wearing a blue nun’s headgear told me this story as I meditated for Corrine.