A Greater Tragedy
She was talking about AIDS orphans. Maybe that’s what caught my attention. I don’t really remember. And though I don’t usually watch celebrity interviews, I was sitting in a hotel room by myself, with nothing else to do. And so I listened as Angelina Jolie talked about the photograph she was holding.
A little boy with his head happily cocked to the side. You could clearly see mischief in his eyes. She’d met him on a visit to an AIDS orphanage in Africa. He was maybe 7 or 8 years old. And she’d snapped the photo as she toured the place. A few months later, fate brought her back to the same orphanage’s dusty gates. She remembered the impish boy and asked about him, hoping to see him again.
“Who?” the staff asked, overwhelmed by trying to care for so many children.
“This one,” she said, pulling the photo out of her pocket.
The staff thought for a bit and then someone remembered.
“Oh, he died a while back.”
She asked to go to his gravesite and was taken to a large graveyard with many unmarked graves. No one knew which one was his.
No one remembered.
Angelina Jolie’s eyes glistened with tears as she gripped the photograph and whispered, “This is the only proof that he ever existed.”
This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about our loss of Tristan. A beautiful toddler who lived at our foster home for over a year, he died quite suddenly and unexpectedly of heart failure on February 18, 2010.
We get asked a lot how we can bear to keep going. Sometimes we ask ourselves the same question. We see a lot of sorrow and suffering; a lot of sick children, and many who pass away. We see a lot of pain and brokenness. Sometimes it seems more normal to have a baby with a birth defect then to have a healthy child. Our “best case scenarios” end with a child leaving us with their new adoptive parents. The worst ends with a flat-lined heart monitor. In either case, we love them for a while and then they go.
Self-protection and preservation is a normal human response. If something hurts when you touch it, you don’t touch it again. If something hurts when you love it, you don’t want to love it again.
But we can’t stop.
Because there’s a tragedy greater than Tristan’s death.
There’s the tragedy of a little African orphan in an unmarked grave with a single photograph being the only proof he ever existed. There’s the tragedy of thousands of orphans like him, living lives in cold and sterile rooms – staring at ceilings and finding comfort in themselves. There’s the tragedy of children who die alone.
It may hurt us to love them, but true love is a sacrifice. And it’s a tragedy for us to lose them. But it’s a greater tragedy for them to never know love.
You can read more about Carrie's work in China on her blog here.