A Patchwork Tapestry
I have often wept for these children, at the unfairness, at the abundance I see all around me every day against the stark comparison to their world. I have wept hot tears of utter helplessness at being unable to do enough to assuage their loss. My heart hurts for their sorrows and grief.But I have also wept in gratitude over the unconditional love they have shown me, the simple joys they have shared even in the face of so little. If true happiness does, indeed, lie in the sharing of love then these children surely possess a joy beyond measure, for they have shared with me a happiness which has seeped into my core and made its permanent home there, never to be erased. Their very existence has forever changed both the person I am and my view of the world, these children who inhabit not even a corner of it, pushed to the very margins. Untouchables to most, not even worth mentioning much less bothering oneself over. Few stop to see them, to care about them – fewer yet even think about them.
Yet their impact has not only been felt, but resonated, among hundreds if not thousands of others besides myself. The social workers, volunteers, donors, doctors, teachers – I have met many people whose lives have been touched and changed by these children, and know of countless others. Attitudes of cynicism or despair can sometimes prevail when confronted by the enormity of such challenges – that it is such a monumental task as to be insurmountable, a problem without solutions. But the truth I have found, over the past three years of visits and interviews with hundreds of orphanages and NGOs, is that all over India – and beyond its borders – people are striving tirelessly every day in countless initiatives and programs which, if scaled up and coordinated and funded in full measure throughout the country, would have an immeasurable impact on such vulnerable children’s lives and futures.
Through this, alone, the meaning of their being holds more than the greatest among us could ever hope to achieve. They have embodied hope, love, faith and charity in a way that is rarely found upon this earth – without even knowing it.
At home in Austin, I meditate sometimes to a CD recording of “my kids” singing their prayer songs back in Orissa. Mostly I close my eyes, trying to follow the Buddhist way of clearing my mind of all the clutter, the constant jumble and noise of a thousand little things that clamor for my attention during daily life. In that empty space, I let the small sweet voices fill me as they do in India, trying to transport myself back to that time and place.
But occasionally my eyes open and when they do, they fall on a wall hanging I bought in Udaipur, made of pieces from dozens of sarees. I gaze at the handmade patchwork, its many different colors and patterns so carefully stitched together by the craftsman. Each small individual piece of material, before it was sewn into the finished product, is fragile and insignificant. It is not anything except a torn scrap of cloth, beautiful but delicate, easily ripped or lost. But when it is stitched together strongly to the next tiny piece, and then the next, suddenly the pattern of the whole begins to take form. The finished patchwork, all these scraps of what was once discarded, together are strong. Together they make something, they have a purpose. To cover a bed, to keep a child warm or, as in my house, to simply be beautiful.
And so it is with these children of India – the orphans, the street children, the world’s forgotten throwaways. They may be fragile and easily lost on their own, but held together with the thread of those who care – the organizations and people who labor as lovingly and painstakingly as this artisan to make sure the children aren’t discarded but are held together and cherished – then they can be seen as a whole, they are strong and vibrant and creating their purpose – and above all they are, simply, beautiful.