Growing up, I had a pretty clear idea of what it meant to be an orphan. You were a child, and your parents were dead. I'm not sure I differentiated between biological and adoptive parents. Certainly, had  something happened to my Mother and Daddy, I would have considered myself orphaned, despite the fact I occasionally day-dreamed about the other mother, the one who met up with me one block over, wearing a trench coat, just like a spy.

A great episode of This American Life from 2007, "Missing Parents Bureau," explored the attraction children feel to the idea of being an orphan. This may have been reinforced by the popularity of the musical, "Annie," or for the young boy actors in my house, by the appearance of one of them in "Oliver." Oliver lives in the workhouse because his mother is dead. That's clear. But Annie is a different kind of orphan, the kind dropped off by her parents, who never return.

An orphan is a child "deprived by death of one or usually both parents," according to Merriam-Webster.

Arrogant white people An orphan is not a child whose parents are still living, swindled out of their child by some "well-meaning" white Southern Baptist from Idaho. An orphan is not a child whose parents are still living.

It's easier to say orphan than some of the other words we might use, because it sounds pitiful and charming and even picturesque. And it disentangles a child from ties to adults, from heritage and habit, from possession by another.

It frees a child up to be what children are in the worst adoption stories, a commodity.

If families in Haiti need help, for Christ's sake, help the families stay together. Don't steal their children. Don't tear apart their families. Don't treat them like rescue dogs being moved north after Katrina.

For Christ's sake. In Christ's name. What right do we have to march in and claim to be rescuing children from their own parents, simply because there has been a natural disaster? 

Bentrott family  Sometimes an orphan is a child whose parents have surrendered him or her, because it seemed like the best thing to do. If those parents understand what's happening, if they consent to relinquish their children, God bless everyone involved. It's hard. It's hard whether you're an American college girl letting your baby go to a professional man and his wife or a poor woman entrusting your child to an established religious agency. I'm reading the continuing story of the Bentrotts, now in this country with the Haitian children placed with them after a long process–no cowboy adoption! As angry as I am about the Idaho Southern Baptists, I am glad to know there are Americans working for and with people in Haiti, who love people in Haiti, who are suffering over their (temporary?) absence from the country and people they want to serve, still. 

For Christ's sake. In Christ's name.

8 thoughts on “Orphans”

  1. I heard this story on NPR yesterday morning. One of the leaders of the group “New Life Children’s Rescue” stated on the show about these children that they are “…..deeply in need of most of all God’s Love and His Compassion….”
    I was amazed that these people think that THEY are the only way that these children receive this Love and Compassion. How arrogant! How demeaning of the work that the folks in the orphanage have been doing for so many years!

  2. Yes, I too read about this situation. It will be a hard lesson…but anyone in the adoption circles knows the official channels. And sadly, the thing that struck me was that the gov’t made a big deal about this b/c they didn’t receive the $10,000. per child. Heaven help us all.

  3. It’s echoes (clarion calls!) of American imperialism…social and religious both, if those two are not ineluctably bound.

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