The first thing that pops up on the screen is a bright pink object bouncing around. As the camera focuses more I realize it’s Michel.
“What in the world is on your head?”
“It’s a bag, I think. They put it on me.”
That’s when I hear Franceska’s giggles, and before long she bursts out, “Let me see him!”
Him, of course, being Levi. The camera finally is clear for them and they are able to see Levi and me sitting on our blue couches, his head bobbling around in front of me. “THERE HE IS!” They all make a chorus of noise, repeating Levi’s name over and over again.
There they are, my kids. I have absolutely no right to call them this. They belong to mothers and fathers who either couldn’t take care of them or didn’t know how insanely special each of them are, or, for some, were struck by tragedy. I was there when Kendy first came to us, the boy who didn’t speak. He chose me, 5 years ago now, and hasn’t let me go since. He erased his past from his little mind, and to this day if you ask him who his mother is he will say me, and I know he firmly believes I birthed him. They are not mine. They are God’s, like all children, but I was blessed to care for them the short while that I did. But as I sit there staring at all their faces, way too close to Michel’s ipad to actually make out who’s who, my entire being claims them as mine.
“He looks like Manno!” I hear it said and then followed by a fit of giggles. We immediately start our mindless banter, joking with them about Levi’s forehead (notably a Descollines feature), or my almost year long absence. They forgive me. They forgive me for leaving them. They forgive me for setting a terrible example. They don’t even realize they’ve forgiven me because they haven’t realized the depths of these things yet.
Michel is invisible among them; his entire body covered by the limbs of 15+ kids climbing all over him. We are sending our laughter back and forth to each other, carrying it over oceans and letting it settle into our hearts again. There is a silence then, and someone whispers, “we miss you Johnna.”
I have to do all I can to hold back tears. I have missed them so desperately. Those children are in every step I take, every exhaled breath. They bounce on my eyelashes when I blink and they rest in my dimple when I smile. They are a part of my make up.
When I came home I forced myself to forget them. This is what I do. It has been my defense mechanism since I was a child. If it hurts too much, just pretend it isn’t there. In the beginning my sorrow for my sin and how it affected them overpowered me. I mourned the loss of them so deeply I wore it on my skin. Katie reached out to me then, told me to pull it together. Head up. There is only forward in this life. So, go.
In order for me to embrace Levi I had to let them go. I offered them in prayer daily, sending their names up to heaven in a defeated whisper every day. Eventually, I stopped remembering every detail. Eventually, I stopped altogether.
So when I saw their faces with more teeth and bigger features, my heart came alive again. In a single instant I remembered it all. And Levi, looking back at them, having no clue what he is seeing, became a part of it. Levi is not some mistake that is apart from it. No. I looked at him and said look at all your brothers and sisters.
We ended the skype with them telling me they are waiting for me and Levi. Waiting for us. I am carrying these words with me until I see them again.
I fell asleep allowing myself to remember. Youri being a police officer and arresting all the kids, a cardboard bullet proof vest wrapped around him. Peterson jumping on a horse when our backs were turned and taking off, his laughter the only evidence he was next to us moments before. Carrying Franceska the entire walk home from Dandann after a school day because she had a fever, her long arms and legs dangling around me; her trust in me, a random white girl, unfathomable to my pathetic mind. Kendy’s big brown eyes always searching me out, seeking approval for any little thing he does. MacKendy picking glass out of my foot, his hand on my shoulder, asking, “does it hurt you Johnna?” There are so many more. So, so many more.
Hebrews 6:19 tells us that hope is the anchor to our souls. These children give me hope. They have been born into destruction and despair, and they have come out fighters. But more importantly, they have become lovers. They embrace forgiveness. God, they are the best teachers in the world.
I pray every day for a future full of hope. Well there it was, a bunch of little faces surrounding a bright pink plastic bagged head, on the side of a mountain in Haiti, my hope.