Resilience

About a year and a half after we adopted Sophia and Henry, our two kids from Haiti, we were visiting with family for Thanksgiving at the home of my wife’s aunt, Dr. Kay Kriegsman, in a suburb of Maryland. Kay, a survivor of childhood polio, is a psychologist and author widely known for her work with victims of spinal cord injury and with families of children who, like herself, have lived through and thrived with serious physical disabilities.

Sometime during the evening, Aunt Kay, smiling broadly in her wheelchair, beckoned me and my wife aside and led us quietly into a back bedroom of her house. There in a far corner, sitting unassumingly on a small table, was the above painting of our daughter Sophia, inspired by a photograph that had circulated among the family after the adoption.

We stood dumbstruck before the image in wonder and silence. Though Kay had never before met Sophia, she had somehow captured in vivid brush strokes something deep, strong, and irreducibly beautiful in this seven-year old, black-as-night, Creole-speaking girl who had lost both her parents at the age of 4; whose grandmother had entrusted her to the care of an orphanage when she could no longer take care of the child; who at 6 had survived a terrifying earthquake (“The Big Shake”) and for days after had seen and smelled the corpses in the streets of Port-au-Prince; who was now living among a whole lot of English-speaking white folks, including two new siblings and parents who looked nothing like her, in a place very far from the only world she had ever known; this child whose wellsprings of memory and irrepressible personality we were only just beginning to discover – like water bursting forth from a dam. Aunt Kay titled the painting “Haitian Resilience.”

Now over three years in, we know that this quality of soul Kay called “resilience” also pulses strong in Sophia’s much younger adoptive brother Henry. Though they do not share the same blood, they rise from the same Haitian soil which bears its rich history tortured and proud. And it is the same God of amazing grace who brought them both through heaven and hell, through a confluence of seemingly chance events, blind luck, and human miracle-working, to gift the world with their hugs, their laughter, their struggles, their music, their peace.

Here’s the kicker: what we’ve learned from all four of our children and indeed our family and neighbors and friends who have welcomed Henry and Sophia with open arms is this: resilience comes in all sizes, in every age and nationality, in every color.

May the Spirit be generous with this gift of resilience, each day and every night as I surrender to middle-aged fatigue! And may God bless you, Aunt Kay for seeing something deep and powerful in my daughter before I could see it in her myself. Sometimes perhaps it takes a woman of beautiful hard-bought strength to recognize the same spirit in a young girl, bubbling and bursting to spill forth and transform the world.

 

Postscript: For a first-hand account of Haitian resilience and hope both before and after the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, I highly recommend Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Mark Curnutte’s A Promise in Haiti: A Reporter’s Notes on Families and Daily Lives, and the beautifully illustrated children’s book Hope for Haiti, by Jesse Joshua Watson.

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