After the metro bombing in London, in July 2005, my initial response echoed most of those around me: sorrow for lives lost, some anxiety about getting on a subway in NYC, distress at the state of a degenerating world. This was all natural, but remained strictly within "us versus them" thinking.
Willa, my then 7-year-old godchild, had another perspective. On being told what had happened, her eyes filled with tears and she said, "Mom, we should say a prayer." As she and her mother held hands, Willa asked to go first. Her mother was stunned to hear Willa begin with, "May the bad people remember the love in their hearts."
Willa's startling wisdom often takes me to another place, and a new perspective. She is now 11, and a fantastic artist, a burgeoning actress, a poet, and an imp. It's pretty hard to imagine life without her.
Willa was born in China, adopted and raised in the U.S. by 2 of my closest friends. Their family came instantly to my mind when I heard about the trailer for the upcoming movie, Orphan, about an older adopted child who turns out to be evil and wreaks havoc on her new family. The original trailer featured the unbelievable tagline: "It must be hard to love an adopted child like your own." Really?
For all the Willas who might have sat in a movie theater somewhere, seeing that trailer, I apologize for the folly of adults. I apologize for our tendency to be unthinking and insensitive, to create and recreate an "other" over and over again. Almost by definition, the "other" is an object, not a person, and so anything might be said about them or done to them, and it doesn't count, it doesn't matter. That kind of objectification lies at the heart of cruelty, heartlessness, and so much casual indifference.
Can one just say anything at all about children without it counting? There are millions of children around the globe who are or were once parentless due to circumstances completely beyond their control - do their feelings really not matter? Can one then do anything at all to children without it counting as abusive, or hurtful, or consequential? Really?
Can one say anything at all about families, with our own definition of a "real" family counting as absolute truth, and a different construct of a family being deemed inauthentic or unworthy or lesser? Who gets to decide when and how a child becomes your own? What distant entity owns that right?
My heart aches for the pain caused by the attitudes we so often perpetuate, the assigning of "otherness" we so often engage in to exclude someone. As recipients, we all know when we confront the ignorance of others of who we are, and we all know the temptation to dive into that person's or group's definition of us and cloak ourselves in it, to know ourselves as not belonging, and inferior and left out.
"Don't do it Willa," I keep thinking. "Don't believe that about yourself and your family!" But then, it is quite possible she wouldn't. We should say a prayer.