At the last orphanage on our last day in the region, my relief at our completed task engendered an unseemly inertia. We’d interviewed the kids on our list and were just killing time before heading to the train station. With our ten Lighthouse charges, we readied for the overnight journey to Moscow, anxious to meet the host families arriving for our inaugural Lighthouse Project trip to Russia. Rain had been falling all day, and darkness now hid its slide into snow. Lounging on the floor in the girls’ living room, my gumption had set with the sun, my journal burgeoned with notes, and I’d long ago reached empathy overload. Katya, fourteen, stood by herself, longing to be noticed and chosen for an interview, but sans the panache to solicit one.
Faith drew her in when I wasn’t even looking. Emerging unwillingly at first from my emotional lethargy, Katya swiftly mesmerized me with her needy profundity. In the orphanage just six months, she lived with her biological mother until the woman vanished two years ago; only recently, Katya, then living with a grandmother, learned she’d died. Now, even her grandmothers don’t visit, since their ages preclude travel to the orphanage. Queried about her dream, she confided, “A family,” in one of her quickest answers; most of the others were occasion for pensive reflection. Katya attended a music school for six years, learning to play the piano. Famous for her last name, meaning “haystack,” she dislikes both the fame and the name. She believes peace and good communication would make the world better, but doesn’t believe in God, adding her mother never told her He existed.
Counter intuitively, most orphans report they like their orphanages, though I consider this more an indictment of their previous circumstances than an endorsement of institutional life. Katya, still trying to get adjusted, was emphatic she dislikes the orphanage. “It’s difficult to find the right soul for you,” she lamented, meaning the hardest part of orphanage life is finding a soul mate. Faith encouraged that with patience and persistence, she would find that kindred spirit. Asked about her desire to go to America, Katya shook off her melancholy deportment with a spirited, “Yes, with all my heart!” and demonstrated her suitability for American life by reciting a few words she knew in English. At the end, she motioned she wanted to hug me, following the lead of another girl who had latched on to Elaine. As she squeezed me, I felt the hypocrite in allowing my exhaustion to excuse my apathy.
Pondering our orphanage visits on the ride to the train, I knew I’d found in Katya the child whose outlook could most be improved by having someone take time to really care. While her orphanage was the best appointed of the nine we visited, her ache for a soul mate witnessed that the comforts proudly exhibited there were vain window dressings shrouding barren, hopeless souls.
I can find her a soul who will care. With God’s help, I can, and I must.