Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Solid Gold

Vasily, Daniil, Vladimir, and Sergei stood in the orphanage office. As alumni of Elaine’s July Missouri trip, all were summoned when Elaine, Faith, and I arrived in late October, bearing gifts for the boys with families. As each boy accepted his present, he received an all-important promise that someone in America remembered him, and was working toward his return to their family. The gifts handed out, Vasily stood there empty-handed. He didn’t have a family, and was mistakenly called. Faith mined in her bag and found a trinket, a sorry afterthought without a family's well-wish. As the other kids beamed, I could not begrudge them their elation, but there was something amiss as Vasily politely smiled alongside, small, alone, with nothing and no one.

It wasn’t meant to be this way. Vasily had a family a few weeks after the Missouri trip, but a child they had been waiting for subsequently became available, and he was selected, rather than Vasily. While it was a reflection on the Russian system rather than on either Vasily or the erstwhile family, reality is no one waits for him, or readies for his return.

I loved Vasily when I met him in July; in this space months ago, I proclaimed him my favorite child on the trip (Rolla, 7/11/09). With his never-say-die spirit, he won my heart the moment we met. Newly arrived in Missouri, I was waiting at the hotel when he and his host mom drove up. I greeted him in Russian, and instead of assuming a condescending air toward my Spartan command of his language, he grinned, assured me he was well, and offered the firmest handshake a ten-year-old could muster.

All the other kids, save one, found families.

After he’d returned to Russia, Elaine and I brainstormed, but were hard-pressed to recall specific anecdotes about him. There was nothing flashy or obnoxious in him, leaving us void of a storyline. But we mutually retained memories of his omnipresent smile, cooperative spirit, unfailing positivity, willing participation, and verve for everything he tried. “How can you argue with solid gold?” Elaine reckoned, when we realized we remembered character traits, not stories.

While our first adoption from Vasily’s orphanage occurred only a year ago, several are now complete, and more pending, from this hamlet far in the region’s southern reaches. Staff there is anxious; too many adoptions on our part spells unemployment on theirs. It happened before in this region; my kids’ old orphanage closed this June. The exodus of children for America rendered the orphanage and its personnel obsolete. That’s success for the Lighthouse Project, though workers who eke out their meager existences on the backs of orphans take a less congratulatory view. Ten days ago, Hope, the Lighthouse Project director, informed me no kids from Vasily’s orphanage would be on our January trip, the result of unrest and ill-ease begotten by our recent spate of adoptions there. I e-mailed Elaine the news, noting only how devastated I was for this boy.

Days later, Hope told me our gem of a Russian coordinator, Love, had appealed the decision, asking if Vasily could travel, one more time. After he’d believed he had a family, it was unfathomable he not get a second chance at a future. Love’s sweetness is irresistible, and her request was honored.

So the final obstacle between Vasily and Moscow is finding his host family.

And how can you argue with solid gold?