Generally, grown men shouldn’t cry in public. Particularly not in Tim Hortons on a Friday night. But here I am, holding back tears with my laptop open and my coffee cooling. Five minutes ago I was typing away happily, and now, here I am, writing this.
What triggered the tears? It isn’t the quality of Tim’s coffee—I’m not really that sophisticated when it comes to coffee. It could be that I’m alone in a cheap coffee shop on a Friday night— sad, pathetic even, but not the reason why. Another possibility could be the over-bearing rose-scented perfume of the elderly woman next to me. The cloud of the sickly, rich scent is almost visible and it immediately fills my sinuses. But that’s not it. No, none of those reasonable guesses comes close.
Instead, it is a family, a travelling family ordering a bagel before returning to the road.
Granted, this happens a lot. Bagels are quite popular, after all. But in this particular instance it is the family that intrigues me, not the baked, doughy goodness.
The father is taller than me, balding, present for his family and patient. The mother is graying where she tucks the arms of her glasses behind her ears, intent on her motherly role. Neither of them has any particular fashion sense or obvious charisma or stunning good looks. They are a fine family, a committed, generous, white, middle class, Canadian couple. The father even drops some coins in the charity box at the counter before buttering the bagel for his son.
It is not the couple that draws me in, precisely, but the little one in his mother’s arms. His miniature brown hand rests on her pale white neck. He peaks over his mom’s shoulder at me, petite features and curious brown eyes and tight, black curls. It is the boy, and the boy within his family, that brings me to tears.
Really, of course, it isn’t them, this holy pilgrim family on their way back from wherever they’ve been on this cold, winter evening. It is me, my family, and my desire to see little brown eyes peek at me over my wife’s shoulders. It is not this holy family’s warmth that moves me to tears: it is my family’s want.
The endless waiting
It seemed a sure enough decision at the time. We wanted a bigger family, a little brother or sister for our wonderful little boy—he was still little back then. After months of praying and talking and angling ourselves financially, we took the plunge and began the process of international adoption, hoping to adopt from Ethiopia. We signed up with a recommended adoption firm and began the process of selling a business, contacting a bank, vacating our apartment, buying a home, expanding our insurance plan, meeting with a social worker, saving change and raising funds. That fall we ran from the bank to the real estate agent’s office to work to the telephone and back to our living room to do our best to appear like a loving, stable family for the social worker. Over four months, we set down more than $15,000 toward seeing a little brown hand on the back of my wife’s neck.
The new house turned out to be a blessing, for while we began the season of interminable waiting, the house desperately needed our time. Cleaning, fixing, painting, renovating—our nonworking, non-eating, and non-playing hours were spent preparing a home for a child who was not yet even born. We waited, and pretended not to wait, trying not to obsessively check our email for updates or hints of good news. We put our hand to the plow trying not to think of the fall harvest. After all, we were told it wouldn’t be long—a year, or maybe a year and a half—and a little one would be in our arms.
Then that fated visit in July, less than a year after we began. Our good friends, also adopting, visited us where we were staying for the summer. Our adoption company, so well-organized and so highly recommended—the company that had brought dozens of families together with long-desired little ones from overseas—had gone bankrupt. The president mismanaged funds. Our money was gone.
I say money, but I mean time. Each of those dollars that the president used for reasons other than helping me hold a little brown hand were more than dollars to me. Those dollars were my time away from my family, away from my son, and away from my craft. And those dollars were now separating me from the little one who wasn’t even born, yet was still mine, a vision within my mind’s eye of brown eyes and tight black curls.
When they shared the news of the adoption firm’s demise, my wife burst into tears, but I sprang into action—what else could I do?
I organized petitions and wrote letters and called political leaders. I spent my time trying to recreate what was definitively uncreated by the visions of grandeur—or the moments of greed— of the organization’s leader. I couldn’t not do something, so I fought.
The fighting—not just mine, but the collective appeal of hundreds of parents—worked, and the company was recreated. We decided to give it another try. So, more money, more letters, more paperwork, and more time—and then, maybe, perhaps, hopefully, it will happen. The dream reignited in our hearts and we began again, taking our place upon a list of parents.
Imagination and hope
Now I am #141, and only a couple of dozen kids have been adopted since it re-began—few of them in the age group we chose. So we wait. And we check email obsessively looking for updates. And then we wait. It is now coming on two years since we began, a year and a half since the company thought it could restart, and a year since referrals began again. And nothing is happening. Or, it is happening very slowly. Here I sit in a Tim Hortons with my laptop open on a Friday night, sitting on the edge of an eternity of going nowhere.
And then the little brown eyes peek at me over the mother’s shoulders. I peek back at this little Ethiopian boy. I wipe the tear from my eye, and smile at him. He reaches his hand out to me. He asks his mom who I am, the strange man in a blue shirt with white ear phones typing away at his aging laptop. “I don’t know,” she says. She doesn’t think she knows me, but I know her. Though she is a complete stranger and lives in a place far away, I know her. She has gone ahead of us, but we both share in the fellowship of those who wait.
I have often wondered in this last year whether it is worth the wait. Does my son need a brother or sister? Do we need another little one to be happy? Does Ethiopia, with its millions of orphans and personal resources beyond count, really need us to help? And, most of all, will this ever really happen? Will I ever see tiny brown fingers playing with my wife’s hair?
I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. I don’t even know if I can make it, if I can survive—not some great battle or trial, but the mind-numbing, soul-destroying liturgy of days and months and years of those who wait. While the world around me struggles to survive real life things, I fight to live through nothingness, through imagination and hope.
The family is gone now. The Tim’s is filling with customers, people who come here because they don’t want to be alone on a Friday night. I’ll now surrender my seat to a real coffee drinker, just as soon as I check I check my email one more time.
No new messages.
Brenton Dickieson is a sessional instructor at Regent College, Nova Scotia. He is a part-time youth pastor and church minister and a freelance speaker and teacher.