Foster kids always have stories. Have you noticed? When I was newly housed with my new family, it became apparent that crying was not an accepted behavior. I don’t think I had been a “cry baby,” even at the tender age of 6. Someone poisoned my puppy when I was about 4. I didn’t cry. Actually I think I was afraid of him. But I digress. My principal caregiver – my mother’s stepmother – got sick and had to be rushed to the hospital. I never saw her alive after that day. I was transplanted to the house of her son. While I knew him because of his frequent visits to his mom, I was not familiar with anyone else in the house. His wife looked at me with suspicion, or maybe it was fear of being saddled with me forever. Her sister, who had two sons, also peered at me, as if my coming could change her living arrangement. I didn’t cry. Even when I learned my grandmother had died. I didn’t cry.
When my sister and a cousin, I think, returned from an unusual trip to the playground – with Miss Arlene – and saw a huge dark wreath on the front door of my house. When we entered our dark house, in the middle of the afternoon, and saw a coffin in the living room with the form of my grandmother who I’d last seen before she’d gone to the hospital a week ago. When I realized she was really dead. I think I realized it. I’m not sure I understood in that moment. I didn’t cry.
So crying hadn’t been my habit. And yet somehow, the new family made it clear there would be no crying. It was said. But it was also modeled. No crying. No hugging. No kissing. No touching. No emotion. At all.
Even on my first Christmas Eve when presents were delivered by family members. Many family members. Many gifts. Some delicious gifts. Homemade coconut cake with three high layers. Homemade pies. To add to the goodie buffet that rested fully stocked throughout the holiday to New Year’s Day. No need for crying. Not until the Cousin came and said she’d left my gift in the car, after honestly declaring, “I forgot about you.” So I ran to the car with her, but there was no gift. And she said she’d bring it the next day. And she forgot. And every time she came, for more than a year, she’d say she’d forgotten. Too much forgetting for a 7-year old. But I didn’t cry.
It seems I learned through much early transplantation that crying was a waste of energy, my energy, that needed to be preserved so I could take reasonably good care of myself. Apparently I wasn’t going to be able to depend on adult people to put my needs first. Apparently I was going to be on my own. I would have to fend for myself. I would have to learn the ropes. I would have to be sure to breach no boundaries, break no rules, betray no emotions…or else. It was quite clear to me.
So I set up my walls. I wrapped myself with my own arms. I blanketed myself with the comfort I needed. I learned to be self sufficient and rely on no one to be “for” me. In the heart and mind of a 7-year old.
But today it’s Christmas Eve! And I’m no longer a 7-year old. And the very thoughts of Christmas make me cry. Almost everything makes me cry. The children who feel like I felt as a little girl. I cry for them, especially those who have hidden their tears away for fear of abandonment. The people who are locked away in government internment camps because they tried to save themselves from the tyranny that exists in their native countries. I cry for them. The people who are being killed for no reason. The people who are killing for no reason. I cry for them. The people with power whose hearts are cold toward those without power. The people who fear people who are different than they. I cry for them.
I also cry with rejoicing that it’s Christmas Eve. I cry with understanding that the Baby born in Bethlehem can still make a tremendous difference in the hearts of all people who will accept him. I cry with knowing that the justice he demands often invades the hearts of people before they even know it. I cry with love because the love with which he loves is infectious, it’s overwhelming, it’s beyond understanding or overcoming…and it’s available to everyone who will receive it. I cry with joy because his love is the great equalizer; it’s the one thing that can make a difference in this world. It’s what our hearts cry out for. It’s what our souls hunger for. Love without measure. Love without limits. Love without boundaries. Multicolored. Multilayered. Love. Love that will disarm. Love that will not harm. Undeniable. Unbelievable. Love. Merry Christmas! I love you! And you too!