Almost two years ago, I was in Arequipa, Peru. I connected with a couple who help run a home for young Peruvians with mental and physical handicaps, most of them severe. I remember my first afternoon visiting the orphanage.
Most of the individuals have severe mental handicaps. Some of them can communicate a little; many of them can’t. We played and sang (oh how they love to sing). There was a volunteer group giving them haircuts. Most of them are so happy, laughing and smiling and hugging and touching without boundaries. All of them were abandoned by their families. Betty, a girl in her 20s, immediately sat on my lap. She was thrown into a fire at three years old and retains the scars from her severe burns. “Maybe they couldn’t take the screaming anymore,” said Dave.
I sat with Mishi, a 22 year old paraplegic, and just held her hand. Her hands, the size of a child’s, gripped me as tight as they could. Sometimes she tried to stir. And sometimes her face convulsed as if she was crying, but without tears, and she made a small noise of what almost sounded like agony, but I couldn’t tell. Every day of her life, she lies on a mat on the floor.
“This is her life,” said Dave.
This is and will be her whole life. There are few resources for therapy. I stared at her eyes that seemed to stare back, but past me, into absolute nothingness. Hers is a look of desolation rather than desperation. What does she see? What does she know? Did she recognize or understand my simple touch? Did she feel my love for her in that brief moment? To some, she could be a poster child for what seems like a worthless existence, a meaningless life. But she is not. She is seen, even if she does not know what she sees. She exists, even if she does not understand her existence. And she is seen and loved, simply because she exists. She can do nothing for herself, or for others. Only receive.
And this is her reality.
If you would like to receive these weekly reflections via email, subscribe to my blog (“Follow Blog via Email” on the right side of the home page). Otherwise, follow me on Instagram (nielsen_mt), or Facebook (facebook.com/negreiner).