I believe in the ingredients of love, the elements from which it is made. I believe in love's humble, practical components and their combined power.
We adopted Luke four years ago. The people from the orphanage dropped him off at our hotel room without even saying goodbye. He was nearly six years old, only twenty-eight pounds, and his face was crisscrossed with scars. Clearly, he was terrified. “What are his favorite things?” I yelled. “Noodles,” they replied as the elevator door shut.
Luke kicked and screamed. I stood between him and the door to keep him from bolting. His cries were anguished, animal-like. He had never seen a mirror and tried to escape by running through one. I wound my arms around him so he could not hit or kick. After an hour and a half he finally fell asleep, exhausted. I called room service. They delivered every noodle dish on the menu. Luke woke up, looked at me, and started sobbing again. I handed him chopsticks and pointed at the food. He stopped crying and started to eat. He ate until I was sure he would be sick.
That night we went for a walk. Delighted at the moon, he pantomimed, “What is it?” I said, “The moon, it's the moon.” He reached up and tried to touch it. He cried again when I tried to give him a bath until I started to play with the water. By the end of his bath the room was soaked and he was giggling. I lotioned him up, powdered him down, and clothed him in soft PJs. We read the book One Yellow Lion. He loved looking at the colorful pictures and turning the pages. By the end of the night he was saying, “one yellow lion.”
The next day we met orphanage officials to do paperwork. Luke was on my lap as they filed into the room. He looked at them and wrapped my arms tightly around his waist.
He was a sad, shy boy for a long time after those first days. He cried easily and withdrew at the slightest provocation. He hid food in his pillowcase and foraged in garbage cans. I wondered then if he would ever get over the wounds of neglect that the orphanage had beaten into him.
It has been four years. Luke is a smart, funny, happy fourth-grader. He is loaded with charm and is a natural athlete. His teachers say he is well-behaved and works very hard. Our neighbor says she has never seen a happier kid.
When I think back, I am amazed at what transformed this abused, terrified little creature. It was not therapy, counselors, or medications. It did not cost money or require connections or great privilege. It was love: just simple, plain, easy to give. Love is primal. It is comprised of compassion, care, security, and a leap of faith. I believe in the power of love to transform. I believe in the power of love to heal.