I reach back and pull my long hair into a ponytail. It’s a typical dry and hot day in New Delhi and my neck is sticky with sweat. An emaciated cow brushes past me and I watch as a street vendor reaches out and feeds it an apple. A bell rings and diverts my attention to the rickshaw coming towards me. I step out of its path and into the crowds of people around the marketplace. I smell incense drifting upwards into the air as I hear shopkeepers yelling out words that I do not understand.
We are anxiously awaiting the ice cream we have been promised. Ice cream is a rare treat here and it’s the closest we have come to American food in over a month. I’m not used to the strong taste of curry that seems to emanate from every dish we have eaten. We’ve had foods that I can’t pronounce and the normalcy of ice cream has us all excited.
I am startled when your dirty brown hand touches my forearm. I look down and see you staring up at me. You can’t be more than six years old. Your tattered clothes, your shoeless feet and your dirty face tell the story of a difficult life. You’ve only been on this earth a short time but I can’t help but wonder what tragedy you’ve already seen. Where are your parents? Did they die? Abandon you? Give you up because they couldn’t afford to care for you? Do you live in the streets? Where do you sleep at night? Have you ever been tucked in? Hugged? Told that someone loves you?
The thought of you living alone in this busy, scary city is heart wrenching. We are told that we shouldn’t give you money, that we shouldn’t give you food. But how do we stand here and eat our fancy cup of ice cream when you haven’t eaten real food in days? Some of us can’t bear it and we hand over our ice cream to you and your friends. Others hold onto their cups but find it difficult to eat when we look out and see your face pressed up against our van window. Our uneaten ice cream ends up in a trash can likely eaten by one of those wandering cows moments later.
You don’t know this, and even I don’t know it yet, but in this short moment you change my life. This one moment, on a crowded dirty street thousands of miles from my comfortable home, is a pivotal point in my life. All my childhood innocence is gone in a matter of minutes as I realize that life is not fair and that people are hurt and broken. All the things I complained about in America suddenly become so trivial.
I wish I could take you home and show you an easier life. A life of clean water and a never ending supply of food. A life where you get to take a bath every day and the only animals you have to share your water with are rubber ducks. A life of bedtime stories and prayers. A childhood spent riding a bike, throwing a baseball and playing tag instead of begging. A life full of hugs and “I love you”s.
It’s been many years since that day in New Delhi but I still remember you. I couldn’t change your world but you changed mine. You gave me a heart for orphans and God used you to call my family to foster care adoption. Lord willing, we will one day be able to give love and hope to an orphaned child. And one day, I’ll tell them about the little boy in India with the big brown eyes and how one moment on a dirty street in India changed both of our lives forever.