That was it. That was all he asked. I waited for a conversation to take place, but he started talking to his friends in Khmer. But I stayed fixated on his question.
Yes, I have a mom. No words can describe how much she matters in my life, how I could not imagine a world without her. I feel my mom’s presence always. It’s strange to explain, but my soul feels permanently nurtured. Like no matter where I go in the world, or how old I am, or what I’m going through, permanently loved and accepted in the world. To feel not alone; I think that’s the purpose of moms.
These kids don’t have a mom. I wish they did. I’m not worthy of such a family, I didn’t do anything to earn them. I was just born into my condition and so were they. Maybe God knew that I needed a mom when he made me, that I wouldn’t be able to make it without her.
Living at an orphanage affords you the opportunity to think about moms. To think about family, belonging, rootedness. There is a family here, but it’s not conventional. Everyone brought in is a part of it, even if you’re a privileged White American staying for only 2 months. Their unconditional acceptance of me helps me better understand what grace looks like. It’s easier to understand when you see it rather than read about it. It’s not all roses here. Kids fight, the days can be long, and tensions can rise when people are exhausted. I sometimes need to get out, be alone, escape. But I guess that makes it more real. More like a family.
I’m about to leave. Tomorrow I will step on a plane that will rocket me away from these people; to the other side of the globe where I will live a separate life from them. But this time I leave a different person changed by another family I was blessed to be a part of. A family that played in the rain with me, that held my hand when we walked through the streets. That spoke a foreign language for me when my tongue fell short, and that called my name and laughed during countless games on the courtyard pavement.
My mom cries every time I leave home for a long journey. She’s not an overly emotional woman, she just loves me. I’ve left home several times in the past 5 years; sometimes leaving the state and sometimes the country. I’m a man now, but sometimes I still feel like a child. A few months ago I left my mom again for Cambodia. I walked out of the arms of one family but was soon embraced by the arms of another family. Goodbyes are hard sometimes, but I think that’s a good sign that something is right. It means I’m leaving something I have come to value. It means I know that I’m about to lose a part of me. Some things I will take back with me on that plane. Memories, changed perspectives on the world. But part of me cannot come back; like baggage that exceeds the carry-on weight, Nature won’t allow it. Part of me will have to stay at Palm Tree. That’s the way love works. You give a way of piece of yourself without becoming incomplete.
I gave away a piece of myself and got something much bigger in return. From moms to orphans, best friends in New Braunfels to the sweet old lady across the street in Phnom Penh that makes my coffee every morning. I travel from family to family now, finding life happens wherever I go. I can only hope that life continues in such a way so that when I’m an old man, I’ll have a huge family.
"[Have] minimum possessions,
and live [your life] for the
welfare of all...
The Lord is [your] true home."
- Paramahamsa Upanisad(Easwaran, 291, 292)