Alex is one of 200,000 children in Romanian orphanages. His story illustrates how the universal language of touch can erase barriers and change lives. Respect, compassion and love are necessities for healthy, individuals, families, and communities.
This is the story of Alex’s remarkable transformation, as well as my own. I first saw Alex through the lens of my video camera. He was lying listlessly in an institutional, metal playpen, staring at the wall, not moving. That first day, Alex was uncomfortable with me holding him and avoided my eyes completely. I fought my need to snuggle him close and kiss him because he was clearly telling me he did not want this. I put him beside me so he could look on his own terms, and touch me if he wanted. As I respected his cues and gently introduced loving touch through holding his hands and resting my hand on his legs, he began to make eye contact and to be more comfortable with me holding him. Initially, his expression was blank and his eyes wary. Over the course of the days, I moved from holding to slow, gentle stroking. Alex responded by holding my gaze and rarely looking away. He began to seek out my hand as I massaged him and to keep his hand on mine during the stroking. His subtle cues became familiar to me. We both began to relax into a daily dance of respectful communication and nurturing touch. I could have gone on forever this way.
As my last day in the orphanage began and powerful emotions threatened to overwhelm me, I reflected on words from Kalena - ‘even a short time of nurturing touch and respectful communication is better than never knowing it at all.’ She had offered this reassurance to me the month (or ‘in the months’) before I went to Romania when I had expressed concern that being there for only two weeks could cause the children more pain. I drew strength from her words in preparation for saying good-bye to Alex. As I approached his crib, he appeared to recognize my voice because he began looking around and verbalizing. This is the picture of him that moment. ****The smile and the grabbing of his feet came upon me- pure joy! My heart soared and I know each moment of our short time together had been valuable to this sweet child.
Upon returning home, I wished over and over that Alex’s orphanage was closer so I could go there whenever I had a chance. Then it dawned on me- there is need here; I don’t need to go to Romania to be of service. There is need everywhere. I began to ask myself. ‘What can I do in my community to serve?’ ‘Where can the passion I have for families and infants be of use?’ Alex is my reminder that a little bit can make a big difference- my reminder to respect people’s needs, to be gentle with others and myself and to look for the small ways to make each day brighter. Infant Massage and Communication has shifted my life in ways more subtle than traveling to Romania and being with Alex. My awareness of my communication with others is heightened and my commitment to be of service to the community deepened. The Foundation for Healthy Family Living is an active embodiment of respectful communication, nurturing touch and personal exploration that is serving to shape people’s lives and strengthen families and communities. The support, guidance and unconditional respect given by Kalena and the AFHFL family influence me daily. Alex’s picture encourages me each day to do what is challenging. ‘Love, compassion, and respect are necessities for a healthy family’- and we must all explore how we can contribute to the health of our world family.