McCarthy, journalist and peace educator
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. The most important act of
peacemaking? Your next one. Few of us will ever be called on to do
great things, but all of us can do small things in a great way.