Wednesday, July 26, 2017

August 2017 Bulletin: How Far Can One Reach By Choosing Life?

Lead article from the August 2017 bulletin, online now.

On September 11th, 2001, at three locations in our United States, nineteen human beings chose death, desolation and darkness.  As a result, two towers filled with life crumbled to the ground on a beautiful New York morning, three airliners smashed into iconic landmarks and one plummeted to the earth as a few passengers fought to their last for precious life. Some 2,996 died and 6,000 were injured.  The victims came from every continent on the earth.  Most looked on in horror.  Those who chose death reached out and touched every corner of civilization. 

At the same time in the city of Stavropol, in Stavropol Krai in Russia, not far from where Osama-Bin-Laden received his initial terrorist training by Russian Chechen separatists, a pregnant divorcing mother by the name of Natalia could think of little other than the child growing in her womb.  She had already made the life choice.  At only 21 years of age, she chose life knowing of her impending divorce.  She had made this choice under very stressful circumstances.  She chose life knowing she could never give her infant the life she longed to give it.  She chose life as she climbed up the stairs and walked thru the front door to Maternity Hospital Of Stavropol.  She had been carrying the baby for over 9 months.  Then, a few weeks after the events of 9/11, Natalia gave birth to life.  Her next choice was to give her baby girl a beautiful name.  I could never presume to understand the emotions that tore through her as she made her final heart-wrenching choice the next day and climbed down those same stairs away from the hospital without the precious baby girl she had named Marina.  Little did she know how far her choice would stretch. Little did she know the profound effect her choice would have on two people thousands of miles away.  Two people who had prayed for the gift of life for a very long time.  A married couple who had exhausted their natural birth options.  One Catholic, one a lukewarm believer.

We had been working with an adoption agency in Anoka for about a year and that by means of planes, trains, automobiles, translators, lawyers and Russian judges finally delivered us thousands of miles directly East along the 45th degree latitudinal line to an orphanage in Stavropol, Russia.  The beautiful Caucasus Mountains served as a background in this region of Russia where we were to realize our hopes and prayers. At that point, baby Marina had been there for some 8 months along with dozens of other babies whose mothers chose life.  They all ate at the same time.  They were all given human attention during the day at around the same time.  They were all carried to the potty at the same time.  Many Russian orphanage babies are potty trained before they reach the age of one due to strict orphanage routines.  We were struck by the quiet in the baby room where the cribs were lined up in neat rows filled with quiet babies looking up at a stark white ceiling. 

We later discovered that their cries quickly diminish as they go unanswered, eventually stopping altogether.  Apparently, they stop when they realized no one would respond.  This is due to lack of staffing and nothing to do with neglect by orphanage volunteers who were truly caring and who delivered attention when they could. 

After a quick tour they ushered us into an empty room where we sat for some time finally succumbing to exhaustion after 28 plus hours of travel with little sleep.  We awoke as Andrew, our fun and animated Russian interpreter excitedly burst into the room with a beautiful baby girl named Marina whom he placed in my wife's arms.  For the first time in Marina's life, she felt the warmth of a mothers embrace.  The sound of crying that then filled the room came not from any baby, but from my wife.  When we finally arrived home with Marina some six weeks later, we positioned a recliner next to her crib so she would not be alone on her first night.  For that night and for some months to come, our baby girl would reach out from the crib every hour or so, her little fingers searching in the dark until satisfied she was not alone. 

One year later we found our way back in Russia arriving via railway to a station in Voronezh, Russia to meet another baby girl. She was in a communal play area at the orphanage in a walker chasing and harassing others in her play area.  Her birth name was Anaya; the orphanage staff called her "Annitchka;" we named her Anna.  Her mother and father had been deprived of their parental rights. She had been neglected and was undersized suffering from failure to thrive.  We were told she was likely raised in an abusive environment and that she was not fed much in her first year.  Her five siblings were placed in orphanages all over the Republic of Russia and she would likely never see them again.  Anna had serious burns on the back of her leg that required skin grafts aged only seven months.  We were told that her weak and undersized body failed to produce hormone at the proper rate and she required HGH. To this date she injects hormone from a needle into herself every night before bedtime.

Within a few weeks of arriving home, she acquired the chicken pox and RSV and spent five days at the Monticello Hospital in an oxygen tent.  Anna developed self soothing techniques in the orphanage to cope with the stresses of her early experiences.  She has also been diagnosed with severe dyslexia. Anna has overcome all of this by drawing from her sheer joy for life, optimism and an energy that never fails to astound me.  These character traits have served our family well.

Having related all of this, I must also point out that Anna's mother chose life.  I have no clue the trials that she as a mother and her family went thru. I do know that she chose life in spite of her circumstances.  She too reached thousands of miles to us as a result of her choosing life.  Her decision reached out to me and pointed me in no small way to Christ.  Insomuch as my girls, in a very real sense, are the reason I am now Catholic.  They took me by their little hands and led me to RCIA.  Only then, having become Catholic could I see clearly the path God had chosen for my family.  He calls all fathers and Knights to lead their families to heaven.  My two girls are the strongest people I have ever known, and no one comes close.  They are survivors.  It matters not what happens to them, they just get up, brush it off and move on.  They have no fear.

Gina and I wanted a large family.  He had other plans for us.  How far can one reach by choosing life?  The answer is different for everyone.  For me it is simple.  It reached across oceans.  It stretched the length of a baby's arm as she sought comfort in the night. The choice of life gave me my two girls who every day reach deep into my heart.  As a husband, the choice of  life has given us a more meaningful marriage.  As a Catholic, the choice of life has given me purpose, direction and comfort in Christ.  And as a Knight of Columbus, the choice of life has given me a way to make a direct impact and give back to my community.  As a family, we are subject to life's vagaries and trials as any other family.  Some of the time I forget my role and fall hard.  Most of the time I forget my girls are adopted.  They are all American and ours in every way.  I will however never forget the far reaching effects of the two mothers in Russia who chose life.  Who chose life no matter the raw realities in which they lived.  For this I will be forever grateful.  I pray that they have found peace and comfort in their lives.

God bless.

Gary Frandsen
Grand Knight