I’ve always been one of those people who believed that most things in life happen for a reason. Like the three fates weaving their tapestry, one thread of life seems to lead to another. Even the not-so-great parts of life can lead to better things. A guy I was dating, whom I was not that into, suggested I work at a bookstore where I later met my husband. Another job that I hated years ago nonetheless gave me skills that I was able to use at a better company with smarter co-workers.
When I was in high school Ronald Reagan gave a speech in Britain calling the Soviet Union an evil empire (I’ve looked it up, and he never actually used the phrase, but the speech has been so dubbed ever since). I was never a big fan of Reagan, and it’s hard to imagine paying much attention to politics at 14, but reaction to the speech piqued my interest and led to a lifelong fascination with Russia and the Russian people. Call it a teenage rebellion for the hopelessly bookish. I grew up at the end of the Cold War, Russia was the ultimate other. I had to get there somehow.
Years later, when it came time to consider starting a family, Russia captured my imagination again. There’s a certain amount of fatalism associated with the adoption process anyway. You come to believe that there is a certain child out there for you, like finding a true love. Although we briefly considered other avenues, I pretty much knew our first child was in Russia. It turned out that our second one was as well, but that’s another story. We made that journey of a lifetime four times. And as I suspected, although their approach to life is inevitably colored by decades of totalitarianism and, more than likely, the climate, the Russian people are just people. For the most part they value the same things that we do.
The designs in our life tapestries are woven from the choices we make and the random connections that occur throughout our lives. Although I believe that these children were meant for us, intellectually I know that they just as easily could have been adopted by a family in France, or Canada, or remained in the orphanage system as many children do. A decision made in a court session they weren’t even present for changed the design of their tapestries overnight - within a matter of hours really.
I wish that people in the world, and Americans in particular, were more attentive to these connections, to the cause and effect of human interaction; whether it involves the major decisions of a leadership team or an individual’s choice between two or more paths. I wish that we saw the world more as a human race, rather than a collection of nations and ethnicities, people to be labeled “evil” and “other” and “them.” If children born halfway across the world could become ours, shouldn’t that illuminate the connections we have with all children?
Now to some, this may seem like a naive, or even suspiciously liberal sentiment, but it is pragmatic as well. Although we all have our hands full trying to make our own homes into civilized places, we should not neglect the larger world. Someday our children will step into that world and make connections of their own. How much will they try to understand the people they meet, and the impact of the decisions they make?
Occasionally I have the privilege to speak with students the local high school. I’m often impressed with how poised and articulate they can be, much more than I was at that age. We live in a very small town, and it would be very easy to avoid looking beyond the island. I’m encouraged that these teens are eager to engage with the world in positive ways.
Not to wish the intervening years away by any means, but I hope my sons will develop that enthusiasm for the world beyond our borders. And I hope they send me postcards.
Since writing this I've since learned that there was a separate speech, to a group of Evangelicals where Reagan did use the phrase. You can find the text of that here.