What is Family?

Lleva, lleva la mora, cincuenta centavos!

Lleva, lleva la mora, cincuenta centavos!” 
She was clapping to the rhythm of her chant, calling to the crowd to buy her berries, which were only .50 a pail. I stood for a few minutes watching the little girl, who looked to be about five or six years old.

My husband and I had the opportunity to spend some time in Ecuador in 2003, visiting my parents, who had taken on the responsibilities of a guest house for a time. The year and a half leading up to our trip, my life had been filled with a series of life-changing events. I had gotten married, we had bought a house, I had finished post-secondary school, found a job, and now I found myself back in South America, absorbing the sights and smells that were all too familiar to me. Of the activities that filled our busy two weeks, one of them included a trip to the outdoor marketplace of Otavalo. It was there that I saw the little seller of berries; in a marketplace that is said to pre-date even the Inca Empire and is the best known Indian market in South America.   

Back home, images of that little girl came to mind at different times. At such a young age, already her life story had centuries of history attached to it. Was she aware of her rich heritage? Would she someday speak of her people with pride?  Or would unforeseen circumstances change everything that was familiar? I wondered. A story was told to me of another little girl, one who shared a similar Latin-American heritage, but by three years old, this little girl’s life was dramatically changed. 

A shelter had been made available to parents who needed temporary care for their children while they themselves were being treated in hospital. For some of those children, their parents did not return for them. A little girl and her baby brother, left at the shelter by their parents, were among those who had been abandoned. Workers at the shelter speculated that the mother might have contracted TB and left the children for others to care for, too sick to care for them herself. Perhaps, as a result of her illness, she had died. And perhaps their father could not manage two small children and he saw the chance for them to have a better life. No one really knew. And then … the little girl and her baby brother were adopted – by a couple who gave them a new name, a new home, a new language, a new country, and a new heritage.  The little girl’s life was changed forever. When she grew into adulthood, which heritage would she speak of with pride – the one left behind or the one given to her through adoption?  Perhaps both.

While this little girl’s life had unexpectedly taken a different path, she and the little girl in the Otavalo market shared the thing that ties people together – the love of a family.

If home is really where the heart is, then home must be a place we all share. For even with our differences our hearts are much the same, and where love is we come together there.  Wherever there is laughter ringing, someone smiling, someone dreaming, we can live together there, love will be our home.  Wherever there are children singing, where a tender heart is beating, we can live together there, love will be our home.        Stephen Curtis Chapman

Submitted anonymously