Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Discard is a word that I don’t often use. I throw things away. I toss things out. Occasionally, I say I dispose of something. But the only time I remember using the word discard was when I would play cards with my parents and discard those suites or numbers or face cards that were of no value to my hand.

So what language do we use when the thing that we are getting rid of – the thing that has no value to us – is a child? Do we throw that child away? Do we toss that child out? Do we dispose of that child?

In South Africa, that abandoned child is said to be discarded. It sounds awful, discarding a child like an unwanted playing card, and it is. But there are worse things. There are worse things in South Africa. There are worse things in America. There are worse things in my family.

I have a cousin whose parents divorced when she was very young. No doubt divorced because her father was beating her mother. I suspect my aunt ended her marriage to protect her children. But when my aunt developed a terminal illness and died shortly after her divorce, neither she, nor my family, nor the legal system could protect my cousin and her little sister. My cousins were returned to the custody of their father who abused them horribly for years until the courts could no longer ignore the physical signs of abuse, and they were eventually permanently removed from their father’s home.

That was 40 years ago, but the anguish still exists for my cousin. At this point, it probably will never ease. One thing she does, however, to occupy her time – and probably to occupy her thoughts – is to make fleece blankets for children who are abused, sick, or orphaned. She makes these oh-so-warm blankets for us to bring to foster homes and orphanages in South Africa.

We delivered some of these blankets to Nancy’s Place – a small house in the townships where a woman named Nancy has taken in 14 children with severe mental and physical disabilities. Some of these children may have been discarded by their mothers and fathers, but as long as Nancy has the funds to buy food and nappies, they will be looked after.

Although none of the children can communicate with words, an eight-year-old girl in Nancy’s care burst out with sounds of glee when the soft fleece of the blanket was rubbed against her face. I wish my cousin could have been with us to see and hear for herself, the excitement that erupted from that child when she was presented with a blanket. The joy of a discarded South African child would have gone a long way towards healing the pain of a middle-aged American woman who was hurt long ago by her father.

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