When I was a kid my brother used to upset me by telling me I was adopted. I’m not sure why this made me cry, but it did. The only retort I could come up with was something to the effect of “Yeah, well, so are you!” Brilliant. But adoption has always lingered in the back of my mind. I love stories and movies or books about children who had no families, but were plucked from the orphanage or foster care system to live with a new family. I love the idea that children who thought no one wanted them are taken in by people who love them unconditionally. Children without love are suddenly surrounded by it.
Today I found a link on a blog to one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read. The story is from the St. Petersburg Times and tells the story of Danielle Crockett, a feral child. When I hear the words “feral child” I usually imagine a boy who is raised by wolves or the cartoon character Tarzan—but I never imagine a seven-year-old girl who lives in a city, in a house surrounded by neighbors and with three adults in the same house.
The story is told in three parts, beginning with the discovery of Danielle in a house crawling with roaches and with walls stained yellow by cigarette smoke. Police officers find the girl in a room wearing nothing but an overflowing diaper, lying on a torn mattress in a room filled with diapers. The mother yells at the officer, not understanding why Danielle is being taken away. The second part of the story explains how Danielle is adopted by the Lierow family. After living in a group home for more than a year, she is adopted by a family who has a nine-year-old boy—a family who felt complete, save for their desire to adopt a daughter. The third part of the story is an interview with Danielle’s biological mother. She attempts to explain how she could possibly allow such horrible things to happen to her own daughter. She seems clueless to the magnitude of her selfishness. How can a mother neglect her child to the point that the girl is unable to talk? Feed herself? Make eye contact? Walk in a straight line?
As I read this story, I was overwhelmed with thoughts and questions. I was reminded of the man in Austria who had kept his daughter in a dungeon for 20 years and fathered children with her—all while his wife and other children lived on the other side of the soundproof walls.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I don’t know who said that originally, but we usually picture people like Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin when it’s said. But what about people who have absolute power over just one small area of the world? Like their home or their office or the life of their child? It’s unthinkable to me that such a person exists that they would give birth to a beautiful little girl and then neglects her to the point that she is unable to function. It’s unthinkable to me that someone like the man in Austria can deceive family and friends for 20 years and seem perfectly normal—until the devil within is revealed. But each of these persons exerted absolute power over their victim. They had the choice to love and nurture or neglect and torture. They chose the latter.
Sufjan Stevens has a song on his Illinois album about the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Jr. Gacy would lure and kidnap teenage boys and do unspeakable things to them before killing them and burying them under his house. The song gives some minor details about the story and the melody is haunting (I admit—I often skip over the song when I’m riding in the car alone at night). What is more haunting is the line Stevens repeats in the chorus: And in my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards, for the secrets I have hid.
Each one of us has the capacity to do evil things. We’re all sinful and fallen and selfish. We have the capacity to exert absolute power over someone else or something else and we do this as an attempt to fulfill our selfish desires. And at the same time, each one of us is an orphan or a child in the foster care system—waiting to be saved. A few months ago Steven Curtis Chapman’s adopted daughter was accidentally hit and killed by an SUV being driven by their son. He’s being interviewed on Larry King Live tonight and they just published an article he wrote about his daughter’s adoption. One paragraph in particular reminded me of the story of Danielle and the way her story had affected me:
“…what I had not yet grasped was that adoption is a physical picture of what Jesus has done for me. I did nothing to deserve God's love; in fact, I was living as an orphan, without hope. Yet God chose to pursue a relationship with me, and through the death of his son Jesus, I was adopted into God's family.”
Each one of us is an orphan and at the same time, each one of us is capable of the evil we turn our eyes from when it comes on the local news. Reading the story of Danielle Crockett not only deepened my desire to adopt the lost children in the world—children who just need a home and a family—but reminded me of the fallen world we live in and the world we’ve created.
Go, read the story of The Girl in the Window.