David and Daniel have been intrigued by The Jungle Book, just as they have been with The Saggy Baggy Elephant and The Ugly Duckling. The story-line of someone growing up misplaced and trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs has really connected with both of them. These have been more than just stories for them, like they were for our three older children, but more like different versions of their own stories of being lost and found.
We gave David The Jungle Book DVD in Chinese for his 10th birthday last month. As we watched the scene of Bagheera the panther discovering baby Mowgli and bringing him to be raised by a wolf family, my stomach tightened and my eyes filled with tears.
It felt completely different than watching the story of baby Moses, who was also left alone in a basket. Different, simply because we know Moses' background: Pharoah had ordered all Hebrew baby boys killed, and so in order to save his life his mother placed him in a basket, and he was carefully watched by his sister Miriam until he was discovered by Pharoah's daughter. Moses' story of abandonment was a part of God's sovereign plan to save not only Moses' life, but to rescue the entire Hebrew nation from their years of slavery in Egypt.
Because we don't know anything about Mowgli's background, we can only assume that he was left in a basket in the jungle because his parents didn't want him. And I wondered how David and Daniel felt as they watched this scene. Because they both know that they were abandoned when they were infants. They know what it feels like to be unwanted.
How much time passed between when they were left and when they were discovered? How did their parents feel about letting them go? Was anyone watching in the shadows to make sure they were found? What would have happened to them if they weren't discovered? Or what kind of lives would they have had if their parents had decided to keep them? The unknown questions of abandonment.
David came home from school recently and asked as he was taking off his shoes, “Why do Chinese parents abandon their children if there's something wrong with them?” I responded with the first thing that came to my mind, which I realized later didn't actually address the pain underneath his question. “Not all Chinese parents do, and it doesn't happen just in China. There are parents all over the world who abandon their children.” On a different day when he came home from school he asked, “Why was I born with feet like this?” And I simply said, “I don't know why either. But that's the special way that God made you.”
After the scene of Mowgli being found as a baby, the story jumps ahead to his 10th year, when Shere Khan the tiger returned to the wolves' hunting grounds. In order to protect him, Bagheera attempted to lead him to safety in a nearby man village. But Mowgli stubbornly refused to leave his familiar home in the jungle. He didn't see himself as a human because he had lived with animals all his life. He didn't have a concept of danger, and thought he could take care of himself.
My brother Paul joined our family when he was 6 (my sister Windy was 6 then too, and my brother Monty and I were both 7). My Dad had flown to Brazil just before Christmas to get him, and Paul called him “Papa Noel” because there was some definite resemblance. But Paul was also scared of this white man with a big beard and wanted to find the woman who had taken care of him at the orphanage, and so he ran away from my Dad at the airport. He wanted to return to what was familiar.
David let us know with cries of panic and fear that he wanted to go back to the orphanage not long after he joined our family. Because we were not at all familiar to him, and this did not feel like his real home. The orphanage was all he knew.
Mowgli didn't want his life to change either. After he ran away from Bagheera, he followed the elephants for awhile, and then attached himself to Baloo the bear.
Watching his behavior reminded me of both David and Daniel. A few months ago we were eating at a restaurant with our host family from Gaoli village. Daniel was taking longer than he should have to come back from the bathroom, and when I went to check on him I found him in a private room across the hall from ours, standing happily at the back of a woman's chair enjoying this new party that he had found, never thinking that this group of people were all strangers. David has a better sense of who strangers are, but can very quickly attach himself to guests in our home, in a way that reminds me of Mowgli's drifting and seeking to find a sense of belonging. Who is paying attention to me and how can I fit in?
Finally at the end of The Jungle Book, Mowgli made the decision himself to leave the jungle and to enter the man village after he heard a village girl's song. He felt compelled to follow her, and so he found his real home at last.
We hope that David and Daniel will both come to that conclusion for themselves too, as they continue to figure out who they are and where they belong. That God would give them a settled peace and contentment with their somewhat complicated identities and their still relatively new place of belonging. That they would come to accept the unanswered questions of their abandonment with a trust in God's goodness and sovereignty.
From a sibling's and a mother's point of view, I know about adoption. But not as one who has been abandoned. I can only imagine what those feelings and struggles must be like. As our family seeks to answer the questions Where Have I Come From and Where Am I Going? we want to grow in our understanding of David and Daniel's hearts as they process their lost and found stories. Because by God's goodness and sovereignty, their stories are now an integral part of each of our stories.