Last night I saw Sweet Land, an unpresupposing film capturing the World War I era of rural, agricultural Minnesota. As a native Minnesotan I can attest to the authenticity of the film, from the characterizations of the actors to the connections of land and family. It is worth seeing, however, even if you have no interest in such geo-emotional depth.
I was struck by the opening phrases at the beginning of the film. In the darkened theater I was unable to write the phrases down verbatim, and I have since spent fruitless minutes trying to acquire the exact quotation via the internet, so let me proffer my best paraphrase. [And if you can comment for me with the exact quotation, I would be grateful].
"Let us hope that in this world we all have the benefit of knowing that our existence has been preceded by a romance."
With these opening words the viewer is enveloped in a family legacy. A grandson, now grizzled with the telltale signs of midlife (balding, gray hair and beard surrounding the wrinkle-cornered eyes), is laboring to know what to do following his grandmother's death. There is the opportunity for him to sell the land, with his benefit being two million dollars. And so, in the minutes to follow, the viewer travels through time to survey the history of the land and its inhabitants,Olaf and Inge. It is only as we experience their lives together that viewers begin to understand the words I have paraphrased above.
On my way home from the theater with our second-oldest son, I thought about what I had seen and what I had read in the film's first frames. How many of my children, I wonder, have the benefit of knowing that their existence was, as the film puts it, preceded by a romance? As I mentally ticked off the names and origins of my ten children, I am dubious. Of our ten children, two were orphaned in Guatemala as babies, one born to a woman of the evening and the other to a poor, unmarried young woman who desired a better life for her son. Of our remaining eight children, all lived with birth mothers at the time they were removed from their homes; none lived with birth fathers, although several lived with "father" figures, most of whom were abusive, neglectful, or worse. As I figure it, none of my ten children have the luxury of understanding that their existence in this world was predicated by little more than casual acquiantance or passionate exchange.
And perhaps that is why I have, from the beginning of this adoption odyssey more than a decade ago, sensed deeply within such a strong need to provide something different for these children whom I now call "mine." Although I had nothing to do with their conception, birth or early months or years, I do have something to say about their future. And, the fact is, that even before I knew them so as to love them, there was a Creator who did. That a loving God affirms all of creation and particularly the young progenitors of human life is central to Christian faith. It would be appropriate to say, based on my understanding of this One I call God, that there was a romance of sorts between God and my children even in those early weeks and months of life. That God was loving them and seeking them in spite of the exigencies of life they could not control, denotes a romance even deeper than a human one.
I understand again, of course, that part of my task as a parent of children born not from my loins but from my heart, is to follow them with the kind of romance that they may not have been blessed with in the beginning. To affirm their existence, their value, their potential, their blessedness with my love and affection is not the greatest thing I can do for them. It is the only thing.