I had this overwhelming 48-hour interval recently in Washington, D.C., beginning a few blocks down from the impeachment-inquiry hearings, at the Heritage Foundation, with a congressman (Robert Aderholt), talking about adoption. I feel as if it might be the opposite of what one might expect from time spent there. We tend to be cynical about the place and the ability to get anything done there or even simply to be human to one another. Juan, who gave me a hug while he was waiting for the homeless shelter, flies in the face of that and so did, even, Ivanka Trump.
I met Juan on Pennsylvania Avenue as I was about to encounter Mrs. Beaver, who was profiled in the documentary Foster, which aired on HBO. She has taken some 1,000 children into her home in her three decades as a foster mother. Her adult daughter was beside her, who helps make that possible. Even that night she was running from the National Council for Adoption annual hall-of-fame event to the yearly Angels in Adoption dinner sponsored by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI).
At the latter, the eight-year-old adorable no-wall-flower adopted daughter of a congressman from Oklahoma talked me into making a monthly donation to CCAI. The lighted balloon she was sure I would give to her may have played into her conviction that surely I could spare five dollars a month for the cause of helping children who need homes. The smile on her face resembled the sweet smile on the face of Juan, whom I had met a few hours earlier. He told me he was just temporarily “down on [his] luck.” But by the grace of God there go I, go any of us.
My time in D.C. began with an adoption celebration at the Department of Health and Human Services highlighting the plight of teenagers who need homes. One described going from foster home to foster home, just waiting for the moment when the rug would be pulled out and there would be another move. Adoption changed everything. Adoption can change everything even for a teenager who looks angry because she is. Wouldn’t you be, bounced from home to home? That’s the amazing thing about some of these young people: They are beaming with joy and gratitude, to have found a home for life, a “forever family,” even late in their teen years. Never being loved in that kind of secure, permanent way — as permanent as anything ever is in this world — can very easily lead to poverty, crime, addiction, homelessness, suicide, as you might expect.
Maybe it was family far away or once in his life who made it possible for Juan to be loving and gracious and hopeful in his current circumstances. He just wanted a little food, and he could keep going. He had a plan for that night; he was planning one day (or every few hours) at a time. And with a smile. Even in the cold city. He knew he couldn’t sleep on the streets in the cold temperatures — though I saw many who were. He had a sense of the dignity of his life, the dignity of every life about him. That’s more than we often have in some of our public-policy debates.
And so about Ivanka: She came to Google’s D.C. headquarters, which was hosting a conversation on paid family leave I was hosting with my friend and colleague Ramesh Ponnuru for the National Review Institute. The family is our national resource. We simply have to do everything we can to help families flourish. And for us as pro-life advocates, as Ramesh and I both have been our entire careers and maybe lives, this absolutely has to be a priority. This was the second time I’ve heard Ivanka Trump talk about this issue, and she always emphasizes two things: that motherhood is the primary determinant for bankruptcy, and that it never should be. She also points out that women tend to be unpaid caregivers — not exclusively but primarily. She’s talking about elderly parents and sick relatives. We need to be more sensitive to people who are living their love of their families in trying, sacrificial ways. This world can be brutal, and we need to be more tender. And, goodness, our politics! Here, even with the name Trump, she is able to lead in an area where there should be tremendous common ground. Ramesh has been writing and talking about family tax relief and paid family leave for something like two decades. Ivanka Trump has brought a whole new level of attention to the issue, and I am grateful!
What more can we do to help make life better for someone? What more can we do to make politics less of a spectator sport, and the kind of thing that we look at and that leads us to appreciate that there is a deep level of civil-society involvement we are being invited into every time we hear people arguing about something? Maybe it is volunteering in the homeless shelter where Juan was going, or a church ministry feeding the hungry, or visiting the sick, or doing something to help the foster and adoptive families in your community. Do you even know who they are? At the Angels in Adoption dinner, I was sitting with a family that has one biological child, two adopted children, and one foster baby. The foster baby came as they were unexpectedly taking the helm, co-pastoring their church this summer, and already they are working to change the culture there. May we all work to change the culture even in our daily lives.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.