This is another post from an older blog I kept as Summer and I prepared to adopt our daughter, Sophie. (Originally published Sept., 5 2006)
In the Simpsons episode “When Flanders Failed.” Lisa accuses Homer of feeling schadenfreude when Homer gloats about Ned Flanders being on the verge of bankruptcy. Lisa asks Homer, “Dad, do you know what Schadenfreude is?”, to which Homer replies in a sarcastic tone, “No, I do not know what Schadenfreude is. Please tell me because I’m dying to know.” Lisa then explains “It’s a German term for shameful joy, taking pleasure in the suffering of others.” Homer responds with “Oh, come on, Lisa. I’m just glad to see him fall flat on his butt! He’s usually all happy and comfortable, and surrounded by loved ones, and it makes me feel…what’s the opposite of that shameful joy thing of yours?” “Sour grapes.” “Boy, those Germans have a word for everything.”
Sorry, I need the humor. It allows me to enter a time of confession. I have thought long and hard as to who could be my confessor…a blog is easier because it doesn’t ask questions back. (I am also not worried about too many people responding to this post, thus my confessor is little more than my own echo…not ultimately what I desire, but the only voice I can stand on this matter at this time. Still, if you have a response, my ears know they need to hear it!) I confess that I have come to the realization or at least the concern that I might be guilty of schadenfreude, taking pleasure in other people’s misfortune. My joy over Sophie stands as a dialectic (thank you Mr. Hegel). I wrestle with the fact that over the last few weeks I have enjoyed the greatest pleasure I have ever experienced in my life while pushing to the fringes of my conscience the reality that my joy is the result of one woman’s loss…one woman’s situation in life…a country’s social/economic environment (noting that that situation is in some part the result of American involvement…before I was even born). In short, I have a child because someone else doesn’t or can’t.
We know very little about the circumstances of Sophie’s birth and subsequent arrival at the orphanage. We may never know these circumstances. Of course I could imagine that we are the lucky parents who just happen to come across a baby floating in the bullrushes. Still, the reality might be far from idyllic.
For every story that ends “and they lived happily ever after,” another person’s story moves from fairy tale to nightmare. In the dialectic, I now want synthesis. I want to be able to exist with the great joy over “my Sophie,” while holding within me, always, the fact that she was once, “someone else’s Sophie.” Simply put, how does one pray in one voice with great joy and great sorrow, sacrificing neither…keeping both in tension. (See this is why I need to voice this confession…if you can call it that…to a proper confessor and not a blog).
My mind wanders and wonders, is all joy just the opposite side of some cosmic coin…the shadow side being pain? I worry am I still ethical…is it better to take an orphan or work to resolve the circumstances that, well, give birth to orphans? (Off the top of my head this is probably a false question…the answer lies in not answering either, but seeking the middle.