You may have seen this, rolling around the web the last 48 hours. A five year old girl who lost her family in a fire and herself suffered severe burns and disfigurement is asking the world to send her cards for the Holiday. You may have clicked the link, you may have read the story, you may have viewed her pictures and, like us, you were probably moved. Now the question: did you write her a card?
I saw this yesterday, like many, and when I got home I brought it to Gina's attention. I'm big on the girls understanding - to a degree - the less fortunate in the world around them. This expression often lends itself to the poor or the hungry, but fortune is just as much the blessing that tragedy has not struck you personally. But explaining this. ... it's hard to play down for 6 years old and 4 year olds.
Arianna: "What are you talking about?"
Me: "A little girl who is sick; we're going to write her some Christmas cards tomorrow to make her feel better."
Genevieve: "How is she sick?"
Me: "She got burned honey."
Gina: "Sometimes things just happen, we need to remember how lucky we are that they didn't happen to us."
Arianna: "What about her parents? Did they get burned too?"
Me: "Yes, they did."
Arianna: "Are they going to be ok?"
- And this is where you pause. Death is hard to explain to a child. It's often something we skirt or play down. We'll see your goldfish again in heaven; they've gone to a better place; ect, ect, ect. But to talk about a parent dying. ... that's a tough image for them to swallow. -
Me: "Actually, sweetie, the parents were burned really badly and they died. (her face contorts to a whimper) but she's going to live with her Aunt who lovers her very much, just like your Aunts and Theas love you.
- And this is where they ask to see the pictures. Judge me, if you will. I understand those that may. Kids are supposed to be shielded, we save the TV violence for after 9pm, right?! We rate the movies high so they can't get in until their 17. We dumb down the seriousness so the cat that gets blown up in the cartoon gets put back together again so he can return in the next episode. But it's fake. It's not real. It doesn't teach them anything. It doesn't grow their heart and compassion. So we went through the photos; this girl their own age. Her face and body scarred. Her arm amputated below the elbow. And it was real. And they felt. And they understood. And today, when we sit down to write her as many cards as their little fingers can muster, it comes from a place of genuine understanding and compassion. This won't be an exercise in "cutesy, holiday" revelry. This will be a human experience, of three little girls reaching out to another little girl who has suffered. This will be three little hearts, bleeding in support of another child that they desperately want to help. We talked, a while past bed time, about how doctors can help her to get better. That they can ease her pain and help some of the scarring. How they can make "robot" arms so she can do some of the same things as them. We watched videos of Oscar Pistorius running (we skirted his current activities) so they could see that she won't have to be limited by her amputation. But, we explained, it's up to us and people like us to fix her heart. Doctors can make our owies better, but it would take love from other people (even strangers like us) to help her sadness.
It was heavy. They cried a bit. They gestated on it all. But as a father who's raising children to be caring adults, it was a growing moment. And I'm proud of that. I'm proud of them. When kids cry over toys or sweets or not having enough of the excess, it makes me nauseous. To see my children cry because they felt for another, a stranger, someone they had never - and would never - meet. ... I couldn't be prouder of the people they'll become. Hearts that big don't shrink, and it's my purpose to make certain of that.