Thursday, August 27, 2020

Children: The Healing Balm To Us All...

When we have conquered COVID-19--and we will--MAY WE BE EQUALLY 
COMMITTED to freeing the world from the virus of hunger and freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty. May we hope for schools where students are taught, not terrified they will not be shot. And for the gift of personal dignity for every child unmarred by any form of racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice.   --Jeffrey R. Holland

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, "It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem." Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes. Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.  --Fred Rogers

Pictured is my husband here in China, delivering another child to this world. He often says he would do it for free. Although the nights and days can be long, his exhilaration for the birth of a new child has never waned. In fact, he has delivered about 24,000 children to this world--singly, in doubles, triplets, and more. Children are the great gifts we are given in this world. Although they might not necessarily be born to us, we need to step up and make the planet better for not only our own children but children all over the world. 

      There can be no keener revelation of a society’s                 soul than how it treats its children.
            --Nelson Mandela

I have been thinking: What can we as adults do for children who are living in 2020? For many, their small worlds collide daily with violence, racism, injustice, sex predators, and poverty. An invisible virus has changed their play (which is real work to them), school, and the adults' lives they live with. Sometimes the challenges seem too looming and large to tackle. But in small, consistent, and ordinary ways, we adults can change the life of a child and relieve suffering. That response is a true indication of our humanity. Wherever we live, children are there--watching us--to see how we respond when they need us most. 

Here are a few ways I thought of. What are your ideas on how to both teach and learn from the children you know?

1) Teach your child to not hurt others with words, actions, or abuse. Remind them to look out for a child or teenager who is sitting alone. Teach them with your example to be respectful of different faiths, nationalities, socio-economic backgrounds, and those with special needs. My dad always taught us there is great dignity in a person who notices the poor, aged, and those who are suffering. Try to give them experiences that bridge them with people who are different when they are very young. As they get older, they will be self-directed: they have felt the joy of knowing another person who speaks a different language, has a different color of skin or worships differently than they do. 

As a young woman in my early 20's, I worked in refugee camps in Palestine, Thailand, and the Philippines. Every day I felt buoyed up by the sojourn of service. Yet, when I had several small children, I missed that feeling of getting outside my own skin. I decided to do an experiment with my then three children, ages two, four, and five. 

Down the street from my apartment in Los Angeles was an assisted living center. I asked if we could come and visit some of the older people every week, and even if we could be specifically given two older women to visit. My two daughters, then four and five, would dress up every Thursday for the occasion to go to the care center. It just so happened that Josephine, one of the older women, had many teeth missing. At first, this unnerved my four-year-old daughter. But Josephine was not to be put under the rug. She was spry, funny, and spirited, and soon she and my little Annalise had a wonderful relationship. 

Perhaps this situation would not work right now with the virus. However, there are countless creative ways to do with kids to get outside their own circumstances. Some things could be: collecting supplies for homeless shelters, making blankets for an assisted living home, hospital, or ambulance service, baking treats for a neighbor, singing on the front porch to someone, writing some encouragement on someone's sidewalk are just a few I can think of. 

2) Sometimes, if we have forgotten, it is critical to remember how we felt as a child. What were our fears and delights? Running with a kite bouncing in the wind near our side or discovering a new spider web are all memories deep down in all of our memories. As Fred Rogers says and I wholeheartedly agree, "I think it's very important--no matter what you may do professionally--to keep alive some healthy interests."It is important for us to remember some hopefully carefree moments we had as children.-- such as stargazing, fishing, sketching, running through the trees, hiking a mountain until sweat was dripping from our whole body, jumping into a wave, or swimming across a lake. Recalling those experiences that brought joy, exhilaration, curiosity, and love helps us bring similar experiences to others. Tuck magical moments in your adult memory, and try to give it to your child or relative. When we remember the apprehensions and wonder of childhood, we can more easily understand their world. And we create a bond with someone we love. 

3) In these Coronavirus times, figure out what you can do for a child you know. Maybe it is listening to a concert or hearing them read on zoom. Maybe it is encouraging a mother who is juggling the demands of online education and work. That kind of support will definitely funnel to their child/children. Perhaps it is asking to see some of a child's creative outlets--their prized art or sewing project. Giving a child some book recommendations you liked as a child. Or even playing a game online or in-person with a child. If you know a language, you could offer to practice or teach a child another language. These things will not be forgotten--especially at this time.  

My children still remember some Baltimore neighbors who played games and listened to them as they learned to read. There was no pandemic going on, but years later, those memories mean so much to them--that someone else cared besides their parents. 

4) It is important to teach children that we do not live in a perfect world. Dr. Robert Coles (a favorite author) and renowned child psychiatrist said, "We err when we try to create an illusion of a perfect world for ourselves and our children. They are keenly attuned to the darkness as well as the light of life, and they can teach us about living honestly, searchingly, and courageously if we let them." I think children, and for that matter, all of us have learned during these virus times that life can be unpredictable and unfair. And that gives us lessons to learn from and topics to talk about at our dinner tables.

In these times, may we adults, step up to do more for a child in our lives--to encourage them, dry a tear, and support them at this time--and always... We must make a commitment to make this world better for them because sometimes we are the only ones in their lives who will. 

                     One of my favorite sculptures in the whole world. You can see the entire growth of an embryo in Doha, Qatar in front of my husband's old hospital. Blog of Baby Sculptures

                                           A little bit of a global perspective:

                                                       Learning outside--African style

                 At a school in Adasarlapadu, India. They had never seen a foreigner, and I happened to be the                                                                    first one they had ever seen. 😀

                                                Encouraging girls to read in Adasarlapadu, India

                                                          A school in Cape Town, South Africa

     Some of my best memories while living in the Middle East--teaching art to children with special needs. They unfailingly opened my soul every time and taught me how creativity can make us more alive. 

                                               Brazilian children at a school in a favela Rio de Janeiro

                                                             Brazilian children at a school in a favela

Find opportunities to bless the lives of children of this world. Here is Sarah, my daughter, on a trip to Ethiopia to bring online education to children in remote locations. 

                         Opening your world to children with special needs. Since I have a child with autism, the people who have conversed, joked, and made friends with him has meant the world to me. 

Teaching children to have friends who have different backgrounds is so important. One of my favorite sights is to see children gather from various backgrounds, playing, creating, and letting all the walls fall down--if there ever was one. 

And to finish off with Robert Coles again: "I think we chronically underestimate the wisdom that resides in children. I know children who don't know how to read and write, but they know how to use language enough to ask profound questions. Children tell us about the origins of human spirituality because they ask questions about the sky, the earth, what is happening. These are fundamental moral and spiritual questions. Where do we come from? Where are we going?" 

I propose the children in our lives can heal us--bringing us astonishing joy. They can heal us from our petty skepticism, and give us hope when the world looks foreboding and uncertain. Children can make us feel alive again when we forget the magic of clouds and puddles and will show us how to chase a butterfly again. In these times, and in all times, some of the most important moments of our lives will be when we listen to a child. 

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