Some children amaze me with their generosity and sacrifice.
They can remind adults of what we once were.
The first is a young girl who brought her even younger brother to a clinic in South Asia. A team of Western surgeons travels through remote areas to operate on children with the fairly common condition of “harelip” or cleft palate. It is so grotesque that a child who does not have the surgery will live a difficult life of being shunned as ugly. Nurses from the surgical team describe their work on “infomercials” this time of year to raise support for this surgery that is simple but life-changing.
In a culture where this girl wears a veil with a scarf across her mouth, this youngster asked if this was the correct place to bring her brother for surgery. The nurse replied “Yes.” But detecting the girl’s lisp, the nurse slipped the girl’s scarf to the side. “And what about you, too?” The girl also had a disfiguring harelip. She had done her duty delivering her little brother, and would have been willing to live her life unmarried and shunned, if the nurse had not detected it.
A second story of sacrifice was a case of a girl who needs a bone marrow transplant. Physicians explain to her little brother, who is a good match, that she cannot live without healthy blood. That requires new bone marrow. Would he be willing to donate his? With only a moment’s thought, he agrees. Over the days, he is glad to see his sister’s health improve. But he then startles the doctor with: “How long do I have, to live?” The little boy had assumed that giving the bone marrow transplant to his sister meant that he would then die. That was his understanding. And he had agreed!
This second story, passed through the biology community, appears to be a mix of several cases and something of an urban legend. Nevertheless, we see so many instances of young children who, when they see great need, share what little they have. This story may not be accurate in details, but it contains the truth that children are usually more willing to share what little they have. As adults, we usually have so much more. And research shows that the older we are, the less willing we share.
The third story I know personally. Jack was in my fifth grade. He was bigger because he had repeated several grades. He did not have lunch money. So several of us shared our lunch with him when the teacher on lunch duty wasn’t looking. He didn’t attend school regularly. And I knew he was hungry on weekends. His Dad was in bed with tuberculosis. His Mom cared for his Dad, and did some housekeeping for folks—but there wasn’t much work.
I remember asking my Mom if we could help them. We were poor too, but we never went hungry. I remember Mom looking into my eyes. Acknowledging her terribly empathetic son, said she would see what she could do. Days later, she went with Jack’s Mom to the grocery store to be sure that they got the most food for the little money she could give. There was no happy ending. Jack’s Dad died the next year. Jack stopped coming to school. Their little house was soon abandoned. The important memory is that you do what you can at the time. Such sharing seems to be easier when we are children.
As teachers, we often see our task as educating children in the ways of a harsh world. We help them “grow up” and put aside “childish” ways. At commencements we celebrate the beginning of adult responsibilities and burdens, as if all of childhood is to be left behind. But there are “childlike” things that I hope we do not “educate” out of our children.
Today, local food banks are running out of supplies.
Patients in need of transplants far exceed the supply from donors.
If children were in charge, we could solve these problems.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.