sitting on the couch, silent, snuggled between two of his friends. His knees
are drawn up as if pulling himself deep into the cushions and he’s just
watching the other children as they welcome us to their home in broken English.
“Ello,” they say, then giggle.
Laughter rings throughout the small orphanage, then, because I am so very, very bad at Spanish and my thick tongue gets in the way every time but I’ve learned this time and again: words can fail us when we need them the most but kindness never fails.
“Buenos dias, me llamo Marty.”
The little boy with his knees drawn up isn’t laughing with the others. “Can you tell him I like how he combed his hair?” I reach, then, toward his perfectly spiked, shiny hair and tousle it. He whimpers and withdraws, brow furrowed, knees drawn deeper still into his chest, fading away.
“This is the way the world ends,” I think, “not with a bang but a whimper.” (T.S. Elliot)
“Perdon. I’m sorry,” I tell him.
“Some of these children were… how do you say it in English… abused by their fathers,” the translator explains.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him again and I think about the many times he must have heard “sorry”, how his father must have felt guilty and promised him his love only to ruin it all, again and again, this boy’s little world shattered on the cold floor.
How do you piece together a child’s broken heart?
“Some of these children, the familia do drugs. Alcohol too sometimes.”
We’re walking through the orphanage and children spill from the rooms, watching, smiling, waving. It looks like each one of them must have spent an hour in front of the mirror because they are dressed in crisp, clean shirts, scrubbed, neon Crocs, and colorful shorts.
“They have been waiting all year for you to come,” one of the mothers tells us.
the curious eyes of the broken boy, peaking from behind a dirty wall. I wave
slowly, smile, turn away.
How do you piece together a child’s shattered life?
I think, then, about a Man who walked this broken earth, one of the best humanitarians this world has ever known and I think about how He would sit, overloaded with children squirming on every knee and still, Him opening his arms for more. I wonder if His eyes pooled with tears when he marveled at the beauty of a child’s, tender heart and I wonder if He wept when he thought about the pain they might have endured. I wonder about all this and then I hear the words He whispered next: Let the little children come unto me.
This is how you heal a broken heart. This opening up your arms, time and again, letting the broken world come to you on their broken terms and realizing that you’re all in this together: just one broken mess and it’s when the shattered pieces of all your brokenness come together that the world is made strong.
This is how you fix a shattered life. The world is made stronger when kindness prevails, when hearts heal, when connection with others is placed above all else.
The world is made stronger when you buy a cup of coffee for the person behind you at Starbucks. When you remind a stranger at the gas station that motherhood gets easier and she’s doing a great job. When you ask a coworker how they’re doing, no, how they’re really doing.
When you simply open your arms to an abused child and let them come to you.
Listen slowly, friends… can you hear it? Can you hear that tiny laughter of the child whose forgotten how? Can you hear the carefree chatter of children clambering in play? Can you hear the shrieks of laughter as children cannonball into a pool?
It’s the sound of our hearts healing, bit by broken bit.
That’s the sound of a big world healing.
to leave the orphanage. The boy with the spiked hair sits atop my shoulders. My
Patagonia hat sits askew, flopping on his head. He keeps pushing my wayfarer
sunglasses up on his petite nose.
“Hasta la vista, mi amigo. Hasta la vista.”
I try to lower him down to the ground and he clamps his slender, bug bitten and scraped legs across my chest, across my neck.
It is hard to swallow. Not from the death grip this precious child has on my neck. No, from the death grip he has on my heart.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)
(Photos used with permission)