She wriggled through the small mob of children around me and wedged herself between my knees and the pew in front of me. I pushed my back against the wood, making room for her to slip by. But she didn’t want to slip by. Instead, she stretched her arms wide and proceeded to dangle from the back of the pew. She wanted her picture taken. So I raised my camera.
I turned the camera around and she grinned at what she saw in its small screen. I snapped another. And another. And another. And then those eyes – pupils swallowed up in dark brown – did something very familiar.
I laughed out loud, the way you do when someone starts a joke you know ends well. You’ve heard it a hundred times but it never gets old.
I know a girl like this one. Three years-old. No pupils. A poser and expert eye crosser.
The girl I know is back home tonight. She probably wooed her way to a plate of macaroni and cheese sometime today. She probably spent the day playing dolls with my wife and riding her scooter down the driveway with her big brother. She’s saying her bedtime prayers about now.
I thought of her as this little girl hung from the pew and then, finally, let go and climbed confidently into my lap to run her palms over my whiskers. She smooshed my skin and marveled at how it turned white under her thumb and then slowly returned to it’s normal pinkish color when she let up. So expressive. So much awe generated by the visit of a pale stranger with a camera and a long lap.
Why don’t I pay better attention when the Dora the Explorer DVDs are playing in my house? If only I knew more Spanish than what I need to find a toilet. I knew she wouldn’t understand a word, but I talked anyway. I told her the things I tell my kids. You’re such a smart girl. You are so beautiful. I love you, you know it?
Today’s project director told us most of the sponsored children there don’t receive letters from their sponsors. That means hundreds of children – part of that ”the world” God loves so much – aren’t being told they are smart and beautiful and loved as often as they could be.
If only those sponsors could have sat in my pew today. If they could feel those tiny fingers dancing across their skin. If they could hear the giggles and tickle the ribs. If the children Compassion International serves could become as real and valuable as our own, well, every child would be sponsored and every sponsor would write to them the words they shower their own children with every day. You are such a smart girl. You are so beautiful. I love you, you know it?