After spending several summers with inner-city refugee children from the worst parts of the world—North Vietnam, Sudan, Cambodia—I have witnessed the depth of human spirit far more than in any other experience of my entire life. I have seen more love and truth come from these unwanted, unloved children than from any other person I have ever met. I am so humbled and amazed by the real, strong power of children.
I believe that children see things through a viewpoint of absolute truth, judging things for what they really are. Children haven’t learned the corrupt human way of attaching meaning to otherwise meaningless differences. To a white child, a black child simply has a different shade of skin. An African child is no less a child or playmate than an Asian child, or a Hispanic child. An inner-city child is no less a friend than a middle-class suburban child. Children view each other in terms of love, not of race or class distinction. I believe that when the smallest Sudanese boy would quietly slip his hand into mine on the way to swim time, the color of my hand didn’t matter, as long as it was receptive.
I believe in the raw honesty of children. I believe that when a child makes an observation about life, he is absolutely serious and honest about it. I believe that words that are normally deemed “unimportant” and “juvenile” hold more meaning than all of the ramblings of their adult counterparts. I believe that “stupid” questions don’t exist in the world of children. I believe that when a child claims, “Fighting is bad”, it holds as much truth as the law of gravity.
I believe that children know what love looks like—true, strong, honest love. I am constantly amazed that often the least loved instinctively know how to love in a way that most of us will never even know. These refugee children, most of them beaten, cursed, and unloved by those closest to them, drink in simple acts of love like the very breath of life. Embraces and ‘I love you’s become water to quench their undying thirst for love and self-value. In a world where the word “love” is tossed around like an overused handkerchief, here it is truly received, here it truly means something, something deep and intimate and personal. Here, it gives value to the worthless and acceptance to the undesirable. Here, it achieves what it represents.
Every few weeks, I receive a phone call from one of the little boys in my cabin. In broken English, he tells me about what he is learning in school and what he is sharing with his friends. When his time is up and the angry Vietnamese voices can be heard in the background, right before the click I hear him say, “I love you…I miss you.”
And I know he means it with every fiber of his being. Every time.
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