I went to my favorite bookstore the other day. This is not a newsflash since I go there once or twice a month. While there, I like to observe the interaction between the children and the adults. There’s something about the interplay between experience and discovery that I find both fascinating and formative.
During this visit, I hit the jackpot. A young woman had charge of four preschoolers, all girls. Two were hers while the others were her sister’s. The woman, I quickly noticed, treated all the same. She showed no favoritism.
The woman entertained the kids in the café at a table near were I was sitting. She seemed to have an endless supply of goodies in her bag — Cheerios, fruits, crackers.
The bag she carried seemed like something out of Mary Poppins. It was more like a bottomless pit than a purse. That was good, as the children’s appetites proved the bag’s match. And woman’s patience matched her children’s appetites. I thought: “This humble woman, who clearly takes much joy in caring for kids, is a saint.”
In the course of an hour or so, she told one of the children at least a dozen times to sit still. I believe she was worried about the child falling off the chair. Each time, as soon as the woman lifted and sat the child back down, the little girl would start fidgeting dangerously close to the edge again.
From her bottomless bag, the woman soon produced a book — the Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham. The reading of this whimsical tale calmed the 4-year-old down. She quickly became gripped by the story of a stubborn eccentric who found it hard to try something new.
“Mommy,” said the child, “I don’t like to try new things either.” The woman leaned over the table, gave the child a hug and said, with a twinge of laughter in her voice: “Don’t I know!”
When the woman’s sister returned, the one tending the children stepped out of the store a moment. In a couple of minutes she re-entered, pushing a child-size wheelchair. She placed the little squirmer in the chair and took her for a ride through the store.
In that moment, I saw myself as a child again. I, too, was born with a disability that confined me to a wheelchair. And I, too, was stubborn and fidgety.
A little later, the group landed right behind my wheelchair in the cashier’s line. I paid for my purchase as well as the special child’s book. As far as I know, I’m not a saint. I was just living out some lessons Blessed Teresa of Calcutta taught with her words as well as her life:
“Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. … If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” And of course, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
While waiting for my transportation, I saw that little girl holding the huge Barney book I’d just treated her to. She was now wearing a smile so broad it would put big Barney’s toothy grin to shame. As her mother thanked me with tears of gratitude, I thought: “That smile is all the thanks I need.” Well, that and the chance to add someone new to my list of souls to pray for.
Bill Zalot writes from