Axel is four years old. He has a mullet and big brown eyes and a crooked little smile that he saves for special occasions. One morning I had just finished wiping some runny noses when I saw him sitting on the floor in the corner by himself, so I sat down next to him.
“How’s it going, Axel?” I asked. He shrugged.
“Do you want to play with me?” He shook his head no.
“Do you want to sit in this corner?” He nodded.
“Axel,” I asked. “are you sad?”
“Why are you sad?”
We sat in silence for a minute.
“Do you want to come be sad in my lap?”
Half a smile touched his face, and slowly he crawled into my lap. He stayed there the rest of the morning.
I can’t spare the villa its miseria. I can’t bring daddies home from prison or stop the drugs from being sold or build real houses or plant trees and grass and flowers. I work at a kindergarten 3 hours a week. It’s like draining the ocean with an eyedropper. And I’m so bad with directions that I can’t even get there without help.
I tried holding all of that in my heart, but it was too heavy for me and no lighter for anyone else.
But I found a paradox: I think the day I’ve come closest to making a difference is the day I wasn’t trying. I stopped pretending to be outgoing. I wasn’t a leader. I didn’t make plans or strategize. I never thought about making the world a better place. I sat on a dirty floor in silence and held a four year old.
I’m not sure what that means, but I think it’s important.
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I work at a kindergarten in a villa miseria– “village of misery”–a slum of Buenos Aires.
I don’t cry easily. I’ve worked in poor areas before, tons, since I was a kid just old enough to get a ride somewhere. Oh, but y'all. This is like nothing in the United States. I’m fighting back tears all the time, and when I get back home, it’s like the whole world is a blur, trees and sidewalks and people, my friends, I don’t want to talk, I just want to close my eyes and be silent.
It’s so heavy. It crushes me.
Nobody cares and nothing changes because the government is so corrupt–they stopped building housing projects, they just let the people live in shacks. And everyone knows the pimps and drug dealers pay off the police. It’s all part of the business of poverty. The business of miseria. I don’t know what to do with this.
Why are there four-year-olds in the world with big brown eyes and tiny hands who don’t know what it’s like to sit underneath a tree or play in the grass? Whose daddies are in prison and whose mommies sell their bodies so they don’t starve?