Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Finding Meaning in the Eyes of Children

Last summer, on a sweltering afternoon that smelled like sewage and wet pavement, my study abroad group drove seven hours to Chang Mai in Northern Thailand.

Upon arrival, we were anxious to deliver the toys we bought for children at a local orphanage.

Our guide, Chalita, told us these children were either left on the streets, the orphanage, or the doorsteps of wealthy houses because their families couldn't care for them.

When we got there, I entered the children's playroom and saw 20 questioning eyes looking at me.

I took the toy dolls, helicopters and bubbles out of the garbage bags and passed them around. Their faces lit up when they received these gifts.

It was as if they had never had their own toys.

They played with their gifts and sat in our laps as we took pictures of them. I videotaped the entire experience, and they loved when I flipped the viewfinder so they could see their faces.

They laughed and poked at it trying to figure out how the image was possible. I don't think they had seen themselves up-close before.

We took turns holding and tickling them, trying to fill the void that probably would never be filled.

Standing there, I thought their life seemed like a constant day-care experience with a swing set and schoolwork, except that they never went home to tell their family what had happened each day.

They couldn't draw pictures to put on the refrigerator or make art crafts for the holidays.

They did not have a history to tell the other children because they have no idea who they are or where they came from.

They just stayed and stayed, with the hope that one day they might have something or someone to call home.

These faces were so sweet, so oblivious to not only their situation, but also everything around them.

We went to the baby section, where the little babies in their diapers bobbed up and down for us to hold them. We danced with them pretending to be mommies and daddies just for a moment.

One baby I held cried hysterically when I put him down. I felt so horrible, but this was probably a routine. They were held for a second only to be put down for another child.

As we snuggled these babies, Chalita told us we had to leave. As we put them down, they wrapped their arms and legs around our ankles. They all cried at us while we cried with them, empathetic of how they must have felt.

To give love and to show warmth, even though it was fleeting, was wonderful. This small encounter humbled me and jolted an epiphany inside me. I instantly realized that all of the materialism and greed around me was an illusion.

I know now that there is so much I take for granted: the shoes on my feet, a bar of soap, a full-sized bed and being able to go home and give my mom a hug. It's easy to forget about these simple comforts that are provided for us.

We worry so much about our own embarrassments, but we need to open our eyes and see there is so much more to life.

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