Being a beautifully radiant day, I brought my girls to the park in hopes of soaking in the moment and the sunlight. Melina was so excited. With a smile, I watched her hair bounce as she ran towards the play structure. I was able to settle myself on a nearby bench when I heard this ten year old boy yelling at her to give him money or candy before getting on the structure. Being a sensitive soul, she came running to me crying. My initial feeling was mother bear anger and I walked up to that boy to see what was the problem. I scanned the playground to see where his parents might be, but I was the only adult in the park. Well, this boy would get a no-bully speech from me! But the minute I saw his eyes, my anger dissipated and my heart wept for the life this little boy must know...
His stare was defiant. Anger. He looked ready to spit at anything that came within ten feet of him. He glared at me and said, "No one comes on here unless they give me money or gum." The moment lingered as he anticipated my remark. His surface seemed tough as armor, but in that stillness, all I could hear was the beating of his heart. I smiled at him and said, "Goodness gracious! You couldn't fit more gum in your mouth if you wanted to. Foodland is just around the corner. Why don't you go treat yourself to some gum or candy there?"
He looked a bit surprised. Then he stuck a big stick out towards me and pretended to shoot at me, so I responded by saying, "Wow, you've got a great imagination! What else can you do with that stick?" This clearly stunned him. He lowered the stick as though unsure of what to do next. He actually began thinking and showing me that it could also be a grenade launcher. I suggested it could be a fire hose and we began to imagine he was saving the playground and the children on it. His imagination took over and the other children seemed to come in a little closer as he began including them in his new game.
At one point he fell and scrapped himself pretty badly. I immediately ran to him and asked to see his scrape. It was bleeding and the boy acted tough in front of the group of children who began to gather around him. "I get bruises and scars all the time" he said. I responded by saying "but this time, you are going to take care of it and get yourself a Band-Aid. Do you live nearby?" He replied that he didn't have any Band-Aids at home and that he wasn't going home. One of the other children was eager to help and ran home to get a few bandages.
When I placed the Band-Aids on this boy's shin, I literally watched him transform from a prickly, vulgar porcupine into a broken little boy who just needed to be loved. I pushed him on the swing, (along with six other children), and he told me that his name was Tyler. He watched me fix some of the swings that were wrapped too high to be used, and he watched as I pushed other kids on the swings. He almost looked clumsy and awkward sitting there. It’s as though he’d been stripped of what he thought was safe to discover it only left him all alone. This identity that kept him safe from the disappointments of not being loved enough had turned him into something unlovable. Or so he believed.
This is when I hear the children more than ever. When there is more behind their eyes than youthful twinkles, I am overwhelmed with love for these little ones. All children should be loved, and all children should have someone wipe their scrapes and bandage them up tenderly. All children should feel safe about running to their own home.
I think of Tyler often and have not seen him since that day. I often hope that the moon soothes his dreams and blankets his world from the pain I saw in his eyes, and that he be reminded that a heart is always lovable, no matter how deep and how long it is buried from others.