Mama, look at that poor guy on the road.”
“What guy, kiddo?”
“There, the guy in the wheelchair. Look, he’s driving himself and he looks really tired and hot. Poor man.”
“Yes, I see him, he does look tired. He makes you feel sad?”
“No, he doesn’t make me feel sad, his legs make me feel sad, they don’t work, do they?”
“I don’t think they do work, sweetheart, that’s why he needs the wheelchair.”
“But who looks after him? Why is he alone? It’s dangerous to be near cars. What if they can’t see him? Where is he going alone?”
“Do you think he might be going home? Or to work?”
“Maybe, but I don’t like the fact that he is on his own. He will be so tired when he goes to work after all that driving with his arms.”
I could carry on this conversation. The kind of conversation I so often have whilst driving in the car with the Little Man. The people we pass on our daily journeys are numerous. He spots them all.
The man carrying nothing but his ragged shirt and plastic bag with no slippers and sporting a beard to his chest. The old guy cycling around our neighbourhood from dawn to dusk collecting paper and plastic from big houses and small houses that must still seem palatial to him. He sees it all. The broken cat down the road, on its way to the pearly gates, the lizard caught on the windshield of the car next to us. The wounded, the weary, the lost ones.
His eyes are like a target to the part of humanity most of us do not see, too engrossed in the road ahead and avoiding the crazy motorbikes that weave to our despair. Our thoughts are so clouded and preoccupied we don’t seem to notice the peripheral thrum of the seemingly extraneous life that exists around us.
He knows how to spot a kid that is “different” and will explain to me why they need a “kor kor” (big brother) like him to make sure no one treats them wrong. His soul seeks to protect.
This is not a boast, it’s merely part of the story of a day in his life. His matter-of-fact truths as he sees them.
He notices life and is truly, sincerely concerned and alarmed by what he sees.
I realised early on that the worst thing I could do was skate over the issues or even diminish what his eyes were telling him. Did I tell him lies to spare him, or rosy-tint reality? Did I just tell him that’s the way life rolls? Hard and unfair? No, I did something far more dangerous. I asked him how he felt and why.
The balance on how to deal with truth and afford it in a language that will suffice and apply to a child’s age is a tricky thing. As a parent you want to protect your child from any kind of suffering, theirs or theirs as a witness. This conundrum actually brought me a solution of sorts. The idea that we become uninvisible by having our life witnessed by someone who cared enough to pay attention.
But that does nothing for the poor person who’s battling life and its cruel intentions every day just to live. That does not help the old woman with bowed legs cycling to work to forage for cardboard at the age of 70 just so she can eat that day.
This is my adult pain that comes from not seeing enough, then hurting because it hurts my child and then my own guilt at being so self-obsessed in my own shallow dilemmas.
What can I teach my child that he does not already know? My solution was to open dialogue with him. To navigate the dysfunctions of our society and give him the share of his emotions. To walk him through what he had seen without strong emotion, without judgment or my own opinions, simply to help lead him to his own sense of understanding.
The wisdom gained has been incredible. When he grows up, he wants to live in a world where everyone has someone who loves them, even if it’s a stranger. When he grows up, he is going to set his world right.
Is this in vain? Is this going to be the makings of a person growing up to be mad because he cannot fix the world?
Or is this the start of a human being who will have a ripple effect on everything around him because he is not afraid to see, and thus may, in turn, be someone who actively sets out to make their own nuclear environment a better place?
It is hard to see heartbreak in someone so young. However, from this heartbreak comes a young man in the making who always says hello to the cardboard-collecting uncle. Who offers him a banana to keep him strong. The same young man who wants to give his food, money and toys to people who don’t have any.
With Mother’s Day just over, I cannot feel any pride in myself, but so much honour that I am a guardian of such an amazing human being. One so little, that humbles me so much.
Asha Gill put her globetrotting life on hold to focus on the little man in her life and gain a singular perspective on the world. You can tune in to Asha on Capital FM 88.9, Mondays to Fridays, 10am-1pm. She’s always looking for stories to tell and ideas to share, so send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mama, look at that poor guy on the road.”