“Minor” Expansions


 At least eighty eager hands and arms waved like ornamental grasses in a breeze.  All these keen, empathetic children had questions. They had just finished watching a student presentation about a teenage Afghani girl who witnessed her father’s murder by the Taliban. Roya Shams was saved from facing her own death and brought to Ottawa where she now lives with a Canadian family and attends high school. She is determined to become a lawyer in order to return home and improve life for Afghani women and children and Little Guy’s school is launching a campaign to raise money to help cover Roya’s post-secondary school costs.  I watched with pride as my son and three of his nine year-old buddies spoke solemnly and coherently to the entire student population about this brave girl’s plight.  And now, I perched at the edge of my folding chair, awaiting the first questions from the assembled audience.

“Um, are we still supposed to wear our uniforms on ‘Wacky Wednesdays’?”

“You most certainly are,” said our enthusiastic principal.   The presenters had explained how every Wednesday this month, when children bring in at least a toonie for Roya’s fund, they can participate in Wacky dress days – hats, sunglasses, backwards clothes, too big clothes and of course, “Wacky Hair Day.” This is a win-win for the students as they get to do something fun and different while raising money for a worthy cause.

“Should we tell our parents to buy us larger uniforms to wear on the ‘Over-sized Clothing Day?’” inquired the next kid.

“No.  You can just wear something big of your Mom’s or Dad’s,” said the principal.

“But, you said we have to wear our uniforms every ‘Wacky Wednesday’”.

“You may wear something big over your uniform on that day.”

“But, what if it’s really hot?”

“Next question,” said the principal, her animated smile beginning to wane. She called on a Grade Six boy sitting at the back of the room. “Yes?”

 “On ‘Backwards Day’, does that include your underwear?”

Wild laughter from the kids.  As one of several parents watching the assembly, I frowned, alarmed and ashamed that every single question the children posed was either self-involved, banal or a combination of both.

After what seemed an eternity, the School Director interjected. “Does anyone have a question about the actual presentation you just heard?”

 Finally! I took a deep breath. Different hands shot up.  The principal pointed to an eight year-old sitting close to the front.

“When is Roya’s birthday?”

Miraculously, one of Little Guy’s co-presenters knew the answer to this profound question and supplied it.  A grade five student piped up, “That’s the same day as my birthday!”

Somebody, call the Press, I thought.

Eventually, providentially, the students began asking questions that showed interest in both Afghanistan and in Roya’s personal situation, but the sad truth is that not only were they led to water, someone also had to push their heads down to drink it.  Although I had long suspected it, my front row seat confirmed that many children are far more intrigued by the lint in their own belly-buttons than they are by the world in which they live. No surprise.  Kids learn attitudes from their parents. I’m grateful that Little Guy and his friends are teaching me theirs.

I’ve enjoyed a fairly sheltered life in my “home and native land.”  War is something that happens elsewhere.  The Canadian Armed Forces “help” and unfortunately some perish. I remember them on special days, but soon after each pause, my own desires and daily concerns become central again.

This navel-gazing mentality is not simply relegated to me alone or to the material world. Inside our belly-buttons, lay wounded feelings and poisonous opinions.  Also, living in there are self-evaluations – all our flaws – the too large bellies, the receding hairlines and drooping cheeks –both sets. With all these concerns packed into one tiny place, it’s a wonder our navels don’t simply explode.

In my lifetime, the only moment during which we collectively shut up and took notice was 9/11.    We were suddenly confronted by the frigid fear which people in other parts of the world face every day. It was easy to put ourselves in the shoes of the victims and their families because New York is so close and because those directly affected were just like us; peaceful, hard-working North Americans. I remember after watching the horror on television, I  couldn’t wait to drive to my five year old son’s school, grab him out of his kindergarten class and hug him for eternity.  Because war happened on our turf.

I am very grateful that Little Guy is doing something to help a citizen from another part of the world.  His consciousness and understanding are expanding and I hope that lending a helping hand becomes a signature of his life.  He is learning to look outward instead of down and in; his actions remind me and the rest of my family to be grateful for all we have and for our power to help others.  Scowl, my sixteen year-old son, is already an avid news-watcher who is moved and galvanized by the injustices he sees.  Yes, both my kids still “need” things – electronic games, cool running shoes and Ferraris.  Still, social conscience is being carved into their spirits like names in tree bark, and I am optimistic that they will grow up to move and shake the world in ways that are beneficial to many.

I cannot take credit for Little Guy’s participation.  A friend’s dad discovered Roya Shams’ story and communicated it to me. In turn, we shared it with our enthusiastic boys who ran with their plan, supported by a school that does an excellent job of fostering world awareness.  But,  outside the walls of education, my wish for all our children is that their adults make it a habit to provide more opportunities for kids to “stumble upon” people to help. A newspaper open to a specific story, a planned television program – a “minor’s” expansion, after all, is a promise for a compassionate generation.

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