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Acts of Kindness

Sometimes I am amazed by young children’s capacity for empathy and kindness. Very happily, I’ve had three occasions in the last week to feel as though children were setting an example for everyone else to follow.

The first incident happened at the preschool. There is a boy in one of the classes, I’ll call him Lennon, who suffers from some pretty serious cognitive and physical impairments. He’s had seizures in the past, and I think there may be some intellectual deficits as well. I don’t know his story, but the rumor that came my way is that the boy’s issues stem from medical malpractice during delivery. It’s a tragedy.

Lennon cannot fully participate in class. It’s hard to know how much attention he’s capable of sustaining, and he simply doesn’t have the cognitive, social, or motor skills to keep up with his peers. I have always viewed him as something of an island.

Monday changed that. He was struggling to settle in my room when another child, a girl I’ll call Bailey, approached him, wrapped her arms around him, and soothed him into his seat. I was astounded at her kindness and empathy. Frankly, I was also more than a little humbled. So often I’ve had to swallow my frustration as Lennon runs around in class—frequently right over my feet—and makes teaching a challenge. He can upset my need for order, and little Bailey’s natural instinct to accept and help was something I could do with a bit more of.

Then there is little Abdullah, Simon’s newest class-mate. He’s a Somali Bantu, and from what I understand, he arrived directly from a refugee camp within the past week or so. He doesn’t speak a word of English, and the class is resorting to crude sign language to communicate with him. (He does have one other Somali Bantu in his class, and I think that other child can communicate a little with him.) His first day in class was last Friday, and today (Thursday) was my first chance to see him as I volunteered to chaperone a class field trip.

I expected to find a shy and shell-shocked young child struggling to make sense of his new surroundings. I instead found a child who appeared to be quite happy and already settling into his new life. In fact, if I didn’t know the children in Simon’s class already, I would not necessarily have been able to identify Abdullah as the new boy without close observation.

According to the teacher, the class has decided to make Abdullah their project. They know he’s new and has to learn everything about life in America, and they have decided to be his classmates, friends, and best teachers. I give them all high marks, but I’m singling out Isaiah and Bella for A+, gold star recognition.

Isaiah knows a few children who were adopted from Ethiopia. He therefore took it upon himself to be Abdullah’s first friend and mentor. He chose Abdullah as his field trip buddy today and never left the child’s side. They held hands, hugged, sat close together, and smiled through the entire day, with Isaiah never pulling away to socialize with his English-speaking friends. At the same age—heck, even today—I would have begun with good intentions and then had my desperate need for verbal interaction cut short my efforts. Isaiah’s dedication and generosity humbled me in much the same way little Bailey’s did.

And then there is Bella. Bella is the class ambassador: first to volunteer for something, first to raise her hand, first to welcome a guest, and first to thank a guest when it’s time for them to leave. Not surprisingly, Bella has decided that acclimatizing and defending Abdullah is in her job description. So it came to pass that when a science center employee went to chastize Abdullah for not standing or sitting where he was supposed to (he couldn’t understand the instructions, of course), Bella charged up to the front of the group, stood right in front of the employee, put up her hand in a stop-right-there gesture, and said her piece:

“No. You don’t understand. Abdullah is from Somalia. He doesn’t know English yet, and he doesn’t understand you. We’ll show him what to do. You can’t yell at him like that.”

Attagirl, Bella. Needless to say, the employee backed down quickly as the teacher and parent chaperones watched on and smiled. The poor science center employee couldn’t have known, and no one was really upset with him. It’s just that it was completely awesome to see a seven-year-old successfully champion for the rights of a new classmate and friend.

Never in a million years did I think it could feel so good to be so regularly humbled.

One Response to “Acts of Kindness”

  1. blg says:

    I admire how you admit your own potential shortcomings and how you take joy in other’s kindnesses.

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