It had been a long time since we last visited the place where little Jesús was, and it’s certainly not a place where a three-year-old boy or, really, any minor should live — exposed to addiction, crime, every kind of violence, police intervention, and so forth.
It’s been a while since I’ve heard anything about this little boy, but nevertheless, I don’t doubt that he, as a child of a mother addicted to substances, has seen and heard many things since his birth, and likely experienced hardship even from the womb.
In all my years of ministry, I have seen many children of all ages, character, personality, and talents; so many different faces and each of them special. I have watched many grow up, and I have had the honor to be a small part of their life story. There have been so many moments of playing around, and I’ll confess to having been an occasional accomplice to their craziness as well.
As I think back, in the short life stories of many of my little friends, I remember that it has always surprised me to find in tact their cheerful, playful sides — the innocence in their faces, their expressions and questions. They’re always more than willing to give a hug, to play, to give the priceless gift of a smile to someone without caring about the greater context in which this beautiful, natural, and innocent expression is coming out.
Today it is valid to say that there is always a first time for everything. As I said at the beginning, after a long time we returned to visit this particular part of the city, with our friend-families and their little ones. It was morning, and we gave ourselves the time to visit each family one by one, and we ended our trip by going into the most difficult casona (a large house where many families cram together), where we would see our friend “Cristina” and perhaps her daughter that has become wrapped up in addiction. It’s always difficult to listen to Cristina, a sacrificed grandmother, not perfect, but taking on lives and burdens that she shouldn’t have to bear anymore. Nevertheless, because of her love and the innate maternal side of her as a grandmother and as a woman, she is at the forefront of the care-taking for her grandchildren. Two of them are in school, but with her is Jesús, still too small to go to daycare. She was the first person that we recognized today, after walking through the narrow hallways of this casona from the 1960’s.
The little one was seated alone at the foot of a door, in the midst of wet dirtiness due to the proximity of a communal bathroom. He, wearing only one shoe, was hugging a stuffed animal just as dirty as his surroundings, in addition to holding onto a little car, missing parts just as his wardrobe was. That morning was cold, but he still was just wearing shorts and a shirt. I didn’t hear a single word from him in the whole time that we were there, and if there were, they were very few. His lip was beaten up, a wound at least a couple of days old. There was a lonely and silent air about the little boy, the type of loneliness that comes with abandonment. But as always, in the hustle and bustle of everything, time with an adult stopped me first. I talked with his grandmother for a good while, choking on her tears as she took the opportunity to talk about the tiring pain and frustration she was feeling. According to Cristina and other women in similar situations, it was a story of clinging on to the hope that perhaps things could change with the help of God and people like us that come to visit, with those who they can have a conversation as friends and know that we have a genuine interest in listening to them and coming alongside them with help.
Despite this story already being a difficult one to hear, as we were saying goodbye, I took some time for my little friend to know more about him. It was there that I noticed something in his face, as I bent down to this little boy’s level. I saw something that, until now, I hadn’t seen in a little one of his age. I saw sadness, a silent sorrow, in his deep black eyes — they didn’t say anything but sadness, and his face and gestures accompanied that message. It was not a circumstantial expression from some sort of punishment or an unfulfilled desire for a lollipop of a toy – no!
Months before, after a lot of paperwork, we were able to get his siblings into school, and we thought that this would make things better. But Jesús? For him, the situation didn’t change; as he was the youngest, his turn to go to school still hasn’t arrived. And if the grandmother goes out to look for bread, it seems that he stays home alone, waiting for the results of the search. We find him alone, and he spends the whole morning alone, even though his mother is there but still asleep for having stayed up the night before. And if you talk about activities or homework you can talk about his siblings, but that’s not the case for Jesús who doesn’t have any new experiences, other than not disobeying what he’s told to do. I can’t erase from my head the eyes of Jesús and the sad look that he had for just being three years old. How much he must have seen, what could be creating so much pain for him? It brings me sorrow to see him this way.
This story doesn’t end here, nor does it have a happy intermission, such as if I would say that “Later Jesús was so happy to see…” No! As we left, we left Jesús there, hugging his stuffed animal and holding on to his little car. The truth is, I don’t know what he’s doing right now, but I know that with the help of God we will return, we will take the time to be with him and we will pursue the path in which Jesús can live in hope. Maybe then the look in his eyes will be different, the stuffed animal will be washed, and his toy car repaired, too. Maybe then there will be clothes to keep him warm, and there we will tell him that he belongs to a God that loves him.
Meanwhile, my prayers will be for him.