She settles down for a meal but it’s obvious her mind is elsewhere. She picks at her food and pushes it around on her plate as she makes small talk. Soon, what is weighing on her mind comes out.
This time, a child is ill. Seriously ill. She’s watched as this tiny girl has had her ups and downs. The disease eating away at this tyke’s body has stolen much of her childhood happiness. The woman strains to retain her composure as she recounts the sallow complexion and sunken eyes on a child whose world view should be bright and cheery, whose every day should be fixed on learning and laughing, not needles and nausea.
This woman cares so much she hurts.
Another time, another story. This child wasn’t sick. He just belonged to sick parents. The kind who never read to him, or encourage his dreams. The kind of parents who let their son wear dirty clothes and never know what it’s like to learn the dignity that comes with displaying good manners.
This woman tells of passing a run-down motel and frets because, among the vagabonds and derelicts loitering around the complex, she sees children she recognizes. They’re playing in the grass only steps away from those boozy, unkempt strangers who, at best, are poor influences and, at worst, might be predators. She shudders at the thought.
For a moment she smiles wistfully, telling of a group of youngsters who work hard at mastering the complex game of chess. She recounts their joy at sharing in a game that, by its very nature, forces them to think beyond the moment. Thinking ahead. It may be one of the most valuable lessons a child can learn.
Conversations with this woman remind me of the difference between men and women, fathers and mothers. I love my children dearly. Grandkids can make my heart burst with joy.
But this woman’s heart overflows with tenderness for every child. She’d carry them all home with her, if she could. She’d feed and raise and nurture every one — if only she could. And they worship her. Walking through a store, she is accosted by a thin, wide-eyed girl who seems amazed, and overjoyed, to see this woman in a different setting. The little girl wraps her arms around the woman’s legs, barely reaching above her knees. A pat on the head and soft, encouraging words produce a smile from the youngster. After a moment, the child’s mother drags her away with little more than a grunt and a gruff ,“Come on here, child.”
The woman’s eyes turn downcast.
“That’s not a good situation in that home,” she says quietly, before adding, “but not so bad something can be done about it ... yet.”
This woman goes to work early and stays late. She’s dug into her own pocket to help children who had nowhere else, no one else to turn to. She goes home to her family and provides a warm, loving atmosphere where they have her attention and care.
But her mind ... her mind is never far from the rest of the kids she worries about.
Who is this woman with a heart so big it beats strong for dozens, maybe hundreds of children? Who is this woman who seldom enjoys a meal without wishing she could share it with a hungry child? Who is this woman who fingers a shirt for her son in a store and wishes she could buy the whole rack and give them away the next day?
Who is this woman whose love takes in hers, mine and yours, too?
You know her. She’s a typical school teacher. God bless her.
Robert M. Williams Jr. is an Effingham native, now living in Blackshear. He publishes weekly newspapers in Blackshear, Alma, Folkston, McRae and Forsyth. Email him at email@example.com.