Jul 1, 2014

Perspective is Everything

This morning while in the grocery checkout line, I came face to face with the most neglected looking toddler I've ever seen up close. He was a little Mexican boy, probably a little over two years old. He was sitting in the grocery cart and facing me while his mother was checking out. At least, I think it was his mother. She looked a bit old to have a child that age, but maybe she was just tired and worn out from too much life. The boy was wearing a nylon tank top and a pair of khaki shorts that were clean enough, but everything else was pitiable. His bare feet looked as if he'd been slogging through soot and ashes, and his legs were covered in bites too numerous to count. Maybe chigger bites, I couldn't be sure. Some were red, and others were scabbed over. There were even more on his hands, which were gripping the dirtiest looking bottle I've ever seen. It made me wince, because whatever was in it didn't resemble milk, or juice, or anything else a child should be ingesting. The poor boy's mouth was blistered and cracked. He drooled, and over his top lip a thick glob of dried mucus had formed. At the top of his forehead, near the hairline, he had a wide scrape. It looked like an old injury, where maybe the color might return, or maybe not. I was sure that if I had examined his hair there would have been things growing or accumulating there. Worst of all was the vacant look on the toddler's face. He looked as though he knew his life sucked, but was resigned to it.

My very first reaction to the scene before me was outrage. How could a mother, or anyone, let a child be in such a state? And how could they take them out in public looking that way? Judgment was oozing from me. I was smiling at the boy and trying to coax a smile out of him, but I was inwardly disgusted and repulsed. If I had known the number to CPS off the top of my head, I would have dialed it in that moment. My mind was racing, trying to figure out how to handle the whole thing. The woman would be out of the store and on her way with the child before I could get checked out myself. Just as I was trying to devise a plan to identify or hunt the woman down later, I noticed that the boy had on a hospital ID bracelet. No way to tell how long it had been there. Seeing that calmed me down a bit. At some point in the recent past, someone with medical training had laid eyes on him, and had released him without calling in authorities. I wondered how that visit had gone down. Then, I looked into the mother's eyes, for some sign. Emotion. Anything. She locked eyes with me for a moment, and there was a hint of contentment about her. Something flipped in my mind. She was no longer a bad mother. She was a poor mother. She was a human being doing the best she could with the hand she'd been dealt. For all I knew, the place she had to call home was a hovel with no running water and no power. And, for all I knew, that hovel could be a big step up from where she'd lived across the border. How often do we look down on others just because they're not going through life the way we would, or the way we think they should? And how often do jump to condemn rather than jump in to help? I need to think on that?

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