My middle daughter arrived in this world with a temperament that encouraged empathy. It was nothing we could claim as good parenting; we simply received a blessing in the form of a young child that really was in tune with the nuances of other people’s feelings.
From her earliest communication we could see she felt what was going on around her, and she wanted people to be happy and peaceful.
She wanted to have tea parties and serve the tea. It was not a chore for her to write a thank you note.
When my girls played pretend grocery store, she didn’t want to set the prices, or take the money in the checkout lane, or yell out that there had been a spill in aisle seven, even though those things were fun to do. You could always find her pushing a pretend cart with a baby doll in it explaining to the baby all the items she was buying to take care of her family.
As many children do, she had a cherished collection of random objects. A pet rock, homeless game pieces, a little notebook of pictures she had drawn, and a few coins were some of the things she carried around with her.
Her most prized item in her collection was a folded up one dollar bill. She was only seven, and paper money was rare and exciting to possess.
During her second grade year, we began to hear about a classmate of hers, I will call him Billy, whose father was sick. Through the lens of childhood she would bring home updates about his condition.
She was too young to be completely aware of how serious the situation was, but as adults we could read through the lines and we understood that little Billy’s father was battling for his life.
We encouraged her to invite Billy over to play and be the best friend she could be, which she gladly did. They had none of the worries of friendships that come with later years. It didn’t matter that he was a boy and she was a girl, or that they didn’t live in the same neighborhood, or that their parents didn’t travel in the same circles.
They just enjoyed a friendship as seven year olds do, laughing at what was funny, crying when they got hurt, and spending their time doing things that brought them joy.
We knew something was wrong when she came home from school one day and was quieter than usual. She hugged me tight and said that Billy’s dad had died.
There were questions about life, and about death, and about what little kids do when they come home and their dad just isn’t there anymore.
We had to admit we really didn’t know every answer. We did our best to reassure her that life was a precious gift and none of us knows how many minutes we have to spend. And this is why it is important how we spend them. She cried for Billy and his family and vowed to still be the finest friend she could be.
Not much was said about Billy after that and second grade marched along on its daily journey. Weeks later I found a note from my daughter’s teacher tucked into the backpack she carried each day. The note thanked my daughter for all her kindness to Billy and all the special things she had done for him. The teacher was generous with her praise and we were happy to receive it.
I brought the note to my daughter, thanked her for being a good friend, and asked what she had done for Billy at school.
She said things like she sat with him when he was sitting alone. She defended him when a classmate made fun of his missing school to see his dad and she shared her treats with him. She also told me she had given him her prized dollar bill from her collection.
I was truly touched by her generosity because I knew how she valued her special dollar. I asked her why she gave it to Billy, and she said simply, because he needed it more than she did.
The conversation stayed with me long after she skipped off to play until dinner time. Second grade is probably a dim memory for most of us, but perhaps we should try to recall our second-grade selves. It was likely a time in our lives in which we were more as we should be. We had so little to unlearn
Imagine if we could look at life the way a second grader can, peeling back the layers of self-absorption acquired over time. Maybe we would laugh and cry when we need to, help each other through grief, and spend time with people unlike ourselves. Maybe we would befriend more people in need, and meet people where they are when they are isolated, and defend those who are misused by others, and maybe even give away something we love to meet someone else’s need.
Amazing what we could learn from a second grader.