Tomorrow you turn seven and I can’t help but think back to when I turned seven. I had short hair like yours and was also missing a few front teeth. But I didn’t own any toys and had never watched TV. I shared a room with 40 kids and no one ever read us a bedtime story or hugged us goodnight. There were no birthday parties or cakes; no presents. To be honest, I didn’t even know my own birth date. It didn’t matter though; no party or present could give me what I wanted that year.
I turned seven in the orphanage and the only thing I wanted was my mother.
We’ve talked about this a few times. And on each occasion, your deep self, the wise and ageless you, snapped to attention, listened quietly and searched my face to find the sadness. Tears threatened your big brown eyes and you hugged me tight to let me know I was loved.
A few nights ago you came home from school, excited about your unity cup, a craft you’d done at school. You told me that the class had learned about Kwanzaa and explained how a black lady (whose name you’d forgotten – Rosa Parks I told you) refused to give up her seat to a white person when the “white” seats were full. You had lots of questions when I filled in pieces of the story. Why couldn’t she sit where she wanted? Why did the bus driver tell her to give up her seat? Why couldn’t the other lady stand? Carefully I told you more about slavery and racism. We talked about skin colour. We talked about the hardship that black people have had to endure. You got quiet and sad.
Your bursting heart and endless compassion fill me with hope every day.
We live in a world where just last week, Dad’s colleague told him our house was on the wrong side of town – that maybe someday we’d be able to move to his neighborhood. People more than ever seem to feel justified in judging each other based on area codes, the tangible shows of overspending and the titles mounted on their office doors.
I want so much more for you and your brother.
I want to see that generous heart of yours soar;
Give you every chance to feed the compassion that threatens to split you wide open.
I hope someday you do bring "truckloads of food to the starving kids in the world," as you so often tell me you will. I hope this world doesn't change you.
During the next year while I watch you embrace seven, I’ll be thinking about when I was the same age. Each time I hold you tight, my yearning to hug my own mother will fade a little. When I see you and Naveen love each other, I’ll thank God my sister was with me through those lonely times in the orphanage. When I catch you jumping from couch to couch because you think I’m not looking, I’ll delight that in the best possible way I get to be seven again.
And each time your eyes sparkle with tears at the mention of where I’ve been, I’ll know the journey was all worth it because it brought me to you.
Happy birthday my seven year old love,