Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Little Perspective...From a Toy

I don't watch a lot of TV. I watch my DVR. That way, when I spend the day working I don't interrupt myself to go watch a favorite show. Then, when I'm done watching the show, I delete it. Entertainment on demand and I can skip through the commercials. It's a win-win situation.

Tonight I watched a show I will not be deleting.

There was a rerun of an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition tonight about the Frisch family in Toledo, Ohio. The Frisches are an extraordinary couple who, on a fireman's salary, have adopted five kids from Haiti and three from the US . They're raising them in addition to their own three boys--ages range from 4 to 18. I'm not going to go into detail about them or the show. I'd advise you to watch the show if you can. What I am going to talk about is something one of the kids said.

EHM arranged for trucks full of donated clothes, books and toys (donated by Hasbro!) to go to Haiti to a school there. While the family was vacationing in Florida, they got to help load those trucks onto planes--a donation made in the Frisch family name. And one of the boys said, "When I was in Haiti, I was lucky to even have one toy. When my mom and dad came to Haiti, they gave me a toy. I was like so happy; I know what it feels like. I was just imagining what the other kids in Haiti will feel like today."

And I paused the recording.

It took a minute to sink in: one toy? Can you imagine that? I can't. I'm a writer and I literally cannot imagine what it would be like to only have one toy--to get that toy at the hands of a stranger and experience that joy for the first time. In a life filled with misery and fear, what must that child have thought?

So, I began to picture it in my mind.

A child in a third world country: emaciated, miserable, hot, dirty. He's crammed into a rusty tin-roofed shack with other children just like him. Sewage runs down the gutters on either side of the fly-infested track that serves as a street. He has no mother, no father. He must always worry about where his next meal will come from or whether the men with guns will come to hurt him that night. This isn't a far-fetched description. This description applies to countless children in countless towns in countless impoverished nations all over the world. Let's give this child a name.

Let's call

All of a sudden, you're holding this brightly colored toy--say it's something as simple as a plastic truck--and it has wheels. It's smooth. It's clean. It makes noises. When you roll it across the dirt that is the floor of the shack you're crowded into, it leaves little tracks in the dust. Then all of sudden, that toy opens up an imagination that has been suppressed under the horrors of everyday life. Now if that truck doesn't make the noise, you make the noise for it. You create little obstacles for the truck to drive around. You spill some water onto the dirt floor so you can have the fun of running that truck through the mud, then carefully wash the truck free of all the dirt and mud so it will be as clean and colorful and shiny as it was the first time you saw it. You run the truck up your leg, feeling the treads along your skin.

That truck, that toy, becomes the springboard for all the wonderful places your imagination can take you. Now when you play with the truck in the dirt, it's the dirt of someplace else: an imaginary place, perhaps, where you eat good food and go to school and take baths every day. A place where you sleep in an actual bed, where you have clothes that fit and a roof that keeps out the weather. That place has people--friends, maybe, or siblings to play with; a father who teaches you about life and a mother who hugs you when you're hurt. From there, you can drive the truck into the future--a bright place where you can be whatever you want and be respected for who you are.

The truck, therefore, becomes a goad to ambition. You feel free to make plans for your future--what you want to be when you grow up, where you want to be.

The dirt, the poverty, the terror and the sick loneliness of your existence disappear, even if only for a little while. And it's all because one day, a total stranger gave you your first and only toy.

It made me think. From something as small as a toy, dreams can grow. From those dreams, a life can be brought up out of hopelessness and the world as a whole can gain an individual so valuable, so wonderful, that everyone benefits by it.

From a toy.