I didn’t want to drive today but I don’t always get what I want. My ear infection went from tolerable to painful today and I just wasn’t up for another seven hours on the road. After laying down for a while, with my latest home remedy working in my ear, I decided I wasn’t that sick and however bad I felt, it probably paled in comparison to the day some foster kid was having while they waited for me to drive them home. When I got to the house, I could hear some pretty painful emotions being expressed, before I even got to the door. Clearly, my presence was not appreciated but I don’t get to change my schedule.
After a few more tense minutes, the child appeared at the front door. Her head was down and she was sobbing. The foster mom told me she had come for a visit with her sister and she expected to be staying longer than just one day. I got her in the car and introduced myself in the usual way, “My name is Guy and yes that is my real name.” She barely even looked up as she timidly shook my outstretched hand. What I could see of her face surprised me. She was pretty, with olive skin and dark eyes but she had piercings and tattoos. I hoped they were just airbrushed on and not permanent. I just don’t like it when kids that young think they need to do something to get attention.
I could tell by her body language that she was a victim of circumstances beyond her control. My paperwork told me she was fifteen but she looked younger. She curled up in the back seat and proceeded to pull her hair down over her face as if to hide it from me. I asked her a few simple questions and tried to get her to open up with me but she mainly gave one word answers, if any. With her knees tucked up under her chin, she hugged the car door and went to sleep for the first hour of our drive to Wichita.
Halfway there, we stopped at McDonald’s to use the restroom and then I asked her if she wanted cookies or a hot fudge sundae? Her answer stunned me, “What’s that?” I said, “It’s ice cream with hot chocolate poured all over it, you have to try it. It’s wonderful.” We got back in the car and she quickly finished it. I asked her if she liked it and again she gave me her one word response, “Yes. Thanks.” Then I smiled at her and said, “Now can I see you smile?” She lit up immediately and it was a thing of beauty. I added, “I was beginning to think you had forgotten how to smile. You should do it more often, you’re beautiful when you smile.” She smiled again but only for a second, as she seemed to be uncomfortable with the prospect of getting any kind of attention.
She kept quiet for the next hour but this time she didn’t hide under her blanket or curl up by the door. She kept her head up and smiled at me each time I turned to looked at her. When we got to Wichita, I told her I hoped to see her again and I encouraged her to make the best of the situation she was in so she could keep getting visits with her sister. I thanked her for putting up with my choice of music and being so cooperative on the drive. I promised her another sundae if we ever met up again and wished her well. I wanted to say I was going to pray for her but we’re not supposed to inject our religious feelings, so I kept that to myself. I did pray for her and I will again soon. She clearly needs someone to pray for her and care for her. I may never see her again but I can keep praying for her.
I headed home still feeling lousy but, somehow, being with her made my pain less so. My random kindness had given birth to senseless beauty and that simple gesture made my day a little better for her and for me. Maybe that’s the lesson I learned again today. Every act of kindness we share is always returned exponentially. I made her smile with one hot fudge sundae and she made my head feel better just by thanking me. I broke down that wall of sadness she had imposed on herself and she let me in long enough to share my feelings for her. I wish I could get that close to every kid I meet but it doesn’t always work that way. Today it did. My head still hurts but my heart feels good. My advice — practice random kindness every day and see what senseless acts of beauty come from it.