Gratitudes as Rabbit Year Hops away
It’s that time of the year again, when a year ends and another year approaches.
It seems only a month ago I wrote about the Year of the Tiger moving away and the Rabbit Year hopping into our lives, but now we’re about to say farewell to our beloved Year of the Rabbit. I don’t know if I’ll be here when the Year of the Rabbit returns in 2023, so let me say a few words about 2011. It was definitely smoother than the previous year, the year Haiti lost 250,000 lives to the earthquake and the oil spill off the Gulf Coast devastated wildlife. The tsunami in Japan took 80,000 lives — still horrifying, but far smaller than the Haiti earthquake’s death toll. A positive thought here.
Our host Rabbit has been busy, delivering peace to us humans. Thanks to him, the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak stepped down and his people are mending pieces together to build a new country. And who do you think led the U.S. troops to find Osama bin Laden? Who knows mountain valleys and hills better than the Rabbit?
Looking back, I believe the Rabbit helped me grow and be enriched inwardly during 2011. In January, I began my volunteer job at a local hospital with a title “Waiting Room Attendant.” My sole responsibility is to make waiting time fun for children. I walk in with a shoulder bag bulging with toys and a smile on my face. “I have some toys here,” I announce. “Do you want to check them out?” For some children, that’s enough, but for shy ones, I use my tactics according to Master Confucius’ proverb, Seeing once is better than hearing a hundred times.
I spill the toys onto the table. The wooden building blocks, coloring papers, magic markers, memory games, Mr. Potato Heads and puzzles all speak to children in their unique ways, and the six chairs around the table fill quickly. Sometimes, I need to borrow two more chairs to accommodate my eager clients.
Children love to teach you what they know. This is where I learned about Jenga, a mental and physical game in which the players build a tall, unstable structure with unevenly cut, yet equal sized wooden blocks. Each player removes one block from the structure at a time, taking turns, until it collapses. The blocks make a huge clatter, making the children laugh each time.
Children share their life stories with me. One Chinese girl, about 10 years old, told me about the orphanage she used to live in until she was adopted by an American couple two years earlier. This happened when I told her about my trip to China, in Shangzi province, the previous year. “We had no toys or hot water,” she said. “And there were too many kids! Ten babies slept in one bed. I’ll never go back as long as I live!”
Another child, a boy 8 or 9 years old, decided to check me out, like a detective. “Why are you here?” he asked me inquisitively. “You don’t live here, do you?” I told him the truth. “I’m here to play with children. Do you know that I have four grandchildren, but I only see them three or four times a year? If you think that’s enough, you don’t know anything about how grandparents feel about their grandkids not living nearby. You feel lonesome as you get older.”
He was sympathetic. He asked me how old my grandkids were and where they lived. I told him, adding that three of them used to live in Kansas City but their parents took with them when they moved to Cleveland, without my permission. “I used to spend much time with them at Leawood Park, fishing or catching frogs and crawdads at the creek. Once, my grandson, then 5 years old, picked up a small snake and it bit his finger, and we rode an ambulance to an emergency room. He loves to talk about it, but to me it was the most horryfying day of my life.” I realized that I had a room full of sympathetic audience. One grandma clicked her tongue and said, “Poor Grandma. Was he OK?”
“He was very lucky,” I told her. “His attacker was just a little garter snake. But boy, was I scared!”
“I don’t blame you,” she said.
Once in a while I get a huge reward for just being there. One Hispanic boy, about 4 years old, didn’t utter a sound while he and I worked on coloring papers. When he was finished, I said, “That’s the most beautiful fish I ever saw.” He acknowledged my compliment by looking at me but didn’t say a word. He colored two more sheets, each time surprising me with bright color combinations and clean detail. When his name was called, the boy unexpectly came over and threw his arms around me.
A child’s genuine appreciation and love touch you deeper than a hundred words.
The Kansas City Star Commentary
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