It’s crazy when you realize that your life has just been changed.
Ten minutes ago was one of those moments where a truth
you’ve known your whole life comes suddenly in full force. That truth tonight
is that every person has a story; no one is ordinary. Everyone has struggles,
hurt, and depth. So often people get brushed aside as having it “all together”
and just being another face in the crowd. But then something happens that shows
you just how important each one is.
At Dandelion School, the homeroom teacher of each class
visits their students’ homes once a year. I had heard of these home visits, and
was excited when a teacher invited me and Rachel to come with her to one of our
students’ homes (her English name is Maria). I didn’t really know Maria, but I
recognized her face when I saw the picture. She was a nice, but not
out-of-the-ordinary student, and seemed quiet. I kind of wished I was visiting
the home of one of the student I know better.
The girl’s father met us at the school gate; he was well
dressed in a button up shirt and nice black slacks. He led us to his home,
which was just across the street, in an alley off of the market that Rachel and
I visit every day. Considering his attire, I assumed that the shabby appearance
of the house was merely exterior, and waited as he fumbled with the padlock on
his flimsy door. I was wrong.
This father led us inside. It was very cramped in this tiny,
dim room, smaller than an American mud room. There was more light coming from
the next room, which was clearly a bedroom. There were two mats with mosquito
nets over them, and clothes hanging to dry overhead. I scanned the walls for a
door that would lead farther into the house, but realized that there wasn’t
one. These two, 6-or-7 sq. ft rooms and the things contained therein were their
Just as I was wondering where their whole family slept, the
teacher who spoke the most English explained to us that Maria’s mother was not
with them. We weren’t sure if they were simply separated, or something else.
But Maria’s father was raising her alone.
I turned to look at Maria’s father while he talked with the
teachers. He was obviously nervous, and the presence of two foreigners probably
didn’t help his feelings. Even so, he showed us the utmost respect. He had just
bought a large clump of bananas which he offered to us. He pulled out enough
small glasses for all of us, and from how new they appeared I wouldn’t be
surprised if he managed to buy them just for us. After pouring hot tea into the
glasses, he handed us each a glass, beginning with Rachel and me. He handed it
to us with both hands, the Chinese sign of honor and respect. I don’t know if I
have ever felt less worthy of honor in my life, knowing how much this man had
sacrificed for his daughter.
At one point, I had the opportunity to say something. I
probably could have said something brilliant or inspirational or… I don’t know.
But all I could say was that we loved Maria, and that she is special. And I
hoped her father would realize we meant it.
It was hot in the tiny house, so we soon moved out into the
alley to finish the teacher’s report. Meanwhile, our translator told us more
about this father. She said he works at the airport, which means he has nearly
a three-hour commute each way every day. On the weekends, he and Maria go to
his mother’s home. They were discussing the fact that Maria had had a boyfriend
at school in the last term, and I made a comment that she seemed a little young
to have a boyfriend. Our translator said, “Yes, but I think her mind is… adult.
Mature.” I found a picture of “Peter” on my phone; it was another face I
recognized, but had never really taken much notice of.
In less than ten minutes of arriving at the little house, we
were leaving again. But we were different. Rachel hadn’t really had dinner
because of the gluten and meat in the meal that day, so I asked if she wanted
to get anything while we were walking back through the market. All she could
say was “Not anymore.”
Our translator told us that Maria’s boyfriend, Peter, had no
father, and that his mother lived in the hospital. “He feels very alone,” she
said. An eighth-grader living
I realized that I would never see Maria and Peter the same
way again. Every time I saw them, I would think of everything I knew about
them, even as limited as it is. That face that had been “one of my students”
just an hour ago is suddenly a story, a history, a heart that is hurting.
And then I realized… there are 500 other students. 500
stories. 500 histories. 500 hearts that have felt joy, pain, happiness, sorrow,
fulfillment, and emptiness. Every single face. Tom. Alice. Linda. Bill. Sherry,
who just walked into the room. Cocoa. Jerry. Tina. Joe. Lisa. Brandon, who also
just came in. Rose. Oscar. Julia. John. Lily. Kitty. Tim. Annabelle. Tori.
Harry. Jenny. Jim. Alison. Frank. Julie. Hannah. Bob. Daizy. Evan. Annalisa.
Eric. Eva. Chris. Anna. Tad. Sara. Xavier. Cindy. And those are just the ones I
can remember off the top of my head.
We live in a world full of stories, full of people, full of
hearts. This week, we’ve been teaching about “tolerance,” and most of our class
consists of reminded the students that every person is important, no matter how
different they are from you. My favorite part is when Rachel says:
“Everyone has a heart, and every heart needs love.”
Don’t pass by someone who has become just another “face in
the crowd.” There is no “basic” person. Whether it’s someone in your home,
someone at your church, someone at the post office, or someone you pass once in
the airport, each of them has a story. Each of them has value. Each of them has a heart. And every
heart needs love.