Wednesday, June 24, 2009


"Desire nothing for yourself, which you do not desire for others."

When I traveled to India to volunteer in a little village school, I took as many school supplies as my back-pack could hold, and I made sure that I could carry seventeen packages of felt pens; one package for each student. When I first got to the home of my host Patrick, I met his two children, Sonny and Baby. Sonny was an eight-year-old boy and Baby, a three-year-old girl. I pulled out a package of felt pens for Sonny. He smiled, thanked me, and set them aside.
"Sonny," his father said, "don't you want to try out your new pens?" Sonny shook his head.
"Why not?" Patrick asked.
Sonny was silent. He seemed reluctant to say anything in front of me, so I turned my attention to Baby for a moment. He whispered something in his father's ear.

Patrick then told me that Sonny wanted to wait and share the pens with the rest of his classmates.

"Oh, Sonny, I brought a package for every student. Every one of your classmates will get their own package, so you can open yours now and use them!" I said.

Sonny shyly shook his head again and whispered something else in his father's ear. Apparently, Sonny wasn't convinced. He wouldn't open his felt pens until he had seen the alleged packages for his classmates.

I led Sonny over to my purple backpack and counted out sixteen packages of felt pens, all as colourful and new as the gift I had given him. His eyes lit up, he ran over to where he had placed his felt pens, and he proceeded to spend the next three hours playing with them. He drew with them, used them to make a magic 'trail' for me to follow, he made patterns with them on the floor, he used them as cars to drive around the house; I can't even remember all of the ways he used those precious pens, but it was obvious that he enjoyed them.

I had never encountered such a boy as Sonny. In all my years of teaching, I had never witnessed someone of his age care enough about his friends to delay the gratification of playing with a new gift. Even when we prompted him to dive in, he wanted proof that his classmates would be taken care of.

I would love to be able to instill that quality of selflessness in my girls. I wonder if it only exists in the hearts of those children who have very little. Perhaps my girls already have too much. Pip is quite happy to rip open birthday presents and Christmas presents, and she seems oblivious to every other child in the room at those times. She thanks people without prompting now, but it took a lot of, "What do you say to Grandma?"'s for that to happen, whereas it seemed like such an innate quality of Sonny's.

Thinking about Sonny, (who must be about twenty-two years old now,) has inspired me; perhaps we should adopt a household mantra, 'think of others before ourselves.' I like it. I like the idea of family-mantras too. Thanks, Sonny, wherever you are. I wish I could meet you as a young man and tell you what an impact you had on me. I wish my girls could meet you too. Who knows...maybe they will someday.