The Impact of a Child

I do not even remember her name and, at the time, I did not know there would be any long lasting impact. It was the middle of the school week, and this little girl had to have been all of 7 years old. She should have been in school, but she was along the main street in a tiny little town called Madrid, which is somewhere between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Haley and I were in transit on the way to Santa Fe when we met her. As we ate on the porch of a quaint restaurant in the town, a little girl came up to us with a box of rocks. Crude crayon drawings barely decorated the rocks. They looked hastily done, as if she had just ducked into the woods behind the diner to create some additional merchandise.

She gave the impression of a girl raising herself. Her comfort with walking up to strangers and asking them to purchase crayon colored rocks was disquieting. She saw my camera and asked me to take a picture of her with my daughter. I wonder if she wanted someone to have proof she was there. The fact that I cannot now find the picture of the little girl whose name I can’t even remember, is sad to me.

No one at the restaurant seemed to know her. As we walked through the town later, we caught site of her occasionally, always alone. Madrid is an isolated and very small town along this highway; it seemed improbable that she was alone and unknown there. We were there for hours, and I never saw her with anyone. I think part of me was prolonging the shopping that day in hopes that I would catch sight of her with a family, any family. As we drove out of the town at sundown, I saw her on a bench…looking for rocks.

I think about her more than I imagined I would. But not her exactly. I don’t know her story, really. But the story I have in my head, the one of the little girl or boy having to raise themselves in a world that does not really see them, that story belongs to a lot of kids.

The girl in Madrid did not create the fire in me to share stories of kids living in our periphery, but she did make me stop, and she did add some kindling to the fire stoking in me. I wish I had her story. I wish I could find the two colored rocks we bought.

I have been writing stories about the kids in Nepal recently. And today I am thinking about other children who have also stayed on my mind over time. As I gear up to submit a bunch of my stories to you over the next few weeks, I find myself curious about your stories. Tell me about some child you encountered that you still think about. It does not have to be a sad, dramatic story. Children generally remind us to be merry, and I’d like to hear those stories too.


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