He stares at me from a package of coffee roasted locally and sold to support Life is Hope, an orphanage in Haiti where he lives with 99 other children.
I don’t drink coffee, so I offer a compromise.
“I’m writing an article about it,” I tell him in the uncomfortable silence. “Others will buy the coffee. They will help you.”
His penetrating gaze and slightly puckered lips suggest that my idea is insufficient.
He dares me to look at the bright green T-shirt he is wearing. It droops on one side, exposing a bony brown shoulder.
It isn’t that the shirt is big, necessarily. He is just too small.
According to a video on the Life is Hope website, one American was moved from apathy to action with these words ringing in his ear: “The children had not eaten.”
The pastor who started the orphanage didn’t mean they had skipped a meal. Their little stomachs had been empty for several days because he had no food to give them.
Sadly, many of the children were given up by parents who believed that the orphanage could provide what they could not — food, shelter, clothing.
The desperation in the pastor’s voice — “The children had not eaten…” — cut the American like a knife.
It is a picture that haunts me, a picture of a sad little face with a scratch below one eye that too closely resembles a tear.
He lives an ocean away. She lives just a few streets over.
She is one of the children getting a surprise visit on this Saturday morning from Santa and the Cordova Police Department. She is like most of the others — shy, slightly dirty, one of multiple siblings who live in a house that looks like it could use some insulation. A lot of it.
At least she is bundled appropriately against the cold. A little girl at a previous stop was carried out to meet Santa without a shirt on.
This angel catches my attention because of the oversized teddy bear in her arms. Although I did not see Santa give it to her, I assume he did.
It most likely came from a thrift store or a dollar store. The way she clutches it, it is her most valuable possession.
I feel guilty taking her picture, although it is the job that I came to do.
At least Santa and the officers have come bearing gifts. I am just an intruder stealing this family’s dignity with each click of the camera.
The experience reminds me of a house blessing I covered after the tornadoes. The homeowner chatted with friends in another room while his caseworker gave some of us the grand tour.
“Oh, you should have seen it before,” she said as she drew back a curtain to reveal the home’s pre-storm kitchen, which volunteers found easier to replace than renovate.
Although I knew that she had the best of intentions, I cringed. That was a man’s home, no matter how it looked to us.
Of course, he was thankful for all the work that had been done. I just wish we didn’t have to make a spectacle of his old life before we blessed his new one.
I no longer go on walk-throughs at house dedications, but here I am documenting the poverty of a little girl who is far too young to bear its burdens.
I do not take her picture to embarrass her. I take it to remind myself.
He bounces around my living room without a care in the world. He will sleep in peace tonight and wake up tomorrow morning to find that Santa has left him all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that he asked for and even some he didn’t.
He has never known true hunger or cold, and he never will if I can help it. I will always ease his pain because he is my child.
But he is also God’s child, just like the other two. So doesn’t that make them mine too?