In March 2015, my 9-year-old son and I left Los Angeles by bus and spent a day in Mexico.
Our group of 20 volunteers visited an orphanage to play with the children and bring donations. The drive was filled with uncertainty as we did not know what to expect. My son was quiet, staring out the window at the unfinished houses. Clusters of houses stacked close to each other along the road and on the mild rolling hills seemed forgotten about as they were missing walls, roofs or simply undone. The grey skies suggested rain but seemed uncertain about their true feelings.
During the drive, thoughts of the movie Annie were swirling through my son’s head. He was picturing mean heartless people running the orphanage yelling at the unhappy children who were forced to clean all day. When we arrived my son was stuck to my side like glue. I asked if he wanted to do an art project or play sports with the older kids, or cuddle a baby but he was just silent, watching, shaking his head no.
He took in the scene; the younger kids drawing and blowing bubbles, young girls painting their fingernails and an older child lovingly walking hand-in-hand with a toddler. He just watched.
About an hour in to our visit he asked one of the adult volunteers if there was anything he could help with and he ended up setting the tables in the lunch room. When the 80 children entered the hall, he handed out food on his own. He eventually found his way to the middle of the room at a table with a group of kids he didn’t know, speaking a language he doesn’t speak and ate lunch with them. He started to open up, showing his sideways smile as I watched from the other end of the room.
After lunch he wanted to visit the babies. We spent the rest of our time playing with an 8 month old boy. My son held him, talked with him and got him smiling and laughing. By the time we had to go their faces were both lit up enjoying the connection of one another.
As we left the orphanage the skies cleared up and it was a beautiful day. The clouds were mirroring my son’s feelings, finally opening up to the blue skies as my son opened up to the knowledge that the kids were ok, happy, and loved just like him.
I believe you can find beauty no matter where you are. I am surrounded by it in any location and in any situation. I choose to pass this way of looking at life to my children. I find ways for them to realize that real life, full of beauty and connection to others is found in any place. It is important to shift away from our daily activities and open ourselves to others to learn about them and mainly ourselves.
My son is happily going back to visit next month.