I could not help crying silently this morning as I started out my drive to work. The morning was peaceful. The usual, feeding of the cats, playing my few Internet Scrabble moves with Facebook friends and my nephew, yoga exercises and meditation, and a soothing shower. I boiled an egg and made a lax and cream cheese sandwich for the road, and after imbibing what seemed like a million vitamins and a potassium filled banana, I headed out to the university. Nine in the morning, the traffic had slowed to a comfortable pace, and I turned down a side street that would lead me out to the main highway. As the car pulled around to the left, my eyes attached themselves suddenly to a woman slapping a three year old child so hard that she fell to the sidewalk on her back. It literally took my breath away. I gasped out loud and pulled the car to the side of the road not sure how to react. Thank goodness, the little girl was wearing a down jacket that must have cushioned her fall. The woman dragged her up by her arm and pushed her to walk ahead. The child was sobbing . As I pulled myself together, tears streaming down my own cheeks uncontrollably, I noticed that the woman was holding a toddler on her hip and seemed to have tied to her front, a baby covered by a blanket shielded from the cold. The woman was clearly overwhelmed. I did not assume she was the children's mother, although it looked as if she was. I drove slowly forward, wiping away my tears, and staring at the little group as they walked slowly along the sidewalk. By now the woman had noticed I was staring and she put her hand out to the little girl who was still weeping. She pushed her ahead slightly more gently. I seemed paralyzed, stuck, and somehow unable to drive away. I did not want to leave the child, and yet there was nothing I could do. I was in hell, completely identified with the sobbing three year old. Finally, the woman glared at my staring interference, I quickly pulled myself together, and drove away.
As I drove, I wept silently, all the while thinking of the little girl as she was slapped down onto the sidewalk. I was kicking myself for not having pulled the car to a stop and run out to help the woman, who seemed so overwhelmed with the children, the morning walk – whatever it was. Why did I not come to the rescue, just to show all of them that somebody cared? Instead, I sat frozen and stuck wallowing in pain and grief at all the insult, violence and hurt that small child was enduring on this wintry morning.
I remembered how a couple of the participants at the keynote I presented in Ada, Oklahoma, last Saturday, had stated that hitting children was good. That the bible declared it so: spare the rod and spoil the child. They debated with me when I put up a slide that read: "It's never okay to hit a child. You don't have to hurt me to teach me." I considered the life of the young woman this morning as she carried two small children on her body and needed the third one to walk alongside obediently. At three years of age, the little girl was the oldest, and had to give up all rights to her childhood needs: perhaps to dawdle along the way just being in the moment to stop and look at things as they appeared. If she was "needing attention," probably she deserved it still being so young and needing her mother's love as much as the other two clinging to the woman's body. How lonely and cold that morning must have felt for that three year old child. How hurtful adults must seem to her.
And then again, how could the woman be a good mother to all three needy souls simultaneously? What if all she knew was beatings and pain from when she was a child? I was emotionally and intellectually overwhelmed as I drove along the highway to work. After about half an hour I managed to stop crying, and twenty minutes later I was pulling into the driveway at the university. I parked my car and walked thoughtfully into the building. My body seemed to ache in all sorts of places, as if I had been on a long hike.
I wondered almost out loud, "How could there be a God, who allows small children to live in hell?"