"There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." — Nelson Mandela
One third of the bath is filled with water, the other two thirds are filled with thin, foaming, white bubbles. Jonah and Adrian are deep in play with Jonah as the clear leader moving suds around from the tub, building them up like a mountain along one wall of tile. Adrian soaks peacefully, listening dutifully—a layer of foam sitting atop his upward tilted head. Jonah describes in detail their process, holding one arm up in the air as he works. His raised arm is wrapped in a cast and covered in plastic so that it might stay dry. I’m letting them be. I don’t always. Sometimes I’m too hurried, impatient. It can be so soothing for us all when I free myself and observe them in their glorious freedom and innocence.
Outside of the bathroom, along our hallway is a small stairwell leading up to my art studio. The finished attic with its giant windows and cascading light—once a storage space for art supplies and paintings, journals and dreams—has come alive now with new work. Jonah and I were there recently, together alone. I was working on an abstract, multi-colored waterfall collage, meant to invoke a pouring out of all that is good in the world—a pouring out of something—anything—favorable toward the many who are in such great need. Jonah is cuddled in a cozy chair with a wildflower coloring book. He has chosen to work on the coneflowers, or echinacea—a big and bright type of daisy. On one side of the book is an image of the flowers all colored in. The opposite page—where Jonah is working—is in black and white. He calls me over periodically to weigh in on his color choices. He wants so much for the page he is working on to mirror the opposite side. He works remarkable well with his left hand—his right hand all casted up. I help him to blend the colors in the center of the flower and he tells me that I am magical. He is generous with his complement. There we are working, music playing, I am rising and falling like a tide from his work to my own and back again. A new song begins to play. Resounding lyrics ring out across the studio “we keep waiting (waiting), waiting on the world to change.” Not looking up from his work, Jonah says, “I don’t want the world to change.”
I sometimes keep my phone on the ledge of the stairs going up to the studio when my boys are in the bath. I try to keep them from seeing me perusing the internet for news on the latest of tragedies that have befallen this too-violent planet. I come across the images of Swedish photographer Magnus Wennman in his work, “Where the Children Sleep” in which he captures the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of refugee children caught ruthlessly in our all-too-grownup world. I am consumed by each photograph bearing witness to children sleeping on cardboard boxes or right on the ground, fearful to close their eyes at night, ragged with damaged souls and bleeding hearts. Tears begin to sting my eyes—a mixture of sadness and anger coming forth. I hold them back, going to my boys who are ready for me again. Our bedtime is more peaceful than usual. I linger in this luxury of a safe place to tuck them in. I linger in gratitude for their soft, clean, warm beds, with the greatest of attention. They are quiet now and I make my way downstairs. The lights are dim, a fire is going. I find the work of Magnus Wennman again on my computer where I may see the images in their entirety. I imagine each of these children as my own. I put my face down in my hands, silently sobbing as I truly comprehend the impact of this disparity.