(From the earliest pages of Nathaniel’s African journal, circa 2001.)
I am quickly developing a favorite time of the day here. It comes at the end, at what we call Tuck-In Time. Not because it means the kids are quiet (well not only for that reason) but because I find them especially sweet as they prepare for sleep. It is a special time for the soul to be alone with thoughts, dreams and worries. I get to know my kids most at this time.
Every night, my staff and I go through the routine of tucking in the covers and pulling the mosquito nets down over the little beds. Then, I go back for individual goodnight-rituals with each child. With my precious three-year-old girl, Ayine, I stick my head back in and under her net to steal one last kiss. And she always pretends to try and get away from me, but her giggle on contact gives her away every time. And, after I turn out the light in the boys’ room, eight-year-old Ronald always says, “Daddy, come back.” So I creep back through the darkness to his upper bunk where, every night, I find his lips pressed against the inside of the net. He insists on his goodnight kiss. They are all different, and all wonderful. And I am never more keenly aware of that than I am at bedtime.
Last night, after all the little rituals were complete, I turned to leave. Then I heard another voice. It was Ivan’s. (We don’t know how old he is. No one does, but we guess him to be between eight and ten.) The little voice in the darkness said, “Pray for me, Daddy. And pray for Bob.”
Bob? Who is Bob? I started to ask. We don’t have a Bob.
Then I remembered Ivan’s small file. One of the few pieces of information it does contain is the name of Ivan’s little brother: Bob. I wondered where he was that night. I wondered how he was. I wondered how long it had been since these precious little brothers had seen each other.
My heart did a quick rewind to my own bedtime thoughts as a child.
I remembered worrying about my little sister, Hannah. And how I would contemplate the anger I felt for those who had teased her cruelly. Or how I would laugh to myself about my own big-brother-practical-joke of the day. Sometimes, I would dream about her future, and hope that it would be wonderful. But never once did I wonder where she was.
My children are so needy. Their bodies are losing a war against a vicious disease while their hearts are aching because of the horrible losses already suffered at the hands of this killer.
Some people say that my willingness to help these children is amazing compassion.
If they could be with me at Tuck-In Time, though, they wouldn’t see it that way. They would see it as I do: as a simple, logical response from one heart to another, and as an extraordinary blessing from God’s hand to my life.
That’s what it is. A blessing. A dream come true. I now know that when the Divine drops a vision into your heart, all you must do is act. I have often said that, in the beginning, the reality of AidChild was on the opposite side of a river of impossibility. But once I made up my mind to find a way to cross, I easily located the stepping stones that would lead me to my vision. The stones were many, but they were there.
All I had to do was move.
I was never more grateful for those stepping-stones than I was last night, now on the other side of the river, standing in the dark room of our home. I breathed a simple thank you before I walked back over to Ivan’s bedside and knelt down. As I laid my hand on his little head, I cleared the emotion from my throat, and then quietly said,
“Yes, Ivan. I’ll pray for you.”
He opened his nearly blind eyes, and looked directly at me as I added, “And I’ll pray for Bob, too.”