As my six-year-old daughter walked from the doors of her school toward the car, I could tell something was not quite right. Her normal carefree walk-skip was replaced with a quicker, more serious pace. She was trying hard not to cry.
After taking her seat in the car without the usual “Hi, Daddy”, she burst into huge tears and sobbed uncontrollably. The sound of her heartbreak was unbearable.
It took a few minutes before she was able to tell me what had happened. One of the girls in her kindergarten class was having a birthday party. Not only was my daughter not invited, but the girl had handed out the party invitations to the other classmates in front of her.
I pictured my normally happy baby girl waiting silently as the invitations were given to the other students standing around her. I could feel her excitement over the prospect of going to the party, then the excitement slowly turning to wonder as the pile of invitations got smaller, and then finally the awkward realization that she would not be going. She was not invited.
It’s hard to put into words the agony of seeing your daughter’s feelings so callously trampled on. It tore at my insides. I offered the best words my brain could come up with, but I knew that all the comforting in the world would not take away that sting. It just wasn’t fair.
As I drove the few miles home, with my daughter trying hard to end her sobbing and me trying hard not to start, my thoughts drifted. I began to think about other children in the world, and what heartbreak might mean to them.
I thought about a young girl, maybe my own daughter’s age, sitting silently on her bedroom floor, wondering if the footsteps in the hallway meant that she was about to suffer more unimaginable abuse from the very people who were supposed to love and protect her. She’s trying so hard not to make a noise. Was it her fault that it happens?
I thought about a small boy, dazed and ears still ringing, wandering aimlessly through the rubble that was once his home, the bodies of his family lying near. I tried to imagine how his young mind would make sense what had just happened. He doesn’t understand a war that had taken from him everything and everyone he had known in his short life. He can’t comprehend that it’s all gone—they are all gone. What should he do? Where should he go? Who would take care of him?
I thought about sons and daughters with nothing in their little bellies other than the burning pain of hunger. I shuddered when imagined the mothers and fathers who must watch helplessly, willing to give up their own life if it would somehow end their child’s pain. It was too much for me to dwell on for very long.
Then something unexpected hit me—a thought that should seem absurd to a parent. I found myself feeling joy over my daughter’s heartbreak. I felt joy that her not receiving an invitation was the most painful thing in her life. How many children would gladly trade for that heartbreak? I realized how incredibly fortunate I was. We all say it, but its so easy to lose sight of how truly fortunate we are.
I will always hurt when my children are heartbroken or in pain. But when I compare it to all the unspeakable horrors that other children around the world have had inflicted upon them, I will feel grateful as well.