It’s about time I shared a classic Johnny story. I’ve probably mentioned him on this blog or on Facebook before. He is certainly one of our most dynamic personalities in the orphanage. He’s brilliant, which makes him a very talented troublemaker at times as well. He is the source of some of the most precocious and humorous stories that come out of our time at the orphanage.
Last Saturday, we had brought some of the kids outside the walls of the orphanage to play with some of the local village kids. This is a very new experience for most of them, as they have spent their childhoods isolated from the outside world, able to see village life but not participate, separated from other kids by a wire fence and six years of living in comfort.
They were all very reserved when we brought them outside that day. Our game of duck-duck-goose”(which also goes by the names of “chuck-chuck-goo,” “duck-duck-DUCK,” or “duck-duck-run-away-without-choosing-anyone”) was a blast for the kids who didn’t speak English but left the orphans sitting in the dirt looking morose as they were continuously qualified as ducks and were never chosen to be the honored goose.
I tapped Johnny. “Hey,” I said, “why don’t you try to make a few new friends?” Johnny just shrugged his narrow shoulders. I gestured to the little girl sitting on his other side.
“Why don’t you talk to her? Ask her name, in Bemba.”
“Milly,” he reported after a brief conference with the bewildered child.
“Well,” I prompted, “why don’t you talk to her? Play with her?”
But the little girl proved unresponsive to Johnny’s friendly advances, and he quickly gave up.
“That’s too bad, kiddo,” I said, shaking my head. “You should be try to be friends with someone.”
“I want to be friends with her,” he said, pointing across the expansive circle to a beautiful little girl with a gap-toothed smile, an orange tank-top, and long, gorgeous braids. Her name is Mercy. She is a frequent participant in our afternoon games with the local kids. Meg had introduced them earlier. I suggested that Johnny sit next to her, and he did. The two instantly connected. They bent their heads together and ignored the game as Johnny chatted away animatedly for some time. The next time I looked over, they were watching the runners…and holding hands.
Meg and I were freaking out. We made excited faces at each other and screamed silently. It was precious. We were mostly just excited that Johnny was befriending a child who didn’t sleep in a bunk next to him.
After a few minutes, Mercy was chosen as goose. Johnny’s face fell as she stood up and raced around. Almost as soon as she sat down again, he joined her at her new position in the circle. Now he began to teach her his favorite games. He showed her how to perform Spiderman’s web motions and made silly faces, covering his dark face with copper dust. She beamed at him and listened with interest, chattering back occasionally. They began to dig in the earth and built a house in the dirt.
By this time, Meg and I were having conniptions.
At some point, Johnny seemed to lose interest. I looked up to see him standing in the distance. He was waving a stick at a handful of smaller children. Alarmed, I hurried over just as the children ran towards the soccer game David had started down the road. Johnny must have been threatening them, or might have even hit them when I wasn’t looking.
“Johnny,” I began, my tone reproachful, “what were you doing?”
Johnny’s face was full of concern. “I told them they couldn’t go over there,” he answered, gesturing towards the soccer game.
“Why not, Johnny?”
“They are too little; they might get hit in the eye with the ball.”
My heart immediately softened. Johnny let me take the stick and throw it into the bushes without complaint. I asked him about Mercy.
“Mercy is my friend,” he said.
“Did you tell her that?” I asked.
“Yes, I told her. I told her I wanted to be her friend.”
“And what did she say?”
“She said yes. And then I gave her a hug. And we will be friends now forever. When she grows up, we will be friends together every day. And I will have a bow and arrow to protect her.”
“You are going to protect her?” (You can easily imagine my face at this point.)
“Yes. And a gun…”
Oh, no, here it comes, I thought, the part where he kills people. Lately, Johnny has taken to discussing killing others in a way that makes me sick to my stomach.
“…a gun to protect her from the lions that will come.”
I sighed in relief.
“And we will be friends forever. And she will be my wife.” Johnny turned his dirt-smeared face up towards mine. “But also she will always be my friend.”
I smiled back. Well, kid, you’re on the right track.
Generally, I’d laugh at anyone who claimed to believe in “love at first sight.” Love isn’t a concept built on physical attraction and characteristics. Nor do I believe that you can fall in love with someone after a few minute’s conversation, a single date, or by building a house in the ground.
But maybe, love at first sight isn’t such a ridiculous idea. Isn’t that what we are called to do – love everyone we see and come into contact with? Yes, it is a different kind of love than the colloquialism generally refers to, but all love should stem from the same love – God’s. Johnny’s ability to instantly care for someone without even knowing them is admirable. I wish I shared his child-like propensity to love at all times instead of just some of the time.
I could now spend hours writing about what true love means. I could talk about the significance of friendship in a romantic relationship. I could compare the innocent, unconditional affections of children to the complicated relationships of their elders. I could rant more about why it is fallacious to believe in love at first sight.
But I won’t. I’ll just leave you with this tale of Johnny’s love that made my day and (I hope) brightened yours.
Yes, I am aware that they are six years old.