I wake up in the middle of the night and roll over to find that my 4-year-old has crawled into bed with me at some point. I take a few moments to mutter a few words of gratitude to God that I am there in the very next room, providing a safe haven for my two boys. I am there to provide the warmth and protection that every child needs…and deserves. As a mother, my worst nightmare is watching my children deal with any sort of pain, without their parents at their side to guide them and hold their hand – however hard I try to raise them to be resilient, filled with grit and independence.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit us with unrelenting force in March 2020, countless children have lost either one or both parents, causing immense upheaval in their lives. They have also been left all alone with parents and close family in the hospital with COVID, and no one to take care of them. I have had sleepless nights imagining the worst possible scenarios for these innocent children, wondering how they were going to traverse through a time that the world was being shattered into a million pieces, without the people they trust most by their side. Moreover, many of them were testing positive for COVID themselves and in complete isolation, with only extended family to keep a watch over them and with minimal communication. My restlessness was all-consuming and there was this nagging voice in my head asking me how I could play a role in helping children whose lives were being impacted minute-by-minute. My parents raised me with many sound core values that they knew would only help me live a meaningful life. But the most important one of all which transcends time and cultures, is kindness. In times of struggle, to me, kindness lies in being a pillar of support to those around us in more ways than one and I was determined to act on this powerful value in any way I could.
Among the flurry of social media posts about the pandemic, in May 2021, I came across the #allweneedisempathy program – an initiative launched by a friend who was mobilizing volunteers to share their time virtually with children who were in quarantine, and whose parents were in the hospital themselves with COVID. I filled in and submitted the sign-up form immediately. Volunteers were requested to create various activities for children to keep them engaged, and to keep their minds worry-free – even if just for a short period of time. I received a call 2 days later for virtual sessions with Samir* a 9-year-old COVID positive boy from Nepal, whose mother was ill, and father in another continent, unable to travel back to his family. His grandmother was looking after him for a short while.
This was the start of our beautiful friendship.
Samir loved super-heroes, art, and what became evident from the icebreaker game 'Would you rather' – chatting! We spent both the sessions sharing stories from our lives. Samir talked about Nepal and his desire to visit India at some point. He talked about school, family & friends. His honesty and bluntness were refreshing, as he talked about his anger, admitting that he knew he needed to work on managing it. As an aspiring artist, he had the most inspired sketches stashed in his room and he talked about them with tremendous pride. We created treasure maps, played the game ‘Name, Place, Animal, Thing’ and deciphered crosswords. My 7-year-old son Dev sat in with me during the first session, and within a few minutes it felt like Samir and he were old friends. They bonded over their mutual love for the Marvel Avengers. Dev’s super-hero knowledge bank became heavier that day. The smile on Samir’s face and laughter during those sessions is a sound I know will be a part of me for eternity. I knew that for those few hours, I was able to help Samir forget his pain and just be a child. While each session was only 1 hour, I could see Samir’s eagerness and near desperation to extend it by a few more minutes. His fear of being alone again when his computer was turned off was evident, and at that moment all I wanted to do was engulf him in hugs which I knew he so desperately needed just then. And on some level, a hug I probably needed just as much as he did.
The interaction with Samir made me hang on to my kids much tighter that night, and the days that followed. I still do.
The magic in kindness is intangible; the best and most memorable moments in life rarely are. If there was any one thing in the world that I could do and I know I would not fail, it would be to make sure that no child ever experiences being left alone…not for a second.
*NAME CHANGED FOR PRIVACY REASONS
Written on: November 3, 2021
Submitted to 'Chicken Soup for the Soul'