I still crouched at the lake’s edge with the little boy, the poor rabbit still between us. Although the boy’s compassion for the rabbit was enough to cause his solemnity, I wondered if there was something else bothering him that was making it worse.
I set my hand on his forehead and looked closely at him. There were—two members of his family—adults, probably—a man and a woman. They were injuring him repeatedly—a long-term situation. Most of the attacks seemed emotional, rather than physical, but the compounding injury was beginning to show on the side of his forehead—at least it showed in the subtle light of the world we were currently in.
I sighed sadly.
This was very not simple.
I would like to have changed everything in an instant, made it all better, made it all good. But unfortunately, things change slowly, and with lots of effort. Things can change—but only gradually, as whole systems of people and culture change.
What gift could I give this young man right now, in this glimpse between worlds, that might help the hurt hurt a little less?
I made him a helmet like a stunt motorcyclist might wear. Blows would bounce of it in a funny way, reverberating through an aggressor’s body like a cartoon. The helmet could light up when struck, too, like a pinball machine, sort of funny but also converting the strike into energy that would heal him.
He stood impassive and—looked a little silly.
A child in a situation like this—deep in his spirit he is making choices. Although his situation might afford him almost no outer choice at all, deep within his mind, he is choosing. And although he has lived so little in the world, and can’t see the intricate webs of causality that weave around people, still he does the best he can with what he knows, and makes choices.
This child is choosing to endure the suffering in order to keep his family together.
Yes, absolutely, it isn’t his fault. The adults around him are choosing their own behaviors—they are the ones responsible. But this little one can’t understand them. He is doing everything he can think of to try to help.
Choosing to endure suffering in order to promote a higher goal is the virtue of self-sacrifice. An individual can only choose self-sacrifice for him- or herself; no one ever has the right to force it on another. Self-sacrifice is a mystery that can only be approached with bowed head. But it is through making this type of choice that the soul grows.
Self-sacrifice merits respect.
I removed the helmet from the little boy’s head. The nobility of his choice wasn’t to be clowned away.
What then could I do? I wanted to respect his choice, not diminish it.
I thought of one of my favorite of Bahá’u’lláh’s writings. It must have been a letter He wrote to someone. He tells the reader,
I swear by the Day Star that shineth above the horizon of eternity, I sorrow for thee in thy grief, and lament with thee in thy tribulation…. I bear witness to the services thou hast rendered Me, and testify to the various troubles thou hast sustained for My sake. All the atoms of the earth declare My love for thee. (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 309-310)
I recited this for the little boy, thinking of Bahá’u’lláh talking to him. I thought of Bahá’u’lláh for him, thought of bringing him to Bahá’u’lláh.
My time with the little boy was almost up. My heart was still unsettled—it was hard to leave him there. (My ear was starting to hurt, though, with the effort of visiting together.) Still, what else could I do?
As the worlds started to shift, and my image started to fade, I held on a little longer, and gave him my own prayerbook, setting into his hands the small purple book with the silver nine-petaled flower on the cover, pressing his hands to his chest.
“Remember this book,” I urged him. “My teacher wrote many of the prayers in this book. His name is Bahá’u’lláh. In the future, you can find Him, and He can be your teacher, too. He is kind and wise. He will guide you every moment. In the innermost of all worlds, He will keep you safe.”