by Patrick Atkinson | Submitted Photo
Every day thousands of children and adults in the world hear the soft cry of a stranded kitten.
When Matthew heard his, he lay his books to the side and crawled through bushes and mud to come to the rescue. Eventually he pulled from the sticks a scratching, clawing little beast.
Placing the trembling kitten gently under his now-stained shirt, Matthew later said he was afraid I might be mad at him. But as his foster dad, how could I be? In doing this good deed, I knew Matthew had cemented forever a newly-born understanding of compassion, charity, and love.
It would be great if the story ended there but, of course, it doesn’t.
Twenty minutes later, Matthew and several of his friends rushed through the house and into the shower. There they grabbed soap and shampoo, and shouted out a consensus on the kitten’s new name: Catwoman.
That night, Matthew and his friends stayed up late so they could watch this tiny kitten sleep. At my desk, I pretended to work but instead watched them.
Matthew was an abandoned child who had lived off school meals and whatever food he could beg from his friends. He slept wherever he could; seldom did he sleep two weeks in a row in the same bed.
A few of his friends had also grown up in worlds defined by abuse and neglect. They came from meth or opioid homes that were usually empty, cold, and sometimes without electricity. Three, four, and maybe more people slept in a room smaller than the average kitchen. Between them they shared what anyone else had; food, coins, lice, sickness, fear.
It’s a crazy world for small children who grow up with drug or alcohol-addicted families. If these boys and girls behave and don’t get into trouble, no one really asks how they spend their days, or where they are at night. The children who survive in this hidden underbelly of life become sexually active way too early, and are tempted into drugs about the same age.
They look at other kids who have loving parents and wonder, “Why them and not me?” They wonder if anyone even knows about the violence or drug or alcohol-afflicted family lives they have.
Matthew and his friends tell me stories about what they’ve experienced in life. More than anything, they say, they desperately wanted to run and hide, but had no place to go.
So they dreamt and imagined a different place where their world was safe, and they didn’t have to grow up alone.
They erected castles on the fertile grounds of their imagination, and planned for the day they could escape from the stained soil of their torn childhoods.
Inside they knew their strengths and powers and desires of what they wanted to be. I could tell right away they were wonderful kids trying desperately hard not to go insane.
If those of us who surround them every day knew what they were struggling to survive, would many people care? Even if the kids stayed out of trouble?
For Matthew and his friends someone did find out and gave them a chance. Whether it was a teacher or neighbor or the wonderful work of The GOD’S CHILD Project, Big Brother Big Sister, Guardian Ad Litem, or Foster Care programs, these boys and girls were offered the chance for which they had prayed.
Years ago, I wrote Matthew a short note, which included this thought about dreams:
“Dream of what you want to be, and dream of what you will not.
“If your dreams die, Matthew, you will die too. So, keep them alive, son, and grow with them too.”
Patrick Atkinson is the founder of The GOD’S CHILD Project international charity (GodsChild.org) and is an award-winning author with six books in worldwide distribution. He lives in Bismarck, Minneapolis, and Guatemala, Central America.