Tuesday 27 November 2007

The Eyes of the Child

We adults often forget how different our world is from that of young children. We think their world is simple and their worries trivial. We forget that they are subject to many of the same emotions and fears as are we. The only difference is that we are often better equipped to deal with them. If we are to understand one another in our different worlds, we adults need to imagine the world as children see it, for they will never be able to grasp our world. A friend of mine, Tomislav, told me the following story about his childhood and his father. It is true to a word, save the name which I have changed.

Tomislav grew up in one of the huge, high rise estates in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. One year, when he was a little boy, he came home from school at the end of term and showed his father his results. He proudly handed his father the little slip of paper which showed he had made an average grade of 4, the second highest level. Without looking at the sheet of paper, the father praised the young boy and then made a promise. He promised to buy Tomislav a new bike the following year if he made an average of level 5.

Tomislav was thrilled and decided he really loved his father very much. He was now determined to work harder the following term. And he did. He wasn't a swot by nature but he imagined joining his friends on their bikes in summer as they rode away from the crowded, noisey estates, leaving behind the towers with their stairwells and shadows, and heading for the fresh breeze and open emptiness of the countryside. Now he began doing his homework before going down to play soccer in the street. He even revised for his exams, sometimes pausing during study to take an imaginary trip on the bike that would soon be his.

Tomislav did very well in the exam and almost cried with joy when he saw his average was 5. He ran the whole way home. His father took the piece of paper and asked for his glasses. He studied the little sheet. "But you only got 3 in Serbian and English" he said sternly, looking over his glasses. Tomislav was shocked, but managed to reply that they had agreed an average of five. "No, no" the father said "five in each subject, the average is nothing". He took off his glasses and said "but next year you can get five in everything". Tomislav felt his little heart retreating in his chest. He went to his room and cried until no more tears would come.

Tomislav never again told his father or anyone else about his results. Nor did he ever tell anyone about the broken promise.

Years later, when Tomislav had grown up and had children of his own, his father fell terminally ill and was confined to bed. Tomislav was at his bedside and they were reminissing about his boyhood and how his father used to bring him up river to bathe on the banks of the Danube. And how they enjoyed going to matches at the stadium nearby. Then Tomislav recounted the bike story, and how it broke his young heart. His father began to cry, then burst into sobs as his son finished the story. Tomislav had never before seen his father weeping so inconsolably, and he flung his arms around the old man and hugged him tightly.

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