The Death Of Innocence
by Peter E.
This is an uplifting story about a brave young girl. Her story started not only sad but disappointing and it shows the depths to which human beings can go to hurt each other in any society, city, or village regardless of size race creed or
color. After all we are constantly reminded that children are the world’s most precious gifts and we must never deliberately allow them to suffer. It also illustrates how strong and pervasive indiscriminate evil can be for no apparent reason. I will call her Afi which is not her real name in order to preserve her identity. But I am sure you can see her in your neighborhood, your village, your town, your city, your state, or your country. Afi is everywhere and every child anywhere in the would. It took only a few words from this brave young girl of ten to upset me forever. We met by chance on a street in Africa and she walked up to me and
said, “My name is Afi, I think I am ten years old, but I feel older than ten years old.”
Afi was raised in a typical African village with her family and friends. Her father, Dada was the local school master and, Mama, her mother was the first grade teacher. There were other siblings in the happy family, an older brother and sister. However, while Afi and her family were trying to make a living peacefully, it seemed the whole world had gone nuts, preoccupied with killing one another. These atrocities were constantly brought to them live through the International Media. It seemed the old sayings were not true anymore. One used to think that whatever happened in a far away land had no impact on Africa or Europe or Asia. This is no longer true in this global electronically connected world. A sneeze in Europe and someone catches a cold in Africa.
The world has reached a stage where we have to invent new words and a new language to describe the mess we have made of the world and our lives . We have to use words such as “Massacre” to describe how the security forces invaded Afi’s village and the reign of terror that the soldiers inflicted on the villagers. After all no one came to their aid and the world media used phrases such as “widespread human abuses” to describe the genocide committed by the soldiers fighting the duly elected government of Afi’s country. We used words such as “violent abuses” while the fighting erupted and destroyed the lives of the people. When Afi ‘s family members and all the able bodied men were rounded up and shot in the village square, we described the situation as “violent abuses by freedom fighters and as a wanton disregard for the rules of International law.” When Afi and some of the villagers were taken and molested and those who resisted beaten and
killed , we saw only “chaos and unusual cruelty.” Who were we kidding?
At this point in her short life Afi’s world was occupied with such things as ethnic rivalry in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Furthermore, it seemed as if each day somewhere in the world someone or some group was fighting somebody with spears, arrows and bows, muzzle-loading guns, Russian and American tanks, land mines, and jeeps and various kinds of missiles. The reasons for these conflicts have always been ridiculous. Sometimes the killings are about land , who owes it , or cattle who owns how many, religion and its many preferences, or who owns the side of the river where goats have grazed for many generations. Sometimes the conflict is as simple as which part of a grave yard one is to be buried in or who is entitled to what spot , and the hatred goes on and on. Sometimes it is about food and shelter or who has access to what farmland. Most of the time there seems to be no apparent rational or intelligent reasons except the joy of following the tradition and culture of killing and getting away with it. This happens all over the world and no one seems to be able to stop it. We live with it and must find, invent, and develop new words to describe the atrocities. But these are not new. The peoples of the world have been killing one another for generations and Afi has to live with it in her community. Whether Afi and her family liked it or not the World News is here to stay and it gets better and better at delivering the hate and death to all parts of the world as it disturbed the once tranquil world of Afi with its instant and competitive coverage of the International news. This was the reality when I met Afi.
Afi held my hand when we met on that faithful day in her village , and I was moved to tears at the sight of her. She looked up in my tear-filled eyes as if expecting something that day but never asked for anything and her eyes seemed to
pierce right through to my very soul. Then it seemed as if she smiled and I wiped the tears away as I smiled back. She squeezed my hand and I did the same. At that moment I felt helpless. What could I do? It would have been easy and much simpler if she had asked for something material or physical and I would have felt better giving it and then forgetting her. But she would not let me go away that easily and so I held her hand as the tears came tumbling down my cheeks . Still she had not said anything apart from her first few words: MY NAME IS AFI. I THINK I AM TEN YEARS OLD, BUT I FEEL OLDER THAN TEN YEARS.
Sometimes we forget that a person can be afraid and still continue to strive and hope. We walked together to the Arbor being used for a church service by the missionaries from overseas. The service stopped when we arrived, and to my surprise, it was because Afi was considered an outcast by the community. After introducing myself I was invited to say a few words while Afi stood outside the Brush Arbor. It was then that I told the people how we are all the same in the sight of God. Sometimes we seem to forget that we are all on this earth and linked with each other. After all is said and done we must not forget who and whose we are. I guess we get so preoccupied with minor things that we totally miss the important things in life. We forget that Human Beings are more important than material things and we fail to recognize or know when the Divine knocks us on the head. We fail to learn from the past so we go on making the same mistakes over and over again.
Here I was connected with this young girl whose life had been shattered and yet living in spite of all that had happened to her. So through my tears I called Afi to my side and told her and the rest of the people about the day the Master was preaching and teaching at a village just like Afi’s village. There was a young girl standing all by herself full of sores, cuts and bruises and her clothes were torn and tattered. She had been beaten and molested and forced to do all sorts of work and had gotten sick so many times. She had lost all her family and no one wanted her. Like Afi , she was alone, an outcast and was rejected because that was the tradition of the elders. She was an outcast through no fault of hers. When the Master saw her and how she cried he smiled at her and called her to come in and sit with the village
people, the same people who had mistreated her and had been mean to her. Then the Master asked her,
“What is your name”?
Afi answered, “My name is Afi,” and the Master smiled again.
“Will you come in and sit with the rest of the village people,” and then He smiled again and Afi smiled back.
The Master said “I have something special to tell you and all the people in the village.” Then He continued, “I know that you have suffered greatly. I know that people have been cruel to you. You have been beaten, rejected, shot at, that you now feel sad and angry all the time. I see your puffed red eyes. Now you feel that no one cares for you and that nobody even loves you.” Afi kept nodding her head while the tears ran down her cheeks and others in the congregation nodded in agreement and also started to cry with cries of “Yes.”
“No one should hurt you or anyone in this village or anywhere,” said the Master. Afi stood up and said,
“But I really blamed myself. I thought it was my fault.”
“No, it was never your fault” I replied and then I turned to the people and said, “And I will tell all of you one more thing. It is all right to be angry but I have something very special and important to tell you and to share with Afi and all of you. Afi you are a child of God. You are God’s child just as all the people in your village and all villages are the children of God. Just as I am a child of God so are all human beings. But here is something else Afi, you are as important and as good as any one else. God really loves you and I love you too.”
Then I took her by the hand looked in her eyes and holding her by the shoulders I knelt down to her height and comforted her with the following words. “Remember Afi regardless of whatever had happened in the past, from now on remember that God really loves you. I too love you. You will always be God’s special little girl.” Afi’s eyes brightened and sparkled for the first time and then she smiled for the first time in a long time. She stood now in the midst of the smiles and tears of herself and the rest of the villagers. She stood tall and proud and the whole village joined her. I will never forget the impact of that moment on me.
Something wonderful happened that day. The villagers seemed to see each other for the first time through their tears as children of God, each worthy and whole,
they vowed, then and there, to begin the healing process by helping one another, working together for the peace and goodness of the entire community. I left them , somewhat relieved, but I know that I will keep wondering, will it start all over again? but at least I left them energized and determined to be each other’s keeper. After all when innocence dies it cannot return.